Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pirates (2/2)

It is in the territories far away from the "civilized" Occident that piracy gets to its greatest extempt. From the colonial era, with the introduction of quick, manoeuverable vessels built by States, the pirates cross the seas of West Indies and Orient, so large and far from the metropole that they become impossible to be controlled by the Europeans.

Skulls, filibusters and rhum

All started with the great demographic expansion in Europe at the 15th Century. Poor peasants and fishermen massively join up pirate vessels, which watch the trade routes followed by Spanish boats in the Atlantic and steal their gold booty.
From 1566, with the war between Spain and the United Provinces, England supports the latter by hiring privateers and equipping them with high quality vessels, able to fight openly to Spanish frigates.
During the 17th centur, however, the English government progressively retires its support. Privateers not enjoying its favour anymore became pure pirates again and even formed a confederation against the Navy. They progressively moved their activity to Iceland, Africa, Canada, and finally cocentrated in the West Indies.
The first pirates of the Caribbean (called filibusters, from Dutch vrijbuiter) established acting as traders of slaves, so did for instance the famous Hawkins and Drake (in fact, they usually "acquired" their slaves from Spanish and then legally sold them). In the 17th century, the Caribbean islands, emptied of indigenes thanks to the exterminating labour of the Spanish, were perfect hide-outs for them. The island of Tortuga is especially famous, it received several bands of pirates between 1630 and 1670.
Generally, piracy activities were done against Spanish vessels, as their cargoes were more promising, and this way, a little privateering was done against the common enemy. A very famous story tells that Cornelis Jol, "Pie de palo", and his band, entered Santiago de Cuba in 1635 dressed up as franciscan monks, and pillaged the city. In order to protect his galleons, Phillip II of Spain created light squadrons called "armadillas", which resulted very effective.
In parallel, another kind of dealers appear, the buccaneers, who are not pirates themselves. These Europeans settled in several islands, in groups of 15 to 20 men, where they learned from the natives the technique of meat conservation by smoking (or bucán). They established supplying posts, not officials but well known by merchants and pirates, and were generally respected by both.
Although filibusters were rougher pirates than the Mediterranean ones, they were certainly not sadic, as they are so often shown. In fact, they avoided violence unless it were necessary, except rare cases. They rather made psychological war, frightening and threatening their victims. One of their techniques was the use of the mythical skull and bones flag, the "Jolly Roger", although it was not started to be used until the end of 17th century. Before, national flags or monochromatic ones (red or black) were used.
From 1650, Nederlands, France and England use pirates, prisoners and soldiers to colonize several islands (Curaçao, Jamaica, Martinique). This way, some of the greatest pirates in History arise among them, such as Morgan, De Graaf, Nau "l'Olonnais" and Teach "Blackbeard". However, the States did not support them anymore, and a general repression was carried out. These last pirates ended up changing their activity (Morgan became governor of Jamaica and De Graaf made some business in Missouri), or dying tragically. In the middle of the 18th century, piracy had practically ceased to exist.

Pirates in Orient

In the Far East piracy was also a popular activity. Since the first trading exchanges, the cities of Canton and Macau were the richest in the area thanks to their situation in the middle of the routes. It was also the reason why the main attacks and pirate nests were concentrated in that zone, the most important being the Chinese Tanka, but also foreigners such as Philippines, Vietnamese and Japanese (called Wokou).
At the beginning of the 19th century a Pirate Confederation was formed, mainly by Chinese autochtone pirates, whose activity was focused to the attack to European ships. It was a well-organised confederation, which, even if granted action autonomy to every pirate, had a reglamentation on conflict solving, tactics, behaviour and booty share. It even had a Public Fund to which all the pirates contributed with a part of its booties.
However, after the Opium War, English, American and French carried out a campaign that eventually crushed the confederation, as the inferiority of the latter was huge against steam ships. From this moment, Western powers took over the trade and smuggling of spices, opium and slaves.

1 comment:

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I have never seen the story of the Pirates in the Orient, but I would love to because I think the stories of pirates are always fascinating