TALES FROM THE CARIBBEAN
“Cock-a-doodle-do,” crowed Barrack the rooster from his treetop, as the morning sun peeked its head above the horizon. Down on the ground at the foot of its trunk, Brother Lamb rubbed the sleep from his eyes and saw a hairy spider the size of a dinner plate a short distance from his bare foot. The monk was frozen motionless as his mind searched for a “right” course of action. Barrack looked down from his lofty perch in the tree above, and immediately flapped down from his perch and made a quick breakfast out of the spider.
“Saints be preserved,” said Brother Lamb. “Just a few days ago, I tried to capture and eat this beautiful bird.”
“Cock-a-doodle-do,” crowed Barrack, as he finished polishing off the last tasty pieces of spider.
Now that he had a good breakfast inside him, Barrack cocked his head, listened to see from whence the sound of cackling hens was coming, and promptly headed their way to say hello. The rival rooster who stood in their midst, regarding himself as boss of the yard next door to the boat shack, saw Barrack coming and bristled. His first reaction was to spread his wings and lower his head in threat. But then painful memories of his last encounter with Barrack arose, and he changed his mind and decided to choose discretion over valor. He beat a hasty retreat and surrendered his harem without a fight.
Brother Lamb meanwhile dusted off his robe and washed his face in a bucket of water which stood next to the boat shack. He saw Dave (the one everyone called Shark Boy) walking up the hill from the harbor.
“Ahoy, Brother Lamb,” said Dave, “did you sleep well last night?”
“I slept well,” said the Monk “but my heart nearly stopped when I opened my eyes and saw a big hairy spider next to my bare foot.”
“I tried to wake you when I left the party last night,” said Dave, “but you were sound asleep and wouldn’t wake up. Most people down here don’t sleep on the ground, because of all the spiders, scorpions, cockroaches, lizards and other crawly creatures. The cockroaches are harmless but they drink fluid from the corner of your eyes when you sleep, and when they crawl across your face in the dark, it’s scary because you can’t tell whether it’s a spider, a scorpion, or what on your face.”
“How long did the party last?” asked Brother Lamb, changing the subject.
“It’s still going on,” Dave laughed. “They moved it to Dead Man’s Chest Island. I saw Jessie’s boat head there at first light and heard them singing, ‘Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest, ho-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.’”
“Once upon a time,” Dave went on, “they say that Black Beard suspected his crew of stealing from him so he stranded sixteen men on a barren, waterless island, without food and gave them a bottle of rum and one cutlass. When he returned several weeks later, there was only one man alive, but since he had no way of knowing if that survivor was the culprit, he killed him too.”
Brother Lamb asked, “Are pirates still living around here?”
“If you’d stayed awake last night, you would’ve met some of them; they’re the real deal. Their ancestors have lived on these islands since the early 1700s. Most of them were unemployed seamen who had suffered under the brutal discipline, rotten food, and unsanitary conditions aboard warships from various European powers, until they finally got paid for their services by being dumped off on the beaches here without a cent. After the English, Spanish, French, and Dutch navies fought it out, they signed a peace treaty. The Royal Navy, not to mention the other governments, immediately abandoned 30,000 sailors and stranded them here in the Caribbean. The Royal Navy was broke after that peace, so they just issued worthless IOU’s to their sailors.
“The Governor of Bermuda tried to warn the European governments that out-of-job men were banding together and becoming pirates, but to no avail. A host of cutthroats — Blackbeard, Black Sam Bellamy, Stede Bonnet the ‘gentleman pirate,’ Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, Mary Read and Anne Bonny among them — would soon become Caribbean pirate legends who threatened trade, all the shipping routes in the Southern Ocean, and the economic structure of European governments. Pirates democratically elected their captains and could depose of them by popular vote, or by making them walk the plank, whichever they pleased. They also provided disability benefits of about 200 pounds sterling — equivalent to decades of a merchant sailor’s wages — for losing a limb in action, which was unheard of in any regular government navy. Africans, native Indians, and women could serve as equals aboard a pirate vessel. Nearly a quarter of the typical pirate crew was comprised of escaped slaves. To be continued.
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