Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pirate Latitudes - Matanceros

While I was reading Pirate Latitudes, my thoughts kept returning to the name “Matanceros”, the Spanish fortress that Captain Hunter and his forces attack. I had the feeling I had seen that name before in connection with Michael Crichton. It took awhile, but I finally figured it out.

In Crichton’s novel Lost World, Ian Malcolm, speaking about where they are going, describes:

Five islands “strung out in an arc, all about ten miles offshore from the bay of Puerto Cortés…Local people call them the Five Deaths.”

“The Five Deaths are ancient volcanic islands…Matanceros, Muerte, Tacaño, Sorna, Pena…All names of death and destruction…” (paperback edition, pp. 87-88)

On p. 46 in Pirate Latitudes, Whisper tells Hunter “The island of Matanceros, it means slaughter in the Donnish tongue…” (The “Donnish tongue being Spanish.) But when I looked up the word “matanceros” I couldn’t find it in either online Spanish dictionaries or in the extensive dictionaries at my bookstore.

Fortunately, my friend (and major Michael Crichton fan) Erik Stengler, lives in Spain, and I asked him to investigate.

Here’s what he discovered:

I did notice the mention of Matanceros as supposedly meaning "slaughter", and it sounded strange to me, but I assumed it was archaic and left it at that. After all the modern word for "slaughter" is "matanza".

Now I have looked it up in the official dictionary of the Spanish Language It turns out to have the obvious meaning of a word built from "matanza" with the suffix "-ero", which always refers to the person or object that does whatever the root word means. So, a "matancero" is the official of the slaughterhouse who kills and rips apart the animals that are slaughtered, "matanceros" being its plural.

Now, why would an island be called that? There are two possibilities: either the island was inhabited by people (indigenous or colonists) known for their bloody way of dealing with enemies, or it was inhabited by people from the Cuban province of "Matanzas". This province in turn probably got its name from bloody battles held during its colonization.

It so happens that here on the island of Tenerife where I live, we have a village called "La Matanza", because the indigenous inhabitants "slaughtered" the Spanish colonists there. (The Spanish had there revenge soon afterwards at the neighboring village now known as "La Victoria", that is "The Victory" - history is always told by the winners...)

So, a third and unlikely explanation for the name Matanceros is that that island was inhabited by people from Tenerife's village "La Matanza"!

I have a theory as to how Michael Crichton might have discovered and came to use the word “matanceros”.

Just off the coast of Akumal, Mexico on the Caribbean coastline of Yucatan peninsula is a Spanish shipwreck known was as the Matanceros. The merchant ship sank in 1741 after being fatally damaged by coral reefs.

American underwater archaeologist Robert F. Marx discovered the wreck in 1957
From his book Treasure Lost at Sea: Diving to the World's Great Shipwrecks:

“One day in 1956, while I was living in Cozumel, I was pouring over a chart when I noticed that the coast opposite the island was called Punta Matanceros, which translates as “Slaughter Point.” That made me think that perhaps a ship had been lost there and the survivors massacred by Indians. I might never have investigated the area if I had know then what I later gleaned from the archives: the vessel’s nickname came from Matanzas, Cuba, where it was built.”

The wreck is described by a travel guide as "quite possibly the best dive site along the Riviera Maya". So I wonder if Michael Crichton, an avid scuba diver, ever explored the sunken ship known as the Matanceros.

Related Posts - The Origin of Pirate Latitudes

Links and more info on Michael Crichton at:
Kahlessa's Corner

Nook Wifi - 300x250

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pirate Latitudes - Additional Reading List

As I noted in Pirate Latitudes: First Impressions, the novel does not have a bibliography. When I read a novel by Michael Crichton, my curiosity is sparked about the reality behind the story, and I usually start reading some of the nonfiction books Crichton has listed in the bibliography. But this time we’re on our own.

Like The Great Train Robbery, Pirate Latitudes has its roots in actual historical events, and many of the characters appear to be based on real historical figures. And it’s not surprising that Crichton got the history right.

Here are some books on the real history behind Pirate Latitudes that I’m either reading, have read, or am going to read:

Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign
By Stephan Talty

This excellent book is the story of Henry Morgan, who I believe was the model for the character of Captain Charles Hunter.

The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates
By Peter T. Leeson

The book examines how economics explains and determined the actions of Caribbean pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Book website

Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates
By David Cordingly

Cordingly is a maritime historian who served as historical consultant for the film Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down
By Colin Woodard

This book tells the story of the end of pirating in the Caribbean. Woodes Rogers was once a privateer himself (as was Henry Morgan), but political changes in Europe necessitated an end to the use of privateers, and many of them turned to piracy. Rogers was given the task of reining the pirates in.
Book website

The Sea Rover's Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630 - 1730
By Benerson Little

Little was a Navy SEAL and is an analyst for the Naval Special Warfare Center Strategy and Tactics Group.
Book website

The Buccaneers of America
By Alexandre-Olivier Exquemelin

First published in English in 1684, this book was written by an insider. Exquemelin served with Henry Morgan, and after the book was published, Morgan sued the author because Exquemelin called Morgan a pirate. Morgan successfully argued that he was a privateer, acting under government commissions which made his acts lawful.
Available from Gutenberg for free

To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World
By Arthur Herman
The book explores the development of the British navy, which used privateers as the bulk of the Navy in the 16th and 17th centuries, but phased out their use as the country constructed its own fleet.

Sailing for Dummies
By J. Isler and Peter Isler

When Russell Crowe got the lead role in the film Master and Commander, his friend Jodie Foster gave him this book as a joke. But Crowe said, while he read other historical and academic books about sailing ships in the Napoleonic era, Sailing for Dummies proved to be an excellent overview and review of the basics.

Links and more info on Michael Crichton at:
Kahlessa's Corner

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy New Year!

Sorry for the silence, but I work in a bookstore and retail gets really nuts during the holidays. I’m also recovering from one of those colds that throws you down and stomps on your head.

Meanwhile I’ve been reading and pursuing books on pirates and privateers. I should have an “Addition Reading” list for Pirate Latitudes posted soon.

While you wait, here are two useful links:

The Caribbean map for Pirate Latitudes
(Published on the end papers of the hardcover)

Rob Ossian’s Pirate Cove
This fascinating website has pirate and privateer biographies, plus historical info on many aspects of piracy—weapons, ships, nautical terminology and pirate music.

Wishing everyone a glorious 2010! Enjoy this New Year’s post from my other blog Marla’s Musings:

One Good Year

Links and more info on Michael Crichton at:
Kahlessa's Corner