Taiwan-based Caribbean writer Peggy Carr on Wednesday (Dec. 16) launched her new book titled “Shape of a Warrior,” a socio-cultural historical narrative about what life was like for the indigenous people in her native country St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Hiroon) before the arrival of the Europeans.
“Shape of a Warrior,” a book that has been eight years in the making, tells the story of an indigenous girl, Yurubi, who rescues and helps hide a young boat wreck survivor Aloo, who is from Africa.
The two become close friends and together, they secretly explore the forest on the island of Hiroon, learn to make weapons, play wrestling games, hunt, and build small riverboats. But their world of adventure crumbles when Aloo is forced out of hiding and as Yurubi’s unwomanly skills become apparent. They both struggle against their fears and age-old traditions, fighting for a place on an island that’s home to some of the most fearsome warriors on Earth.
Talking to CNA on the sidelines of the launch event, Carr said she was inspired to write the story because of her love of storytelling and her deep desire to know what life was like for her home country’s indigenous people, who called themselves “Kalina,” before Europeans arrived in the 16th century.
“Almost every account I had read of the Kalina was written by a European – a sailor, a soldier, a missionary or a settler – and in all likelihood would’ve been filtered through the lenses of their own cultural and societal norms,” Carr said. “There was very little on record that reflected the perspective of the early Kalina people.”
“That led me to ponder the words of American author Toni Morrison: ‘If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,'” Carr said.
The book launch took place at the Embassy Building in Shilin District, Taipei City, where the Embassy of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is located. Guests from academic and diplomatic circles attended the event, including Andrea Bowman, ambassador of the Caribbean country.
Ambassador of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Andrea Bowman. (CNA photo)
Bowman said during her remarks that the book “embodies the many stories which contribute to the shaping of a people.”
“By personifying this story, our author allows us to empathize with the trauma, the rivalry, the betrayal, the camaraderie, the community, and the love which constitute the making of a people,” she added.
The 309-page book, published in October 2020, depicts what life was like for the indigenous people and the early Africans who are believed to have crossed the Atlantic to the Americas for trade and exploration long before Christopher Columbus made it to the New World and European colonizers followed.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines was the last Caribbean territory to fall to European colonization. Attempts by the English and Dutch to claim the island were met with fierce resistance from the local people and proved unsuccessful. The French were later able to colonize St Vincent in 1719 and brought with them African slaves to work on the sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco, cotton, and cocoa plantations.
The islands switched from French to British, then back to French, and later back to British control in the 1700s, but the local people fought repeatedly against their colonizers, with the country gaining full independence on Oct. 27, 1979.
Because there was very little written about this early period of history in St. Vincent before colonization, Carr delved into the work of historians, archaeologists, paleontologists, anthropologists, and naturalists. In the Author’s Note, Carr wrote that she “pumped life into the dry facts and artifacts, drawing on my imagination to fill in the many gaps” to tell the story of her people.
“It is my hope that this book will not only serve to entertain and inspire young adult readers but will also help, even in some small way, to reshape the depiction of indigenous peoples throughout the world, ” Carr said in her remarks during the launch.
An expatriate living in Taiwan for almost 20 years, Carr also linked her work to a 2011 Taiwanese movie titled Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, as both the movie and her novel paid tribute to the fighting spirit of indigenous people against foreign invasion.
“To our Taiwan friends here today, I’d like to say that Formosa gave the world Seediq Bale, a wonderful movie that highlighted the resistance of your Seediq people against Japanese invasion. Today, I offer you Shape of a Warrior, a tribute to the fighting spirit of the indigenous men and women of my homeland Hirouna. ”
Carr, also a journalist and a poet, works as an editor at CNA’s Foreign Language News Center.
Early in her writing career, she won a prestigious BBC poetry prize, which motivated her to start publishing her poems. Since then, her poems have been published as collections and in anthologies around the world, from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Her earlier works include the Echoes from a Lonely Nightwatch in 1989, Fresh Tracks in an Ancient Land in 1996, and Honey and Lime in 2006.
In 2014, she was selected as her country’s representative poet in the BBC Scotland’s Poetry Postcard series for the Commonwealth Games.
She was officially accorded the honor of Cultural Ambassador of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in October 2019.