Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Catala - Chapter 2


The Pirate – Don Pedro de Freitas
The Merchant - Don Pedro da Silva

Don Pedro de Freitas was one of the most colorful pirates to sail the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. He was the captain of the pirate ship “Marte” (named after the Roman god of war in Latin) which was endowed with 80 cannons and 60 cutthroats.

The Congress of Vienna, convened after the Napoleonic Wars by its victors – England, Austria, Germany, and Russia - contained a Declaration, which called for the abolition of slavery in 1815. This particularly referred to the traffickers in ebony as the slave traders in Africa were known. Over a hundred years would pass before the English cruisers would eventually stamp out the slave trade in Africa.

Don Pedro had lost an eye in one of his skirmishes with the English. A piece of shrapnel had shattered his eyeball. Don Pedro had stuffed a wad of rags into his left eye and continued fighting. He was 25 years old and decided on the spot to abandon Africa and the slave trade. It was too risky and the rewards were piddling nowadays.

“Free all the slaves. Throw them into the sea. That will slow the English ship for they will have to pick up the survivors. That’s the price they're going to pay for their sanctimony. Scravos – slaves, If you can swim, this is your lucky day. If you can’t, then it will be a good day for the sharks.”

Don Pedro pointed his ship towards the Orient - Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo and the Straits of Malacca.

"It is too tedious to deal with the Black Rulers, The Jewish and Arab traders, the English holier than thou officials, reveling in their hypocrisy," Don Pedro concluded.

He had given up on the idea of raiding in the Malacca Straights since the war was declared on Aceh.

"I don’t want to tangle with the Dutch gunboats. They will not show us any of their vaunted Christian mercy, if we, or anyone else, dare get in their way. Can’t say as I blame them because we would do exactly the same. The jungle is right here within us not in those heavenly islands rich in the Creator’s every bounty."

"Men! Listen to me. In the Orient, the pickings are fabulous – opium, gold, pearls, mother-of-pearl, spices, (black pepper, nutmeg, curcuma, cinnamon and cloves), Chinese porcelain, bronzes, silks, Chinese antiquities, and exotic flora and fauna, and last but not least, we have vast numbers of Chinese coolies and Hindu harijans - untouchables, to capture and sell to traders in North and South America."

"Yes Capitan we are yours for as long as you want us." his motley crew of rascals replied, dazed by his speech.

Don Pedro had two cardinal rules.

"We are going to avoid contests with the Dutch gunships … even though their holdings were nationalized by Batavia … they still think they rule this part of the world. Don’t forget, they are very efficient in steaming from the Moluccas Islands, Aceh, Sumatra, Java and any of their important posts in the 10.000 island group of Indonesia."

Don Pedro never took prisoners. “This is my second and strictest rule. It will be enforced with no exceptions. The Rules of Survival dictate that we must not allow any witnesses, men, women or children who can identify any of us!"

His distinctive eye patch was used only when Don Pedro was in his role as Captain of the pirate ship Marte and in the act of boarding the vessel he had just seized.

When he played at being the refined merchant, Don Pedro da Silva, he removed his black eye patch and used a glass eye. This disguise was necessary because he had discovered that stealth produced more results than blatant confrontation. As a wealthy merchant, Don Pedro, was privy to valuable information. Such as "A Dutch ship laden with gold, spices and heating and cooking oil is headed towards the Straits of Malacca" or "remnants of what was once the multi-tentacled Dutch East India Company are buying talking birds and other valuables from the island of Nias."

"Senhor de Silva. I want the most beautiful white talking bird to best anyone’s cockatoo, here in Shanghai. Money is no object. There will be no Kiao – Kiao (palavering) on this." So said Lord Tung Lok, the soft-spoken head of the most powerful and feared Friendship Society in Southern China.

They called themselves "The House Of The Golden Dragons", but everyone, foreign devil and Chinese knew they were Secret Societies and not to be trifled with.

When Don Pedro first heard of Lord Tung-Lok's interest, he told his first mate, "It’s not the idea of procuring a Catala (as the cockatoos were known in Portugal and Spain) for the Potentate Tung Lok which seduces me, it’s doing business with Tung Lok. First, a Catala, then, who knows? Opium? Laborers? Women? Gold?"

The island of Nias had bewitched Don Pedro de Freitas. "Thick rain forests border the entire island. God overindulged Himself with every plant, flower, sea and land creature He could think of in his millisecond of creation," he had explained to his crew.

He had used gold sovereigns to ingratiate himself into the metallic heart of Hans Gevers. Charm alone would never work on a Dutch bureaucrat. They are dull and have no imagination, correctly surmised Don Pedro.

Gevers was in charge of the Sumatran archipelago on behalf of the Dutch East India Military Government. General Van Swieten ruled and governed the entire archipelago.

“Guerilla warfare continues in the hinterlands of Aceh. The Dutch Minister of War Weizel has declared open war on Aceh,” he explained to Rienzi his first mate.

‘Why don’t we join them and take part in the plunder?” asked Rienzi.

Don Pedro paled. We are worse than the beasts and creatures that inhabit the jungles of the earth, he thought. Then without showing the least sign of irritation he continued what he considered a hopeless enterprise, that of teaching and educating his men.

"The Dutch will never accept assistance from the Portuguese. Those racist bastards consider us a rung above the Malays and the Hindus. Prince Henry the Navigator clad in soft leather boots and gold embroidered jackets sailed around Africa and Asia before Columbus. At the same time the Dutch and Germans used wooden clogs to walk over their slime and feces. The Hindus had a civilization thousands of years before the Greeks and the Romans did. Borobudur in Java is spellbinding.

“I ask you what have the Dutch built? Windmills? Let’s go back to the subject at hand. Their war in Aceh has gone terribly wrong. The Dutch only control the coastal cities and they are able to accomplish that only with firepower and never-ending slaughter,” said Don Pedro.

The unspoken message was clear to Rienzi. He would pass the word. They would get little or nothing by attacking the island of Aceh. It was simpler for Don Pedro, to come to the island of Nias accompanied by the "ZEE" one of the armed merchant ships of the Dutch East India Military Company, than it was to blast his way in.

“I fully intend to negotiate with the Naya. No matter what happens, I must obtain the cockatoo for Lord Tung Lok,” he had decided and nothing would make him change his mind.

The Naya were headhunters. They inhabited Nias since the beginning of time. Their shaman Kungku and his people remembered the fires, which burnt for days and nights in Aceh. The stench of burnt flesh penetrated their nostrils. Kungku had ordered every man woman and child to wear thick garlands of orange frangipanis around their necks in order to prevent nausea and vomiting. This had taken place not so long ago.

What had brought on this calamity? Dr. Snouk Hurgronje, from the University of Leiden was the leading Dutch scholar on Islamic culture. He wrote a series of essays for the Crown and for the Dutch Armed Forces.

“The power of the Sultan is marginal. The hereditary Chiefs, the Uwe Balang enjoy more influence and prestige, ergo credibility amongst the people of Aceh. They can be bought with money, opium, alcohol and firearms. We can train them as our administrators. The religious leaders and members of the Ulema – the religious council are not to be trusted. They will never cooperate with us and must all be destroyed with no time to waste.”

So the Dutch soldiers waited until the men and women entered the Mosques on Friday morning. The Imams and muezzins died first, their heads blown off. No one was spared. The Madrassah schools where boys and girls studied the holy Qur”an turned into rivers of blood.

The corpses of the dead were piled into massive wooden funeral pyres and burned in the open. That was the smell of the dead, which so terrified the Shaman Kungku and his Naya people.

In the rain forests, the beasts and creatures felt themselves under attack for countless suns and dark nights. All those who could take wing did so. Birds like eagles, hawks, falcons, cockatoos and owls flew over Aceh. Even their superbly designed eyes could not penetrate the acrid and putrid smoke. Some died from breathing the foul stuff.

A breathtakingly lovely cockatoo flew high, high up. He decided it was safer to investigate in the daytime; He could keep both eyes out for his fellow predators in the sky. He sighted circles of fire and heard loud noises and fearful cries. I must fly away. This is dangerous. I am going back to my island now.

He glided smoothly for a few seconds and then swiftly ascended as high as his lungs and wings would take him. He continued until he espied the familiar outlines of his favorite trees in the rainforest of Nias.

De Freitas recalled how the great explorer Ferdinand Magellan, a fellow Portuguese, had died at the hands of fierce natives in the Philippines, in the 16th century. The nationalist Chief Lapu-Lapu had not taken to the idea of belonging to the great white King in a far-away land called Spain. An argument ensued. Magellan was hotheaded, Lapu-Lapu more so. He unsheathed his Parang and lopped off the naval explorer’s head.

"The natives were not headhunters as such, just independent and brave warriors. Professional soldiers, one might say. Magellan was the first man to circumnavigate the globe, but aside from the glory which was of no use to him since he was dead, the fame and fortune was reaped by his lieutenants," he mused, suppressing a grin.

Gevers speaks some Naya, best to let him have his moment of glory and negotiate with the headhunters, that will afford me the opportunity of observing them, thought de Freitas. He and Major Hans Gevers were being rowed ashore on a large launch from the Dutch merchant vessel "ZEE".

The smell of burning flesh reached their nostrils. "Fucking Barbarians and Brutes," pronounced Gevers gagging softly.

"Stay calm. I have always found savages in Africa endowed with a certain dignity and reserve. In South East Asia, they surely aren’t any different. They are roasting a wild boar or some such thing in our honor, not a human being." Don Pedro said in dulcet tones.

"I am aware of that, Sir," replied Gevers quickly, "I didn’t mean to sound squeamish.”

He launched into a detailed description of the Naya’s deadly proclivities. "Headhunters slash off the heads of their enemies defeated in battle or kidnapped. The heads undergo a highly technical and secret process which we Europeans are totally in the dark about: believe me, I personally would not care to know. The Naya, are Masters at shrinking the heads to a circumference of 10 inches. The headless bodies of their victims are then sacrificed to their God (Belisanko)."

Don Pedro said nothing. The imperious demeanor of a man who reeked of authority distracted him. Ah! That was bound to be the sorcerer and shaman called Kungku. The Chief of the Naya, Tamango looked every bit a leader, but one could tell he deferred to the Shaman. There was a distinctive resemblance between them, as well as with the young brave, Kananga, who would have made a perfect Priapus in any Roman bacchanalia.

I’ve got it! Kungku, the shaman is the Grandfather, Tamanga the father, and Kananga, the son. Nepotism is alive and thriving even amongst the Naya headhunters.

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