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Title: The Unresolved Constitution: Birth-Myths and Rituals of Modern Guyana: Wilson Harris' The Sleepers of Roraima and Michael Gilkes' Couvade
Contributor(s): McDougall, RJ  (author)
Publication Date: 2003
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Abstract: Through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a man taking to his bed during his female partner's pregnancy, or otherwise restricting his diet and behaviour in a ritual manner, was regarded as a poor primitive 'excuse for paternal indulgence'. This practice, known as 'couvade', appeared in Western colonialist discourse as merely another variation on the lazy and stupid savage' (Swan 313). Modern explanations of couvade are many and various, deriving from feminist, psychological and anthropological discourses and their fusions. But couvade, as I attempt to untangle its relation to colonialism in this essay, is a strategy re-invented for the purposes of reconciliation in narratives of Manichean allegory.I will be focusing on two texts, each from Guyana, and both named Couvade. The first is the opening story of Wilson Harris's The Sleepers of Roraima, published in 1970. The introductory note to this story observes: 'The purpose of couvade was to hand on the legacy of the tribe courage and fasting to every newborn child' (13). Couvade in Harris's story is the name given a small boy orphaned at birth. He knows nothing of his parents, and there is no record of his birth. This sets him apart from the dominant social reality. His grandfather explains to him the secret of his name. It means 'sleeper of the tribe' (15), and he bears that name because of his ancestry.His parents had contracted a 'sickness' for which there was only one remedy, 'the ancient remedy of couvade' (17). It required them to undergo 'a season of fasting and seclusion' (17), but they transgressed against the law of their people and ate the forbidden food. That night their enemies attacked and they were never seen again. Their illness (as Harris conceives of it) is a dream of destruction.
Publication Type: Journal Article
Source of Publication: Kunapipi, 25(2), p. 95-107
Publisher: Kunapipi Publishing
Place of Publication: Wollongong
ISSN: 0106-5734
Field of Research (FOR): 200599 Literary Studies not elsewhere classified
Peer Reviewed: Yes
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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