Peggy Carr’s ‘Shape of a Warrior’
Peggy Carr
Dr. Fraser- Point of View
September 8, 2023

Peggy Carr’s ‘Shape of a Warrior’

This is an excellent work, beautifully written and easy to read. It commanded my attention in the way it brought the characters to life and captured my imagination so much that it was hard to put down.

The author explained the purpose of writing the book. It was sparked by her interest in the life of the country’s indigenous people before the arrival of the Europeans. What existed was a tale told by the Europeans. There was nothing, or rather very little from the indigenous people themselves.

She consulted the work of historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and palaeontologists “and pumped life into the dry facts and artefacts, drawing on my imagination to fill in the many gaps.” One of the scholars used was Guyanese Anthropologist, Ivan Van Sertima, well known for his book They Came Before Columbus.

I approach my task here as an historian, recognising Peggy’s work as ‘historical fiction.’ The importance of historical fiction as one source stated is that “it promises an entry into the past that is rich and more textured than straightforward history, which is obliged to stick to the facts . . . or at least, to preface speculation with a responsible disclaimer.”

This work though focused on the life of the indigenous people is much more. It will be of interest to any reader of fiction in the way she brings the characters to life, with their interrelations, her description of the environment, and the manner in which nature intrudes and gives life to her narrative, even adding a volcanic eruption. Most of the narrative is focused on the community of Warigara, which appears to be Owia. The author admits that she had “taken license with some historical facts, mainly in cases where there was an absence of conclusive information.” The archaeologists, anthropologists, and linguists would have been able to offer a description of the environment and manner of life of the Kalina people (Kalinago). Peggy draws on her imagination and creative writing skills to create the narrative on which the book is based.

The novel centres around two young persons, Yurubi of the Kalina people who was born “seven whole hurricane seasons ago” and Aloo, of about the same size and probably age, the African character whom she had introduced into the story. Yurubi was fascinated with the river and spent long periods there much to the consternation of her mother who had warned her of the boats returning without her father and about children being swept away by the river. Yurubi however considered the river a playmate and felt it would never harm her.

The ocean was the life of the people. The Kalina children learnt to swim at an early age. It was Yurubi’s fascination with the river and sea that brought her into contact with a child, “a little boy, painted black from head to toe . . . swaying in the afternoon sunlight.” She had never seen anyone painted like that before. He was in fact not painted in black but following Van Sertima had come from Africa. Aloo’s account of why he was there confused Yurubi. It was about being in the water with his mother, facing big waves, their separation, and his finding himself near to the shore. Based on that experience he had developed a deep fear of the sea, something that later led him into difficulty since he was then living with a people to whom the ocean was life.

Yurubi hid Aloo in a cave, fearing that someone might find him. The narrative continued five years after. He had by then become her playmate. She taught him the Kalina language. They went regularly into the forest, for food, and as adventurers. They made weapons, built canoes, hunted, and fished. His time in the hills was also to avoid others from the village. Yurubi was also not the typical Kalina woman with her love for hunting and for building boats and becoming a warrior. “They were like two bowls made from the same calabash.”

There are fascinating parts of the book dealing with Aloo and Yurubi as individuals and also as partners that really light up the narrative. When it became known that Aloo was building a boat curiosity grew because of his fear of the sea. Crowds gathered for the occasion. With the canoe about to be launched appearing out of nowhere Yurubi vaulted into the boat clad with weapons, the Shaman’s voice indicating that Aloo had given the boat in the care of Yurubi. But why dressed as a warrior? Women cannot be warriors. The Shaman (cultural custodian) responded “All Kalina are warriors”! Yurubi can be a woman warrior! When it became known during the shelter from the eruption at Jambou that Aloo was not painted black. The Shaman explained that Aloo was “the kindred of the Great Mountain and must wear its colour for the rest of his life.”

When Yurubi was separated from two children for whom she was caring a huge ‘feral pig’ seemed about to attack. She ran to their rescue and stood facing the rushing boar which staggered to its side as it was shot by Aloo. The story spread throughout the community and Aloo had become a hero. The book ends with an attempt by Yurubi in the middle of the night to investigate a noise she had heard from the beach. She saw what appeared to be a piragua of warriors coming to attack their community. There was no way of alerting the others without revealing her position. Fortunately, Aloo who had been following her movements was able to get to the area but away from where she was trying to fend them off. Eventually from different positions they were able to overcome the invaders.

They became heroes of stories to be told to youngsters, something done by their friend Pipo who explained that on the night of the Big Fight Yurubi tricked the raiders into thinking she was three or four people. She fought with bows and arrows that she had made. Then Aloo showed up and with his special skills got the better of two of the raiders who were trying to ambush him. The Shaman had the last thoughts, “From the soil of Hiroon, this warrior will grow, though long, long after your time . . . He will lead the people of Hiroon against a massive wave coming from afar. His enemies will quake at the sound of his name, which will echo from shore to shore.” Peggy prepares the setting for the coming of the Europeans.

  • Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian