Pirate Novels: Fictions of Nation Building in Spanish America

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Overview

In Pirate Novels Nina Gerassi-Navarro examines an overlooked genre to reveal how history and fiction blend to address important isuses of nation building in nineteenth-century Spanish America. In the figure of the pirate, bold and heroic to some, cruel and criminal to others, she reveals an almost ideal character that came to embody the spirit of emerging nationhood and the violence associated with the struggle to attain it.
Beginning with an overview of the history of piracy, Gerassi-Navarro traces the historical icon of the pirate through colonial-era chronicles before exploring a group of nineteenth-century Mexican, Colombian, and Argentine novels. She argues that the authors of these novels, in their reconstructions of the past, were less interested in accurate representations than in using their narratives to discuss the future of their own countries. In reading these pirate narratives as metaphors for the process of nation building in Spanish America, Gerassi-Navarro exposes the conflicting strains of a complex culture attempting to shape that future. She shows how these pirate stories reflect the on-going debates that marked the consolidation of nationhood, as well as the extent to which the narratives of national identity in Spanish America are structured in relation to European cultures, and the ways in which questions of race and gender were addressed.
Providing new readings of the cultural and political paradigms that marked the literary production of nineteenth-century Spanish America, Pirate Novels uniquely expands the range of texts usually examined in the study of nation-building. It will interest literary scholars generally as well as those engaged in Latin American, colonial, and postcolonial studies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Gerassi-Navarro dares to look at an important blindspot in the construction of modern nations: our cultural and political connections to piracy.”—Doris Sommer, editor of The Places of History: Regionalism Revisited in Latin America

“Marvelously readable and engaging, this is first-rate, original scholarship with an unusual perspective on 19th century Hispanic American society, a perspective made utterly convincing, fascinating, and important.”—Mary G. Berg, Harvard University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822323938
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Nina Gerassi-Navarro is Associate Professor of Spanish at Mount Holyoke College.

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Read an Excerpt

Pirate Novels

Fictions of Nation Building in Spanish America


By Nina Gerassi-Navarro

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1999 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9761-8



CHAPTER 1

Piracy in Spanish America: A History

Un caso duro, triste y espantable, un acontecimiento furibundo una calamidad que fue notable en ciertos puertos de este Nuevo Mundo canto con ronca voz y lamentable, que el flaco pecho de lo más profundo embia por sus vias a la lengua —Juan de Castellanos, "Discurso de el Capitán Draque"


On his return from Hispaniola, in a letter dated November 5, 1523, Diego Cólon, son of Christopher Columbus, wrote King Charles I of Spain complaining about the number of corsairs roaming the seas trying to rob the Crown of its well-deserved and legitimate riches.1These first pirates, or corsairs—as they were generally called by the Spanish— were mostly French. The English and Dutch soon joined in the raids on the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean (as would the North Americans in later years). Their plunders were violent. The pirates seized Spanish vessels at sea and descended on villages and ports, raiding churches and homes, harassing the civilians for treasures. By the end of the sixteenth century, pirates had become Spain's most feared commercial and political enemies and would remain a menace to the Spanish colonies throughout the eighteenth century.

Pirates are by definition enemies. The word derives from the Greek peiran, meaning to assault or attack. Plundering the seas and responding to no other laws than their own, they are feared and persecuted by every society. However, throughout the three centuries of piratical activity in the New World, there were serious contradictions in the way pirates were classified as well as in the numerous terms used to define the attacks made by foreign nationals. These differences reflect the conflicting roles and significance piratical assaults had for the nations involved. For England, piracy was an instrument of national policy and received covert official support. With certain differences, the same was true for France and the Netherlands. In essence, piracy became an important vehicle through which these European nations battled against the Spanish empire, hoping in exchange to build or enlarge their own empires.

Although the terms "pirate" and "corsair" were often used indiscriminately during the colonial period (in fact, in English today, "corsair" is commonly defined as a pirate),2 a crucial difference must be highlighted. Unlike the pirate, who plundered the seas or navigable rivers independently without any form of governmental authorization or support, a corsair (from the Italian corsaro) was a pirate or pirate ship sanctioned by the country to which it belonged. A corsair was the equivalent of the English privateer (introduced in 1651), a privately owned armed vessel with a commission, or letters of marque, from the government authorizing the owners to use the ship against a hostile nation, and especially in the capture of merchant shipping.

The transformation of piracy in Spanish America can be seen when at the beginning of the seventeenth century, two new terms appeared: bucanero and filibustero. These individuals, originally French and English cattle hunters living in the northwestern part of Hispaniola and the nearby island of Tortuga, became famous for their brutal plunders in the West Indies and South Seas. The use of terms, however, varied according to the language. The Spanish used bucanero and filibustero almost interchangeably, placing one chronologically before the other as the nineteenth-century Mexican historian Justo Sierra O'Reilly explained:

The "buccaneers" ... originally established themselves on the island of Santo Domingo from where they exerted thousands of bloody vexations on the Spanish colonies. Their pretext was to hunt cattle to sell the hides in Europe and make a good profit. France recognized them by sending them a governor in 1665, and under his protection they set out to execute all sorts of excess. Later came the "freebooters," more enterprising and daring than the buccaneers.... This gathering of pirates and adventurers from all nations was famous in the seventeenth century for its terrifying and extreme cruelty against the Spanish government, or rather against its ill-kept colonies. The freebooters roamed the seas assaulting fleets, murdering crews, burning vessels, besieging forts, destroying everything that fell into their hands.


The historian José Bravo Ugarte distinguishes four specific phases of piracy that correspond to the wars in which Spain was engaged. The first period, marked by the presence of French pirates, was quite brief (15211524) and coincides with the Franco-Spanish war in which Kings Charles V and Philip II of Spain opposed Francis I and Henry II of France. The second phase (1568-1596) belongs to the English corsairs and coincides with the battle between King Philip II and Queen Elizabeth of England. Hostilities between the Netherlands and Spain led to the third period of piracy (1621-1650) when Dutch corsairs attacked Spanish possessions, which officially ended with the signing of the Peace of Westphalia (1648). According to Bravo Ugarte, the fourth and last phase lasted almost a century, more or less until 1750, when all nationalities seemed to bond indiscriminately and "buccaneers, pechelingues and freebooters, controlled the strategic points in the Caribbean Sea."

In French the term boucanier was more restricted to the cattle hunters of Hispaniola. By extension it also referred to any pirate in America. Flibustier—from the Dutch vrijbuiter or English "freebooter"—was a more general term used to refer to the pirates assaulting the Spanish colonies.

In English, however, the term "buccaneer" was used synonymously with "corsair" or "freebooter," leaving "privateer" as the officially recognized armed ship or crew member. "Filibuster" was not commonly employed in English until the nineteenth century, when it came to designate a certain type of adventurer from the United States who, particularly between 1800 and 1850, led armed expeditions to the West Indies and Central America "in violation of international law, for the purpose of revolutionizing certain states."

The first corsairs defined as such were those sent by the Barbary nations of North Africa to attack Christian ships and coasts as part of an accepted policy of their Muslim governments. Thus the term "corsair" originally referred to a conflict that was based on a religious division between Islam and Christianity. As the word continued to be used in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, it retained—at least for the Spanish—a certain religious connotation. When the Spanish used "corsair," they were probably alluding to the attackers' "heretical" characteristics in addition to defining their political aggression. In fact, Francis Drake is known to have been extremely offended when the Spanish called him a corsario. This would explain why the Spanish generally used the terms "pirate" and "corsair" when referring to the English, whereas they preferred the words "pirate," "buccaneer," and "freebooter" to refer to the French attackers.

The difficulty in classifying these individuals according to the terminology used at the time is clearly illustrated by the particular situation of Francis Drake. While acknowledging that to a Spaniard, Drake would certainly have been considered a pirate, Philip Gosse, in The Pirate's Who's Who, calls Drake a "most fervent patriot." Thus the categories of pirate and patriot undoubtedly depended on the point of view from which they were presented. For the Spanish, however, the distinction was moot: all foreigners in the Indies were national enemies, whether pirates, smugglers, or corsairs, and their ships were to be seized whenever possible.

European nations attacking the Spanish colonies often played up religious differences to justify their own economic interest in obtaining the precious metals and spices Spain had monopolized. Although religion was used as a means of justification, it was not the governing motive behind the attacks; securing a trade route and market was. Consequently, the conflicts were between Protestants and Catholics, as well as among rival Catholic nations, the most prominent struggle being between Spain and Portugal. Spain claimed and marked the boundaries of its territories in the New World by upholding the dividing line the papacy had drawn with Portugal. It had been the accession of Queen Isabella (1474-1504), who, moved by her own intense religious convictions and the need to avoid a new holy war, revived Spain's determination to conquer Islam and reclaim her kingdom under one religion. In 1482 a systematic reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula began. The defeat of the Moors and the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 would allow Spain to assert itself over the rest of Christian Europe. It would be in the name of religion that the rest of Europe would violently attack Spain.

The fluctuating terminology used to classify the aggressors of the Spanish colonies is conditioned by the complex political circumstances that marked relations between Spain and the rest of Europe, ranging from open acts of war to peace treaties or pacts with or among France, England, and the Netherlands. It was also quite common for corsairs to attack their own country's vessels at some point and thus become "official" pirates, further complicating the definition of piracy in the New World. In the words of Enrique de Gandía: "Most corsairs were also pirates, since it would be quite strange to encounter one that did not overstep the orders of his commission."

Although Spain considered all foreign trade within its territories an illegal act and treated the individuals involved as pirates, not all foreign activities during the colonial period were true acts of piracy. In addition to the sea plunders there was the contraband trade of small-scale smugglers and slave runners. Later, in the eighteenth century, as Spanish industry declined and the cost of shipment to the Indies through authorized channels rose, a strong unofficial trafficking between the colonies and other European merchants began to emerge. These merchants offered both cheaper manufactured goods and slaves in exchange for Spanish American hides and dyewoods, which in turn would reduce the production costs of the textile trades in Europe.

However "piracy" is explained, it is apparent that the intense "envy" European nations felt toward Spain and its territories began shortly after Columbus's "discovery" excluded all foreigners from the New World. On Columbus's return from his first voyage to America, the Spanish Crown obtained formal recognition of its new territories. The Treaty of Alcacpvas between Portugal and Spain had granted the Portuguese a monopoly of trade in West Africa as well as settlements in Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands, and the Azores; Spain had retained the Canary Islands. Now it was Spain's turn to assert its claims and what it thought to be the alternate route to the Orient, the strongly sought land of spices. On May 3,1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter caetera, granting Spain sovereignty over all the land and sea located one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde "not possessed by any Christian prince." Spain's claim to the lands called the Indies was immediately contested by Portugal. Moved by the need to restrict Spanish maritime activity in the South Atlantic, protect their African interests, and secure their route to the Orient, the Portuguese pushed the imaginary boundary 270 leagues west. This agreement was ratified on June 7, 1494, in the Treaty of Tordesillas, which established the final dividing line at 370 leagues west of the Azores.

By 1504 there was a growing awareness that the new route to the Spice Islands Columbus had encountered led to a land that was neither Cathay (China) nor Cipango (Japan). The increasing expeditions that set out subsequently reshaped the map of the "discoveries," making it clear that what had been found was in fact another continent. Taking advantage of local knowledge, diplomacy, and force, in 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa marched through the forests of the Isthmus of Darien (later renamed the Isthmus of Panama) to "discover" the South Sea (the Pacific Ocean). In 1519, the same year Cortes arrived in Mexico, Ferdinand Magellan's onerous circumnavigational voyage revealed the extension of the continent as well as the true western route to the East. This land-mass was initially seen as a barrier, hindering Europe's direct access to Asia. Furthermore, Magellan's voyage exposed the immensity of the Pacific Ocean and the difficulties of reaching the East through a western route. When the Portuguese set foot on the Molucca Islands in 1513, their victory over Spain in the quest to reach the East was assured. However, Portugal's triumph was short-lived. In 1519, Hernán Cortés began his expedition along the Yucatán Peninsula. Three years later, the defeat of Tenochtitlán yielded an unexpected and amazing treasure, followed by the riches obtained in the conquest of the Tawantinsuyu of South America. Hence, when Charles I of Spain became emperor of Germany, his empire "where the sun never set" made him the envy of the other European monarchs.

Despite Spain's legal claim over the new territories, as soon as the sea route to the New World was defined and word got out about the riches to be found there, other European nations quickly ventured toward the new continent, challenging Spain's claim. In trying to ensure and expand their control, the Spanish established settlements such as Santo Domingo (1504), San Germán (1508), and San Juan de Puerto Rico and Havana (1511), to provide a base for their first expeditions and offer their vessels protection from storms and any possible attacks. In 1517 the Spanish shifted their interest westward, exploring the coasts of the Yucatán, Tabasco, and Mexico, leading to Hernán Cortés's expedition to the land of Moctezuma and the establishment of New Spain as the center of the Spanish colonization effort on the mainland. The expeditions to the southern part of the continent continued, although they were much less rewarding in comparison to the riches obtained in Mexico, until Francisco Pizarro's capture of Cuzco in 1533.

Considering the vast extension of the new territories, it was impossible for Spain to maintain tight control over its possessions. In the Caribbean, the Spanish settled primarily in the Greater Antilles, in the islands of Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, leaving open the Lesser Antilles, a large group of extremely small islands southeast of Puerto Rico and north of the Venezuelan coast. The Caribbean Sea became the center focus of the pirates, for these small islands scattered across the waters offered ideal hiding places from other vessels and refuge from the winds. The French were the first to take advantage of this situation, settling on and organizing their attacks from several islands. San Cristóbal was the first they occupied, and shortly afterward they took over Tortuga, which would become a central base from which some of the most violent piratical attacks would be launched during the seventeenth century.

Unlike the colonial ventures of the French, English, and Portuguese at this early stage, the Spanish sought to Christianize, that is, "civilize" the native people they encountered. Spain therefore kept a close watch on immigrants. The Spanish Crown enacted numerous rules and regulations to guarantee order and justice and secure its economic benefits throughout the New World. Colonial administration was centralized in Spain, specifically Seville, from where the Royal and Supreme Council of the Indies enacted all legislation, and the Casa de Contratación controlled all commercial activities related to the Indies. The colonies were given little political and economic freedom. They were prohibited from trading with foreign nationals, and manufacturing was kept to a minimum. Consequently, industry was never stimulated except to fulfill the specific needs of the Iberian Peninsula. The colonies were to provide metals and raw materials that would be exchanged for finished Spanish products. In this way, Spain made sure the colonies did not compete with its own manufactured goods and secured a market for its own products. Spain, however, could not fulfill its end of the colonial pact. Because it did not produce enough manufactured goods to satisfy the needs of its enormous colonial empire, Spain undermined its own monopoly and opened the door to contraband with English, French, and Dutch traders.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Pirate Novels by Nina Gerassi-Navarro. Copyright © 1999 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments,
Introduction,
Chapter One: Piracy in Spanish America: A History,
Chapter Two: The Sea Monsters of the Colonial Era,
Chapter Three: Defining National Identities Through Piracy,
Chapter Four: Nation Building and the Historical Novel,
Chapter Five: The Force of Melodrama,
Conclusion,
Notes,
Bibliography,
Index,

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