Franziska Gesine Brede

Sketches of the Global in Early Modern Francophone and Hispanophone Texts about Piracy in the Caribbean 

Early modern texts represent piracy in the Caribbean in an ambivalent but still revealing way. Far from being just another example of travel literature, they provide insights into the cultural effects of the expansion of the before known world. So we learn not only about the fascinating constructions of legality and community attributed to the pirates’ lives but especially about the transitory aspect and the continuous ambivalence of the space in which the pirates move, whose legal demarcations were in constant transition.

Whereas many researchers scrutinized anglophone literature and travel books about “legendary” pirates, this presentation wants to focus on the francophone and Hispanophone texts that exist about piracy in the Caribbean. Particularly the very early ones deriving from the 16th and 17th century represent another perspective on the same process of the colonization of the Caribbean, completing thereby the multi-faceted Europeanization of the area. Nonetheless, they take a rather critical look at piracy and the flibustiers, who were the arch-enemies of the Spanish crown as well as the most brutal colonizers for the French Antilles. These historiographic descriptions and fictionalizations have not only been received as important documents of early capitalism, but they also show how Grotius’ idea of a mare liberum (1609) changed the seascape in a cultural way.

The multiple codifications of Caribbean space particularly contained in Early modern texts, like Du Tertre (1667 - 1671), Exquemelin (1678, de Góngora (1690), de Seixas y Lóvera (1693) [1], however, were constitutive for spatial metaphors and geographical structures attributed to the Caribbean. As it was first of all perceived through the lenses of medieval and renascent theories on the Mediterranean (e.g. the atlases on island archipelagos, the “insulaires” (cf. Lestringant 2017)) further examples (like the idea of a closed sea as alluded in the “cradle” of the Caribbean or the transfer of a little Venice carried further in the name Venezuela etc.) indicate the large scale of pre-existent European imaginaries that were projected on the area (Sheller 2003).

The above-mentioned texts can demonstrate these cultural inscriptions in Caribbean space in rather ambivalent ways that transform them into interesting sources for early globalization in the pre-national era. Contrary to romantic representations of the sea, many scenes are located in hybrid coastal areas (cf. Ganser 2013) whereas the sea itself is only rarely depicted as an uncontrollable watery space. Transcontinental voyages undertaken by traders or pirates show frequent distortions of distances, indicating a fundamental lack of geographical demarcations of the maritime space (cf. Deleuze/Guattari 1980). They seem to allude to experimental and illegal features of navigation, addressing thereby also the contingency of the denomination as “pirate”. The question arises to what extent these texts indicate another dynamic of globalization that emphasizes the more connective and transareal aspects of space and law, based on structures like the network (cf. Dünne 2011) or the archipelago.

[1] Du Tertre, Jean-Baptiste: Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François ... (1667 - 1671); Exquemelin, Alexandre Olivier: De Americaensche Zee-Rovers (1678) / Piratas de la America: y luz à la defensa de las costas de Indias ... (1681)/ The history of the buccaneers of America (1684) / Histoire des avanturiers qui se sont signalez dans les Indes ... (1689); Sigüenza de Góngora, Carlos: Infortunios de Alonso Ramírez (1690); de Seixas y Lóvera, Francisco (1693): Piratas y contrabandistas de ambas Indias y estado presente de ellas (1693)