L’arte della tortura presso i pirati della Costa

Se pensiamo al classico pirata ce lo immaginiamo brutale, scarmigliato, magari con un pappagallo sulla spalla e un uncino al posto della mano. e magari ce lo immaginiamo anche intento a torturare un prigioniero costringendolo a “passeggiare” in precario equilibrio su un’ asse sporgente dalla nave che dà su un oceano in tempesta infestato da squali.

Tutta intorno a lui la marmaglia della ciurma lo incoraggia ad essere sempre più crudele.

Ma questa immagine è falsa, per i prati la tortura non era un sadico passatempo, tutt’altro.

Il miglior modo per capirlo è leggere “WALK THE PLANK THE ECONOMICS OF PIRATE TORTURE – The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates” di Peter Leeson…

… There are, in fact, no recorded cases of seventeenth- or eighteenth-century pirates, hook-handed or otherwise, forcing captives to jump off wooden planks. Further, pirates weren’t sadists who tortured everyone they encountered for fun…

Certo, a noi è giunta una descrizione dei pirati come esseri assetati di sangue, e come vedremo, non è affatto un caso. Ma ecco un esempio…

… Charles Johnson, for example, described Bartholomew Roberts’s crew’s apparent violent madness as follows: “It is impossible to particularly recount the Destruction and Havock,” which these pirates committed “without Remorse or Compunction; for nothing is so deplorable as Power in mean and ignorant Hands, it makes Men wanton and giddy …. They are like mad Men, that cast Fire-Brands, Arrows, and Death, and say, are not we in Sport?” “Like their Patron, the Devil,” Johnson observed, pirates “must make Mischief their Sport, Cruelty their Delight, and damning of Souls their constant Employment.”…

Dando retta al bollettino ci facciamo l’idea di un depravato, di uno psicopatico. In realtà parliamo di egoisti razionali molto vicini a noi…

… pirates comported more with the attitude Captain Sam Bellamy expressed when he said, “I scorn to do any one a Mischief, when it is not for my Advantage.”…

I pirati torturavano spesso i loro prigionieri ma lo facevano a ragion veduta, mostrando oltretutto una notevole abilità nell’uso di questo terribile strumento.

Coltivare la reputazione di esseri crudeli era al centro del loro piano: in questo modo era più facile fiaccare in anticipo la resistenza delle vittime ed estrarre da loro informazioni preziose…

… that they elevated their reputation to the status of a piratical “brand name.” As a result of this brand name pirates improved their efficiency on the account, reaping greater rewards from their plunder…

Ecco allora le tre ragioni di fondo per cui si torturava…

… Pirates tortured captives for three main reasons. First, they did so to elicit information, usually regarding the whereabouts of hidden valuables aboard captured ships. Second, pirates tortured captives to punish government officials for attempting to capture them or for capturing and hanging fellow pirates. Third, pirates used torture to punish unscrupulous or abusive merchant captains

Innanzitutto, si voleva sapere dai prigionieri dove erano occultati i tesori a bordo. Mi sembra del tutto logico.

A volte, nell’imminenza dell’abbordaggio, la vittima distruggeva il bottino. Bisognava assolutamente evitarlo facendole sapere che sarebbe andata incontro a punizioni terribili. Altre volte lo occultava in luoghi reconditi della nave…

…” hung eleven thousand moydores of gold in a bag out of the cabbin window, and as soon as he was taken by the said Lowe, cutt the rope and lett them drop into the sea.”…

Ma era importante anche impossessarsi di documenti con preziose informazioni (per esempio le rotte dei mercantili e dei guardiacoste)…

… After Blackbeard’s crew seized one vessel, for example, “all their Papers were perused with the same Diligence as tho’ it had been at the Secretary’s Office here in England.”…

La tortura spettacolare serviva dunque a prevenire occultamenti e distruzioni…

… By inflicting heinous tortures on those who hid or destroyed valuables, or who were suspected of hiding or destroying them, pirates could prevent behaviors that would otherwise erode their revenue… heinous pirate torture prevented crew members on future prizes from attempting to withhold valuable boot…

La reputazione delle pratiche barbariche doveva diffondersi in tutto il mondo marittimo. In questo senso la pubblicità data dalle cronache dei giornali era preziosa…

… What’s more, pirates received advertisement for their reputation in popular eighteenth-century newspapers, which unwittingly contributed to pirates’ ruthless brand name, indirectly facilitating pirates’ profit…

Ora sappiamo perché i pirati dedicassero tanto tempo alle loro “diaboliche invenzioni” come le ribattezzò un tribunale dell’epoca. La passeggiata sopra gli squali, la cottura della vittima viva, il pasto delle proprie orecchie, il coltello nell’occhio,  l’impalatura senza ledere organi vitali… un vasto e giustificato repertorio degli orrori.

Come reagì, per esempio, Edward Low al capitano del mercantile che gettò in mare il carico prima dell’abbordaggio?…

… “Lowe cutt off the said Masters lipps and broyl’d them before his face, and afterwards murder’d the whole crew being thirty two persons” In a newspaper article in the American Weekly Mercury, a witness described how Low’s crew treated other resistant prisoners: “They cut and whiped some and others they burnt with Matches between their Fingers to the bone to make them confess where their Money was.”…

E Charles Vane?

… “bound [one captive’s] hands and feet and ty’d (upon his back) down to the bowspritt with matches to his eyes burning and a pistol loaded with the muzzle into his mouth, thereby to oblige him to confess what money was on board.”…

E George Lowther?…

… “placing lighted matches between the fingers of” his prisoners “to make them discover where the gold was.”…

I bucanieri erano particolarmente abili nell’arte della tortura. Furono loro a introdurre la raccapricciante pratica del “woolding“…

… “they strappado’d him until both his arms were entirely dislocated, then knotted the cord so tight round the forehead that his eyes bulged out, big as eggs. Since he still would not admit where the coffer was, they hung him up by his male parts, while one struck him, another sliced off his nose, yet another an ear, and another scorched him with fire.”… “they tied long cords to his thumbs and his big toes and spreadeagled him to four stakes. Then four of them came and beat on the cords with their sticks, making his body jerk and shudder and stretching his sinews. Still not satisfied, they put a stone weighing at least two hundred-weight on his loins and lit a fire of palm leaves under him, burning his face and setting his hair alight.”…

Un altro innovatore nel settore fu Francesco l’ Olonese

… “being possessed of a devil’s fury, ripped open one of the prisoners with his cutlass, tore the living heart out of his body, gnawed at it, and then hurled it in the face of one of the others.”…

L’inventiva era portentosa, pensate solo alla “tortura del compasso“, nota anche come “shock corridor“…

… “The Manner of a Sweat,” one pirate prisoner explained in the pages of the British Journal, “is thus: Between the Decks they stick Candles round the Mizen-Mast, and about twenty five Men surround it with Points of Swords, Penknives, Compasses, Forks, &c. in each of their Hands: Culprit enters the Circle; the Violin plays a merry Jig, and he must run for about ten Minutes, while each Man runs his Instrument into his Posteriors.”…

Ma la tortura non era indiscriminate, bensì mirata e con obbiettivi ragionevoli. Ecco una testimonianza in tal senso…

… Philip Ashton, for instance, “learned from some” of his pirate captors “that it was one of their Articles Not to Draw Blood, or take away the Life of any Man, after they had given him Quarter.”…

Chi abusava dei prigionieri veniva punito…

… This explains the seeming generosity of the quartermaster on Captain Roberts’s ship who observed one of his men abusing a captive. When he saw this “the Quarter-master came forward, and took the Pyrate off from beating him, asking him how he wou’d like it were he a Prisoner.”…

Torturare non equivaleva a macellare: un uomo morto è un uomo che non parla. Inoltre, dei sopravvissuti dovevano sempre esserci: a loro era affidata la pubblicità, come in una tragedia Shakespeariana…

… Thus, when Phillips captured John Fillmore, for instance, Fillmore was “dread to fall into [Phillips’s] hands,” he later recorded, “having heard of the cruelties committed by that execrable pirate.”…

Ma l’opportunismo era sempre in agguato: io compio orribili atti di sadismo e anche tu, per il solo fatto di battere la mia stessa bandiera nera, puoi godere della fama di sadico. Non è giusto!

Anche per questo l’inventiva si scatenò: ciascun pirata tentava di personalizzare le torture in modo da creare un proprio brand ben riconoscibile

… Captain John Phillips, for example, enjoyed a fearsome reputation particular to him. And as I discuss below, so did Blackbeard and other …

I giornali in tutto questo erano fondamentali, a loro spettava diffondere la reputazione terrificante dei pirati torturatori riportando la testimonianza dei sopravvissuti: un po’come oggi per le rapine in villa o per l’ ISIS.

Altra immagine utile da coltivare: il pirata non si ferma davanti a nulla, non teme la morte e nemmeno il demonio in persona. Indi: inutile contare sul fatto che desista o che abbia pietà. Il motto di Bartolomeo Roberts…

… As Bartholomew Roberts famously boasted, for example, “A merry Life and a short one, shall be my Motto.”…

L’orizzonte dei pirati doveva apparire breve, il pirata non pensa al domani, il suo tasso di sconto elevatissimo.

Ecco il resoconto di una vittima

… in the Boston News-Letter. According to the victim, Roberts’s men proceeded “with madness and rage to tare up the Hatches” and then “enter[ed] the Hould like a Parcel of Furies, where with Axes, Cutlashes, &c they cut, tore, and broke open Trunks, Boxes, Cases, and Bales, and when any of the Goods came upon Deck which they did not like to carry with them aboard their Ship … they threw them over board into the Sea … There was nothing heard among the Pirates all the while but Cursing, Swearing, Damning, and Blaspheming to the greatest degree imaginable.”…

A proposito del pirata “pazzo”, ecco Richard Hawkins sul British Journal…

… “every Thing that please them not they threw over board … every individual Thing they destroy’d; broke all my Windows, knock’d down the Cabbin … and then deliver’d me my Ship in a despicable Condition.”…

Di seguito, invece, sul tema classico del pirata “posseduto dal demonio“…

… One pirate victim’s account, published in the Boston News-Letter, spoke specifically to pirates’ apparent godlessness and confirmed the popular perception that pirates were “in the Possession of the Devil” and “laughing at the very thunders of God.” “In ravaging the Vessel,” this victim reported, “they met with two or three Bibles, at the sight whereof some started and said, They had nothing to do with them; or with God, nor any thing Above.”…

Anche la piromania era un loro tratto caratteristico. Ma anche qui c’erano delle ragioni, e tra queste anche propagandare un’immagine di insanità mentale…

… sometimes to prevent giving Intelligence, sometimes because they did not leave men to navigate them, and at other Times out of Wantonness, or because they were displeased with the Master’s Behaviour.”… “Wanton” destruction Johnson describes was more likely a deliberate effort to foster an image of insanity… when a prisoner asked pirate John Phillips why his crew needlessly burned ships, Phillips “answer’d, it was for fun.”…

C’era chi, come Barbanera, puntava molto anche sulla sua immagine fisica per intimidire il pubblico. Si puntava ad apparire come zombie assetati di sangue.  L’effetto ottenuto secondo un cronista dell’epoca…

… Captain Teach, assumed the Cognomen of Black-beard, from that large Quantity of Hair, which, like a frightful Meteor, covered his whole Face, and frightened America more than any Comet that has appeared there in a long Time. This Beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant Length; as to Breadth, it came up to his Eyes; he was accustomed to twist it with Ribbons, in small Tails … and then turn them about his Ears: three Brace of Pistols, hanging in Holsters like Bandaliers; and stuck lighted Matches under his Hat, which appearing on each Side of his Face, his Eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a Figure, that Imagination cannot form an Idea of a Fury, from Hell, to look more frightful…

Barbanera era conscio di tutto questo e investiva consapevolmente sul suo aspetto esteriore. Una reputazione di crudeltà diminuiva la resistenza delle prede e incrementava i suoi profitti.

Angus Konstam riferisce che Barbanera, il pirata più spietato della Costa, non uccise mai un uomo con le sue mani.

Un altro scopo dei pirati era quello di spaventare chi dava loro la caccia, in modo da farlo desistere. Ogni tanto, infatti, qualche Governatore ordinava un repulisti dei mari e delle rotte più comuni: costui doveva pagarla cara. Il caso delle Barbados e di Cap. Johnson…

… in response to the governors of Barbados and Martinique seeking to capture him, Captain Roberts constructed a special flag communicating his new policy: death for any Barbadians and Martinicans he might take on the account…

Il caso di Cap. Low

… Captain Low, for example, was said to have an “irreconcileable Aversion to New-England Men” and consequently “let none of that Country depart without some Marks of his Rage.” Low’s “aversion” stemmed from the audaciousness of the New York–based man-o’-war HMS Greyhound, which once attacked Low and succeeded in capturing his pirate consort, Charles Harris…

La vendetta dei pirati si estendeva sui connazionali del Governatore temerario che disturbava i loro piani…

… Captain Low, for example, met with a ship “manned partly with English and partly Portuguese; the latter Low caused to be hang’d, by Way of Reprisal, for some of his own Men sent thither.” The English got off easier since Low had no axe to grind with them…

Oppure sui conoscenti…

… Bart Roberts used similar tactics to send a message to those acquainted with Captain Rogers, the man who led the two-ship expedition sent to attack him off the coast of Barbados…

Particolarmente a rischio erano i cittadini di Bristol. Perchè?…

…  “The Pirates seem much enraged at Bristol Men, for Capt. Rogers sake.” When Roberts’s crew members took a ship from Bristol, “They us’d” its captain “barbarously, because his Countryman, Captain Rogers … was of the City of Bristol.”…

Oppure gli abitanti delle Bermuda

… Charles Vane instituted a policy of mistreating Bermudan vessels because Bermuda’s governor arrested pirate Thomas Brown…

La tattica si rivelò spesso efficace: ecco come se la fece sotto il Governatore della Virginia…

… Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood, for example, couldn’t have been pleased when he learned from one of Bartholomew Roberts’s victims in 1721 that Roberts “expected to be joined by another ship and would then visit Virginia, and avenge the pirates who have been executed here.” If this frightened Spotswood, he must have wet himself a year earlier when he wrote to the Council of Trade and Plantations that if those “barbarous wretches can be moved to cutt off the nose and ears of a master for but correcting his own sailors, what inhuman treatment must I expect, should I fall within their power, who have been markt as ye principal object of their vengeance, for cutting off their arch-pirate Thatch, with all his grand designs, and making so many of their fraternity to swing in the open air of Virginia.” But Spotswood wasn’t alone…

Oppure il successo nel caso delle Bermuda

… According to Marcus Rediker, in at least some cases these sorts of pirate threats—backed by implementation—actually worked. As one Bermudan colonial official complained, for example, the island’s residents “fear’d that this very execution [of two pirates] wou’d make our vessels fare the worse for it, when they happen’d to fall into the pyrates’ hands” and so were reluctant to provide the testimony needed to condemn them…

Un altro obbiettivo era quello di “fare giustizia sui mari“. I pirati si piccavano di punire i capitani dei mercantili soliti ad abusare del loro equipaggio. Un capitano notoriamente scorretto con i sottoposto rischiava grosso se finiva nelle mani dei pirati…

… “They pretend one reason for these villainies is to do justice to sailors.”… several pirates identified captain mistreatment of merchant sailors as their reason for turning to piracy… by punishing abusive merchant captains, pirates contributed to a positive reputation among merchant sailors… make merchant crews more willing to surrender to pirate attack,…

La legge inglese prevedeva pene contro gli abusi verso gli inferiori, ma un provvedimento del genere era di applicazione problematica. In questo senso l’azione dei pirati completava la legge formale

…  to prevent situations of captain predation, British law included several protections for merchant sailors. But official legal protections could and did fail, leaving sailors without effective, or at least immediate, shelter from captain abuse. Where the law failed to reign in predatory merchant captains, pirates, oddly enough, picked up the slack… for pirates, the additional cost of administering justice to predatory merchant ship captains was very low. Pirates were searching for and stopping merchant vessels to plunder them anyway…. If the crew informed their captors that its captain had “misbehaved,” the pirates punished him. Pirates did this with torture…

Il caso Condent

…  On taking a “whole Salt Fleet, consisting of about 20 Sail,” pirate captain Christopher Condent, for example, “enquir[ed] into the Manner of the Commanders’ Behaviour to their Men, and those, against whom Complaint was made, he whipp’d and pickled”—a torture that involved lashing the abusive officers and pouring brine on their open wounds…

A testimoniare contro i capitani dei mercantili era perlopiù il suo equipaggio, oppure pirati stessi che in passato avevano lavorato per il malcapitato ricavandone una cattiva impressione. Il caso Skinner

… One of Edward England’s pirates, for instance, immediately recognized Captain Skinner, whom he’d previously sailed under as boatswain… “Ah, Captain Skinner! It is you? The only Man I wished to see; I am much in your Debt, and now I shall pay you all in your own Coin.” The pirates tied Skinner “to the Windless, and there pelted him with Glass Bottles, which cut him in a sad Manner;…

Il caso Tarlton…

… Captain Thomas Tarlton must have been equally distressed to encounter a prisoner aboard Bartholomew Roberts’s ship whom he’d refused help to in the past. The prisoner “could not spare using some Reproaches of” Tarlton “for what he thought was Inhumanity.” This “getting to the Ears of Roberts, he took upon him, as a Dispenser of Justice, the Correction of this Tarlton, beating and misusing him grievously.”…

Ma accadeva anche il contrario: che uomini di mare intercedessero per il capitano. Il caso Snelgrave

…  For instance, when Thomas Cocklyn’s pirate crew took William Snelgrave’s ship and “endeavoured to beat out my Brains,” as Snelgrave put it, for ordering his sailors to defend their vessel, “some of my People that were on the Quarter-Deck observing, cried out aloud, ’For God’s sake don’t kill our Captain, for we never were with a better Man.’”…

Un’usanza dei pirati era quella di far doni al capitano saccheggiato. Forse l’obbiettivo era quello di forgiare un’amicizia utile in futuro. Il caso di William Lewis…

… Pirate captain William Lewis, for example, took a ship “belonging to Carolina, commanded by [a] Captain Smith.” “Lewis used him very civilly, and gave him as much, or more in Value, than he took from him, and let him go, saying, he would come to Carolina when he had made Money on the Coast, and would rely on his Friendship.”…

Il caso Prince

… Sam Bellamy’s pirates showed surprising kindness to Captain Lawrence Prince who they’d recently plundered. “They gave the ship taken from Capt. Richards [another recent prize] to Capt. Prince, and loaded her with as much of the best and finest goods as She could carry, and gave Capt. Prince above Twenty Pounds in Silver and Gold to bear his charges.”…

Altri casi di dono “interessato”…

… Merchant ship captain Knott, for example, couldn’t have been too disappointed at his crew’s capture in 1720. His pirate attackers “took what they wanted out of the merchantman and gave him money and goods of a very considerable value for the same.” Captain John Gow’s pirates felt particularly compelled to “ma[k]e a Reparation” to some of their victims, “giving” to one “what they had taken Violently from another” in “a strange Medley of Mock-Justice made up of Rapine and Generosity blended together.”…

I capitani che temevano la giustizia dei pirati forse attenuarono la loro severità verso i marinai, in questo senso i pirati potrebbero aver contribuito al benessere dei naviganti. Di certo, corre l’obbligo di ricordare che quello intentato dai pirati non era un processo con le carte in regola: non esisteva difesa, veniva ascoltata una sola parte e il capitano dei pirati decideva a sua discrezione.

***

Detto questo, è giusto ammettere che anche tra i pirati esistevano dei veri e propri psicopatici evidentemente attirati da quella vita che consentiva loro di scatenarsi. Alcuni raggiunsero anche posizioni apicali.

Il caso di Francis Spriggs

… Francis Spriggs, for example, forced merchant captain Richard Hawkins to eat “a Dish of Candles” for his amusement…

Oppure quel sadico genuino che fu Edward Low

… Low, for example, burned one victim alive for no other reason than, “being a greazy Fellow,” he thought he “would fry well in the Fire.”…

continua…

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DEDICA

Questo post è dedicato al Marco Magni, un cantastorie favoloso che mi ha introdotto per primo al magico mondo dei pirati. Forse il suo resoconto non era rigorosissimo, era però come doveva essere, e se a distanza di decenni ancora il mio interesse non cala lo devo anche a lui.

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