Friday, February 8, 2008

Chinese Pirates

As I have said before, my grandmother's great-grandfather was a Chinese pirate. She always told us that he was a merchant from Shanghai, but my uncle researched it a bit, and discovered that "Kiamko" was really a freebooter, who eventually used his booty to buy estates in the Philippines. He married a descendant of Spanish conquistadors and became very respectable. Occasionally I try to find more information about the Chinese pirates, especially those who raided the coasts of the Philippines. They were a pretty tough bunch, although they did have a code of conduct, of sorts. According to one site:
Piracy was in the eye of the beholder; what European colonials called "piracy" was often seen as perfectly normal trading and raiding by some local Southeast Asian peoples. Nevertheless, because of the region's complex maritime geography, piracy became a potent (and disruptive) force in 19th century Southeast Asia, much as it remains so today. Piratical attacks occurred from the South China Sea down to the waters of the Java Sea, and up again through the notorious Straits of Malacca. The rewards for piracy were enormous: ship holds of passing traders were filled to overflow with spices, coins, horns (used for medicine) and rare woods (all seen here.) The punishments for piracy were equally extreme, however; hangings and summary executions were not uncommon. Rarely, we can get a glimpse of these patterns through the people most effected: accounts of SE Asians caught as slaves.
Here is a short article on the pirates, which discusses their code, such as it was.