Friday, November 30, 2007
Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs and European Renegadoes
by Peter Lamborn Wilson
I simply cannot get enough of this book. Wilson is a renowned resource on Sufism and the Muslim World and in this tome he takes a stab at Barbary Corsairs, Early Democracy and the interplay between Islam and Christianity in 11th century Europe.
An excellent entry point into the concept of Temporary Autonomous Zones, Wilson finds ways to incorporate the beauty and majesty of Islamic poetry and the sensuous feeling of Moroccan culture and the excitement of the freedom and cacophony of the Barbary Capitals: Libertalia, Tunis, Algiers, Salee.
A few years ago I was able to see Peter Lamborn Wilson speak at a party for a New York City Secession Movement. His charming style and command of his subject matter kept the audience rapt and I found this book to have a similar highly entertaining, often funny voice. A non-fiction book that you can't put down is a rare bird indeed and I felt as soon as I'd opened it I was transported to a time of possibility and hardship, when men were carving political power out of raw chaos and a new religion was drawing the dregs of Europe and forging the basis for modern governments.
Five out of Five Hooks
An Essential Part of any Pirate Library
This feature of the blog is a weekly entry on how pirates employed concepts that seem very modern in their lives that may surprise and amaze with their progressiveness.
In the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy (1680s-1720s) ran their ships in many cases as joint stock companies. The crewmen all got an even stake of plunder and the Captain got to keep the ship; though the Captain was elected by a majority of the crew. It was common for Captains to change several times during a voyage, even during a single month. The articles of the ship were therefore very important, they were the code of laws that the members of the crew agreed to abide by. Each ship therefore becomes a floating corporation in modern terms and accordingly, those members of the crew who are injured for the greater good were compensated for their injuries. Each injury given a specific monitary value.
For Henry Morgan:
A standard compensation is provided for maimed and mutilated buccaneers. "Thus they order for the loss of a right arm six hundred pieces of eight, or six slaves ; for the loss of a left arm five hundred pieces of eight, or five slaves ; for a right leg five hundred pieces of eight, or five slaves ; for the left leg four hundred pieces of eight, or four slaves ; for an eye one hundred pieces of eight, or one slave ; for a finger of the hand the same reward as for the eye."
For Edward Low and George Lowther:
A standard compensation is provided for maimed and mutilated buccaneers. "Thus they order for the loss of a right arm six hundred pieces of eight, or six slaves ; for the loss of a left arm five hundred pieces of eight, or five slaves ; for a right leg five hundred pieces of eight, or five slaves ; for the left leg four hundred pieces of eight, or four slaves ; for an eye one hundred pieces of eight, or one slave ; for a finger of the hand the same reward as for the eye.
For Bartholomew Roberts:
No man to talk of breaking up their way of living, till each had shared one thousand pounds. If in order to this, any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionately.
These obviously varied from ship to ship and were likely amended fairly often. Pirate Codes have influenced European and American Democracy and Corporate Charters all over the World.
What Have Pirates Done For Me Lately is Updated every Friday.
“Chinese pirates are rather amazing; there were hundreds of [famous] Chinese pirates.”
The Chinese emperors often made attempts to curb the piracy along their shores, but were inevitably helpless to stop it. European Powers found themselves dealing with Pirates more readily than governmental powers in China, such as the Pirate King, Zheng Zhilong.
Zheng Zhilong was born in Fujian to a merchant family, he was very well educated at the hands of Portuguese missionaries in Macau in the early 1600s. He was baptized Nicholas Gaspard at the age of 18, helping his family become Westernized in order to trade with the Westerners they were quickly prosperous.
Over the years as China's relationship with the Portuguese became strained, an occasion as predictable as the tide, and the western traders were expelled from Macau, Gaspard relocated to Taiwan, conquering part of the island for China for the first time.
Zheng Zhilong's son, Koxinga is a famous character as well, his actions leading to Zheng's eventual execution, but that is a story for another day...
I have been studying piracy rather extensively for the past five years and am happy to be sharing the fruits of my labor with you, my reader.
Grab a scabbard and prepare your brain to be boarded.