Treasures, maps, boarding, rum and exotic women are all part of the legendary aura that has always surrounded the history of pirates, fuelled by many novels and Hollywood productions.

Pirates are generally synonym of Caribbean, Malaysia and China Sea; however there is a little island not too far from the East coast of Madagascar where, between the 17th and 18th century, it became shelter of more than 1,000 pirates including the well known Adam Baldridge, William Kidd, Olivier Levasseur, Henry Every, Robert Culliford, Abraham Samuel and Thomas Tew.

Below: picture by Jiliang Gao shared via Wikipedia – licence  Creative Commons

Today the place is called Nosy Boraha, but it is mostly known with its French name, Île Sainte-Marie. In the South of the island there is a sheltered bay, piece of land named “Pirate Island”.

Below: picture by Lemurbaby shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The buccaneers knew how to choose good spots for their shelters: Île Sainte-Marie was a tropical paradise, with still waters, trees full of fruits, numerous bays protected by storms and last but not least just right on the trade route of the ships coming from the East Indies, loaded with precious goods.

Many pirates came back to civilization in order to enjoy the wealth they had gathered, but some of them died in the island, and there they have found their last shelter, in a small cemetery shaded by the palm trees on top of a hill facing the beautiful sea.

Below: picture by Antony shared via Flickr – licenza CC BY-SA 2.0

Today there are 30 gravestones left in that one that is considered as the only Pirate Cemetery existing in the world. Time has rubbed away the many incisions from the tombs but in one it is still clear to notice the symbol of pirates: a skull with crossed bones realized in an almost childish fashion.

Below: picture by Antony Stanley shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The legend says that here it was buried even the famous William Kidd, interred in a vertical position as a punishment for all his sins.

William Kidd

In reality the privateer that at the beginning of his career was at the service of the British crown, was buried in England but many people believe that his treasure still lies here, hidden somewhere underneath the sea that surrounds the island.

About a dozen of shipwrecks took place off the Île Sainte-Marie coast, and many treasure hunters kept on exploring the area, hoping to recover at least part of those precious spoils.

Below: picture by Lemurbaby shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Other legends hover in the island; according to some rumours Robert Louis Stevenson took inspiration from one of them for his Treasure Island. Another legend, more romantic, is the one which sees Île Sainte-Marie as part of “Libertatia”, anarchic colony founded at the end of the 17th century by the captain James Misson. For 25 years the pirates of Libertatia gave life to an utopian society where every good was shared and piracy was practiced against rich and powerful men in favour of the oppressed ones and any type of slavery.

The tale of Libertatia was described in 1724 by a certain Charles Johnson (perhaps pseudonym of Daniel Defoe), in his “A General History of the Most Notorious Pirates” but no one has ever verified whether that tale was based on true events or just result of the imagination of the writer. The most probable option is that the book is a romanticised version of a real story.

Below: Île Sainte-Marie. Picture by Lemurbaby shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

From mid 1700, Île Sainte-Marie became French territory and the pirates had to move to other destinations. Of them what’s left is just their tombs, still visited by many tourists to this day. They are certainly there for the little tropical heaven that the island is but, are they also looking for some precious treasure lost in its crystalline waters?

Vanilla Magazine - History, Culture, Mistery and Legends