Like the other two short stories that make up The Sleepers of Roraima, “Yurokon” takes place in the twentieth century, and its central character is a young Carib, trying to reconstruct his identity out of what is left of his cultural mythology, which is jealously guarded by an elder. In the first short story, “Couvade,” a grandfather explains to the young man, Couvade, the meaning of his name, and the reader gains insight into one of the beliefs of the original peoples of the Caribbean. Similarly, in the second short story, “I, Quiyumucon,” readers are told of another Caribbean tradition through Poli, the son of Quiyumucon. In “Yurokon,” the young man asks his uncle why his tribe is known as “huntsmen of bones,” and the uncle explains that the Caribs resorted to cannibalism out of self-defense, to scare the Spanish conquerors away. “We became huntsmen of bones when we ate our first Spanish sailor,” the uncle states, not denying the charge of cannibalism, yet seeking to explain it. The uncle goes on to explain how, by fashioning flutes out of the dead Spaniards’ bones, the Caribs wanted to make the conquerors think they had been eaten, reduced to a morsel in the mouths of the natives, “the morsel of the flute, that was all.”
In the twentieth century, little is left of the Caribs besides their name, which they have given to the sea they roamed and the islands they peopled. Their name is the source of the word “cannibal.” Their ritual involved the eating of a piece of flesh of their defeated enemies. In their own worldview, the Caribs were engaging in a process they called “transubstantiation of species”; they did not leave their defeated enemies to rot away, but instead fashioned flutes out of their enemies’ bones, transforming death into melody.
The initial encounter between Caribs and Spaniards is recounted through Yurokon’s visions, influenced by his uncle’s version of the story, as well as the more common European rendition of it. Both groups are portrayed in highly ambivalent terms. The Caribs represent “innocent evil” (well-intentioned cannibalism), and the Spaniards “maleficent good” (destroying in the name of civilizing). The imagery that represents each group also suggests an overlap between the two. As Yurokon awakes from his dream, in which he has visualized the defeat of the Caribs and their withdrawal into the underworld, he hears a Catholic missionary, Father Gabriel, announcing Eastertide, the resurrection.
The historical defeat of the Caribs can be interpreted as a transubstantiation (just as the cannibal’s victim is transubstantiated) of the species rather...
(The entire section is 624 words.)