BANDIT LANDS 9 – The Scarlet Rose

The boy’s head was shaved bare. A bloody bandage swathed what was left of his right ear. The kidnappers sliced a piece of it off and sent the bloody morsel to the eight-year-old’s parents to convince them that they would ‘cut him up into little pieces, bit by bit.’

It was now six months since Farouk Kassam had been spirited away from his Arab-Belgian hotelier family in Sardinia’s Porto Cerva. The bandits demanded three million pounds ransom, a huge sum in 1992. Still so today.

The kidnapping touched the Italian nation. A note from the abducted boy was published in the press. ‘Help me, mummy’ the child begged. Millions draped bed sheets from their balconies to protest the brutal kidnap. Farouk’s mother appealed for Sardinians to ignore the code of silence that always surrounded bandit activities. Police and commandoes were massed for attacks on the bandits, but they were too slow.

While the drama continued on Sardinia and across the country, a man known as ‘The Scarlet Rose’ was quietly taken from his mainland prison and spirited back to his island birthplace. As hundreds of armed police prepared to attack the kidnappers, little Farouk Kassam was suddenly released. The official story was that the kidnapper’s fled in fear of the police. But when the Scarlet Rose was questioned by suspicious reporters he said that he was involved but ‘I can’t say any more. I’m surrounded by policemen.’ Then he was taken back to his mainland prison.

Who was this mysterious figure with enough influence to compel hardened bandits to release their prey?

Like many Sardinian bandits, Graziano Mesina was born into a large family of shepherds in 1942. He was in trouble with the law early and was arrested at the age of fourteen in possession of a rifle. In 1960 he was again arrested but soon performed the first of his many escapes from custody. There followed many years of kidnapping and related crimes, some involving the traditional Sardinian code of revenge, interspersed with shorter and longer periods of imprisonment, during which Mesina attempted numerous escapes. 

Over this period, his image as an admired bandit grew, assisted mainly by the press, songs, books on his exploits and the mysterious intervention in the Kassam kidnapping. He was pardoned by Presidential decree in 2004 and returned to his home village of Orgosolo, often called the bandit capital of Sardinia. Here he began taking tourists to his old hideouts in the Supramonte Massif, a region of high plains, canyons and caves, classic bandit lands. 

Mesina also went into the travel business and appeared to be going straight after decades of crime and jail time. But in 2013 he was again arrested, this time on drug trafficking charges. The now-ageing bandit was eventually sentenced to thirty years prison and his previous pardon revoked. He was, again mysteriously, released in 2019 and at the time of writing is still alive – and free. 

Over a long career, ‘The Scarlet Rose’, was probably the culmination of a lengthy tradition of Sardinian banditry sustained mainly through kidnapping and extorting the rich, or at least those perceived to be rich by the chronically deprived Sardinian rural classes. Mesina’s later career reflects the decline of kidnapping for ransom as a profitable activity and its replacement with drug trafficking and robbery, as practiced by the current generation of Sardinian criminals.


THE COMING OF MEN – AN INUIT CREATION STORY

Inuk in a kayak, c. 1929 (photo by Edward S. Curtis).

All cultures have stories explaining the origins of the world and of themselves. The Biblical account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is perhaps the most familiar. Memorable and influential, it is only one of many ways in which people have turned the fundamental question of human origins into story. This story was collected from the indigenous people of Smith Sound region in the early 20th century by Knud Rasmussen.

Born in Greenland to Danish parents, Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933) became a noted explorer and anthropologist. His knowledge of Inuit language and custom allowed him to live and work with Greenlanders. In a number of expeditions between 1902 and 1933 he collected a vast amount of traditional information as part of a scientific attempt to discover the origins of the Inuit people (then known as ‘Eskimo’). This story tells of the earth’s beginning, as well as the coming of humanity and death.

Our forefathers have told us much of the coming of earth, and of men, and it was a long, long while ago. Those who lived long before our day, they did not know how to store their words in little black marks, as you do; they could only tell stories. And they told of many things, and therefore we are not without knowledge of these things, which we have heard told many and many a time, since we were little children. Old women do not waste their words idly, and we believe what they say. Old age does not lie. 

A long, long time ago, when the earth was to be made, it fell down from the sky. Earth, hills and stones, all fell down from the sky, and thus the earth was made. 

And then, when the earth was made, came men. 

It is said that they came forth out of the earth. Little children came out of the earth. They came forth from among the willow bushes, all covered with willow leaves. And there they lay among the little bushes: lay and kicked, for they could not even crawl. And they got their food from the earth. 

Then there is something about a man and a woman, but what of them? It is not clearly known. When did they find each other, and when had they grown up? I do not know. But the woman sewed, and made children’s clothes, and wandered forth. And she found little children, and dressed them in the clothes, and brought them home. 

And in this way men grew to be many. 

And being now so many, they desired to have dogs. So a man went out with a dog leash in his hand, and began to stamp on the ground, crying ” Hok — hok — hok! ” Then the dogs came hurrying out from the hummocks, and shook themselves violently, for their coats were full of sand. Thus men found dogs. 

But then children began to be born, and men grew to be very many on the earth. They knew nothing of death in those days, a long, long time ago, and grew to be very old. At last they could not walk, but went blind, and could not lie down. 

Neither did they know the sun, but lived in the dark. No day ever dawned. Only inside their houses was there ever light, and they burned water in their lamps, for in those days water would burn. 

But these men who did not know how to die, they grew to be too many, and crowded the earth. And then there came a mighty flood from the sea. Many were drowned, and men grew fewer. We can still see marks of that great flood, on the high hill-tops, where mussel shells may often be found. 

And now that men had begun to be fewer, two old women began to speak thus: 

“Better to be without day, if thus we may be without death,” said the one. 

“No; let us have both light and death,” said the other. 

And when the old woman had spoken these words, it was as she had wished. Light came, and death. 

It is said, that when the first man died, others covered up the body with stones. But the body came back again, not knowing rightly how to die. It stuck out its head from the bench, and tried to get up. But an old woman thrust it back, and sai : 

“We have much to carry, and our sledges are small.” 

For they were about to set out on a hunting journey. And so the dead one was forced to go back to the mound of stones. 

And now, after men had got light on their earth, they were able to go on journeys, and to hunt, and no longer needed to eat of the earth. And with death came also the sun, moon and stars. 

For when men die, they go up into the sky and become brightly shining things there. [i]


[i] Knud Rasmussen (coll), Eskimo Folk-Tales, edited and rendered into English by W Worster. Gyldendal, London, 1921, pp. 17-18. See also Noel K McDermott, ‘Unikkaaqtuat: Traditional Inuit Stories’, PhD thesis, Queen’s University, 2015 at https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/12806/McDermott_Noel_K_20154_PhD.pdf.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y, accessed May 2017.

BANDIT LANDS 8 – Vassilis Palaiokostas, ‘The Phantom’

Vassilis Palaiokostas was born in 1966 in central Greece. The village of Moschofyto suffers fierce mountain cold in winter and life there was hard for Vassilis, his father and older brother Nikos. Later they moved to Trikala. The quietly intense boy went to work in the cheese factory for a couple of years but in 1979 began his criminal career stealing video equipment in company with Nikos. Later they teamed up with Costas Samaras, known as ‘The Artist’, a man who helped the brothers graduate from opportunistic thieving to sophisticated robberies of jewelers and banks.

From the beginning of this stage of his career, Vassilis displayed a certain style. Holding up a jeweler’s shop the gang bought themselves valuable time by blocking the local police into their own station. Around this time Vassilis developed a reputation as a friend of the poor by liberally rewarding his supporters with his loot. 

As Greece lurched into the 1990s Vasillis took another step towards his image as the Greek Robin Hood. Imprisoned for trying to break his brother out of goal in Larissa by driving a tank through the walls, he soon escaped from another prison with the help of knotted bedsheets. His escapades were already taking on the character a Hollywood movie. His next heist would only develop it further.

In 1992 Vassilis, Nikos and The Artist robbed the bank in Kalambaka. They took a lot of cash from the safe and as they sped away from the pursuing police, Vassilis threw handfuls of banknotes out of the window of their stolen car. People rushed to scoop up the money, hampering the police pursuit and allowing Vassilis and his accomplices to escape again. 

Now the legend of the Greek Robin Hood really began to bloom. The crime was notable as the biggest ever Greek bank robbery, netting 125 million drachmas. During their getaway the thieves stole another car but later returned the vehicle to its rightful owner with 15 000 drachmas for its use. According to a detective on the case, Vasilis even gave the car a polish.

Vassilis and his gang reappeared in 1995. Now practicing the traditional crime of the bandit, they kidnapped wealthy industrialist Alexander Haitoglou as he left his villa in Thessaloniki. The hostage was well treated and a large ransom of 260 million drachma requested. After reportedly enjoying the company of the bandits, Haitoglou was released unharmed. The police could not quite match that amount when they posted a reward of 250 million drachm. While the authorities fruitlessly scoured the country for the elusive outlaws, Vasilis was handing out large sums from the ransom to local people, including 100 000 drachmas as a dowry for orphan girls unable to raise it themselves.

Disappearing into the mountains yet again, Vassilis was involved in a car accident in December 1999. Stoned and slightly injured, Vassilis effectively gave himself away to his rescuers. He was sent to goal for 25 years on the kidnapping charge. Firstly, in Corfu then in the maximum security Korydallos prison he made several unsuccessful escape attempts. But in June 2006 he found a novel way to regain his liberty.

With a gun held at his head by Nikos, a frightened helicopter pilot landed on the  Korydallos prison exercise yard. As the guards raised the alarm, Vassilis and an Albanian cell mate scooted across the yard and into the helicopter which took off again. Once more Vassilis was free. The price of freedom included an entry onto the most wanted list.[i]

In June 2008 another wealthy industrialist spent some time as a guest of the affable Vassilis. When the reputedly 12 million Euro ransom was paid, the bandit sent his captive home in a stolen BMW. But Vassilis had little time to enjoy and redistribute the proceeds. He was tracked down and arrested in August 2008, saying to the police who arrested him ‘I played and lost, you are victorious.’ The following January he was in Athens for a pretrial hearing. Outside the court a crowd of famers and anarchists shouted for the bandit’s freedom and cried insults at the police.

By now, the activities of Vassilis and his companions were being seen in political terms. The economic and political woes of Greece produced a climate in which handing out stolen money to the poor, eluding and fooling the police as well as staging spectacular jailbreaks were seen by many as justifiable acts against the system. Vasillis was a hero, an outlaw hero.

But not to the authorities, He was imprisoned in Korydallos, along with Rizai, to await a February trail with a guaranteed outcome. The day before the trail, as the prisoners exercised in the yard, a helicopter roared overhead. On board was, it is said, Rizai’s blonde girlfriend Mitropia menacing the pilot with a hand grenade and a machine gun. She dropped a rope ladder and Vassilis and Rizai swarmed up it into the aircraft and their second flight to freedom. Fire from the guards damaged the helicopter but a successful emergency landing saw Vassilis, Rizai and Mitropia get clean away. [ii]

Floundering in the depths of the global financial crisis, the conservative Greek government of the time was heavily criticized by the opposition. The conservative daily Eleftheros Typos blared ‘Carbon-copy fiasco’ and ‘Embarrassment’ at the news. A public prosecutor called for an investigation while the jail director and the inspector of jails both lost their jobs.[iii]

Although vanished from the authorities, including a CIA anti—terror unit said to be hunting him, Vassilis continued his Robin Hood activities providing money to the poor of the Trikala area for expensive medical treatment. He drove around the country in stolen VW Toureg’s and continued to rob banks. He escaped several close calls with the police and, another mark of the Robin Hood image, penned letters to the press justifying his actions and proclaiming that he had never used violence. Unwisely, he authenticated the letter with an inked impression of his fingerprint.

In June 2010 a letter bomb addressed to the Public Order Minister of Greece killed his assistant. Police said they found a fingerprint of the outlaw on the remains of the device and Vassilis Palaiokostas instantly transformed from criminal to terrorist. He is now the subject of a 1.4 million Euro reward and almost as many rumours. He is often sighted and occasionally dodges police fiercely determined to capture him again. Known locally as ‘The Phantom’, he is thought to be living within a sympathetic community feeling betrayed and oppressed by the penurious state of contemporary Greece. Everyone waits for him to strike again.[iv]


[i] BBC News 14 September 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5346616.stm, September 2016

[ii] BBC News 22 February 2009 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7904624.stm

[iii] BBC News 17 March 2013 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21822775

[iv] ‘The Uncatchable’, a BBC documentary by Jeff Maysh on the life and crimes of Vassilis Palaiokostas was broadcast in 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/2014/newsspec_8700/index.html

BANDIT LANDS 7 – INDIA’S BANDIT QUEEN

ca. 1900s, India — India: Family group of Dacoits (Robbers).

India’s long and unhappy history of dacoity, or banditry, can be traced to at least the fifth century invasion of the sub-continent by Scythian tribes. The ongoing issues of caste, religion and land continued to fuel the rise of armed groups disenchanted with one or more aspects of their lot and, in a few cases, the lot of those like them. These groups usually consisted of those from lower, poorer castes and they generally preyed on the richer castes, especially the Brahmins. Surplus booty of food, clothes and money was sometimes distributed among the caste, family and clan groups from which many dacoits came, engendering a positive attitude towards them from many, if not all. The best-known bandit, outside of India, is Phoolan Devi.

Confused and contradictory though much of her story seems to be, Phoolan Devi conducted her struggle not along territorial borders, but along and across the boundaries of India’s caste system and the boundaries of gender implicit in that system. Born into a low caste Uttar Pradesh family in 1963, the problem of land was an integral element of her upbringing. There was a dispute between her father and her high-caste cousin over ownership of a large portion of the family holding. The illiterate Phoolan’s struggle for restitution of what she considered to be stolen property is a foundational and recurring theme of her life story. Before then she had been sold into marriage to a much older man at the age of 10. He abused her and she returned to her village the following year, beginning a life of frequent absences from home as she was often used by other men, coming to be seen as a shamed woman. She was arrested in 1979 on a charge related to the land dispute, imprisoned for a month and frequently raped.

After her release she was captured by a gang of dacoits, the higher caste leader of which abused her until eventually shot dead by his lieutenant Vickram Mallah, an admirer of Phoolan’s and also from a low caste. Vickram, a Robin Hood figure in his own right, became gang leader with Phoolan as his ‘wife’. Even by dacoit standards this was sensational news and began Phoolan’s legend, the songs celebrating her vindicated honour, low caste revenge on the dacoit leader and her elevation to the status of outlaw, or bhagis (rebels), as they are known in this part of India.

Vickram and Phoolan led their gang in abductions, murders and hold-ups of trains and homes throughout Utter Pradesh and Madya Pradesh, developing a fearsome reputation and mostly avoiding the increasing attentions of the authorities with ease. During this time Phoolan developed a reputation for an ability to read omens, greatly assisting the gang to avoid capture. Ignoring one such omen in August 1980, Vickram was shot dead by two gang members returned from prison. It was a caste revenge killing for the death of the previous leader, the two murderers, brothers Lala Ram and Sri Ram, also being high caste.

 Phoolan was taken to the village of Behmai where she was imprisoned, abused and savagely humiliated until being spirited away by supporters. These included a man bearing the name of the famous dacoit Man Singh, with whom Phoolan formed a new gang and a new relationship. Almost eighteen months later, on St Valentine’s Day 1981, she returned to Behmai looking for the brothers Ram. They could not be found, but when Phoolan and her dacoits left the village, twenty-two of its high caste young men were dead.

In February 1983, Phoolan Devi and her gang surrendered to the authorities of Uttyar Pradesh in a stage-managed ceremony designed both for local and media consumption. A deal had been done in which the restoration of Phoolan’s family holding featured strongly, as did a range of other conditions ensuring that the outlaws would not be hanged, only imprisoned. Most of these undertakings were not honoured by the state.

Phoolan Devi spent the next eleven years in gaol. Surviving this, she was released on parole while the widows of Behmai pursued her with petitions for legal proceedings regarding the St Valentine’s Day massacre. She avoided this threat and, in the turgid politics of India in 1996 she was elected to the lower house of India’s Parliament as a member of the Samajwadi Party representing the low caste political interests. Three masked men assassinated her in 2001, perhaps for political reasons, perhaps for revenge.

By then her legend had already grown to significant size, with a feature film and documentary about her life being broadcast internationally. She publicly and legally objected to the feature, Bandit Queen, as inaccurate and, with the aid of professional writers, produced her autobiography, I, Phoolan Devi in 1996. It became an international best seller.

There are numerous references in her autobiography to the dacoit practice of giving money stolen from the rich to the poor. Her experiences before and during her outlaw years give her a strong sense of the wrongs done to the low caste and poor, her own experiences making her an avenger of those communal wrongs as well as those perpetrated against her.

The complexities of the caste system also play an important part in her story, as do the political and religious machinations of the sub-continent. The role of the media in promoting her as ‘the bandit queen’ cannot be overlooked, nor can her abilities as a spin-doctor. Her own lawyer is reported to have said:

“her endless, boundless ways of reinventing herself. …”I don’t think her past can ever be absolutely corroborated now. So many of her close associates are dead, killed in sticky encounters; her family changes its story every day, as she does; so much of her past has been deliberately obscured.”

The Grace Darling of New Zealand

Hūria Mātenga

With a rope around his waist, Henry Squirrel clambered down the bow of the foundering Delawareand disappeared into the pounding waves. It was just before 9 0-clock on a Friday morning in September 1863. A gale had taken away the Delaware’s jib and main anchor, forcing Captain Baldwin to drive his 241-ton brigantine onto the rocky and desolate coast near Wakapuaka in an attempt to save the lives of his charges. 

Smashed insensible against the rocks, the valiant chief mate was only just hauled back onto the deck as the winds howled through what was left of the masts and rigging. They laid him on a bunk in the forecastle and tried to bring him round. He spoke briefly but then relapsed and they moved his body to the deckhouse. No one else volunteered to try to get a lifeline to the shore. Without it all eleven aboard the ship were doomed.

But just then five figures appeared on the empty beach. Four Maori men and a Maori woman. Led by the woman, they plunged straight into the dangerous surf, making for a rock near the stricken vessel. They reached it and scrambled onto its slippery surface. The crew of the Delaware managed to throw them the weighted lead line used for calculating the depth of water. 

The rescuers swam back to shore, dragging the line to which the sailors had attached a long cable. Two men remained on the beach to hold the lifeline while the woman and the other two men again swam to the ship. They held themselves steady in the pounding waves helping the shaken survivors haul themselves to safety. One by one they struggled to the sand, alternately jerked into the air, then dropped beneath the waves as the ship rolled towards the shore then back towards the crashing seas.

Remaining aboard until the end of the rescue, Captain Baldwin was finally brought to the shore. Just as he was landed, the cable that had miraculously held as the crew and only passenger and crew were helped to safety, parted. But all was well. An amazing rescue had been carried out with the loss of only one life.

But an hour or so later, to the horror of everyone on the beach, they spotted the mate on the deck of the Delaware calling for help. He had recovered consciousness and was searching desperately for a way to escape the foundering ship. But no one could help him:

‘Those who had been saved frequently went down to the water’s edge, and gave him cheering words; telling him to hold on until the tide should turn, and that then he certainly would be rescued.’

Henry Squirrell managed to make his way along the deck and catch hold of the rigging. He held on but ‘At length fatigue, and, no doubt, the injuries received when in the water, caused him to loose his hold, he was washed overboard …’ [i]

As these grim events took place, the Maori rescuers warmed, fed and sheltered the lucky ten on the beach and in their pah. Next day the storm had blown itself out. Broken crates, torn blankets, shawls, saddlery and clothing strewed the sand for two miles. The battered remains of Henry Squirrel, the bravest man on the Delaware, were washed ashore as well. Captain Baldwin went to the beach: 

‘I went down and saw a dead body, and after cutting away his clothes which were then lying over his face, I was that it was the body of my chief mate. I assisted to carry his body up out of reach of the tide, where it now lies.’

The bravery of the Maori rescuers was highlighted at the inquest, especially that of the woman. Her name was Hūria Mātenga – Julia to the British settlers. She was given fifty pounds, as were her husband Hemi (Martin) and Rotate (Robert). The other two men received ten pounds each, considerable sums in that time. Each of the rescuers also received a gold watch and the deserved acclamation of the settlers. 

Inevitably, Julia was hailed as the ‘Grace Darling of New Zealand’, after the Longstone Lighthouse Keeper’s daughter who played a major role in rescuing survivors of the Forfarshire, wrecked off the Northumberland coast in 1838. Grace Darling was known throughout the British empire as a great heroine:

And like her, Julia, your name and deed will find a place in local history. Your brave act is one of which a queen might be proud. We present you with a watch whereon your children and their successors may read with pleasure an inscription which testifies to the esteem in which you are held by the settlers of Nelson.

Hemi responded in his own language, saying that the Maori wished only to save the lives of their shipwrecked European friends and had no thought of receiving any reward.[ii]


[i] Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume xxii, issue 86, 8 September 1863, an eyewitness account.

[ii] Alfred Sanders, History of New Zealand, 1642–1893, 2 vols, 1896-1899

BANDIT LANDS 6: JURO JANOSIK

Attribution below *

The great hero of the Slovak people is an outlaw named Juro Janosik. Born around 1688 of poor parents in the politically unsettled region of Northern Slovakia, the young Janosik fought in one of the rebellions of the peasantry (that of Rakoczy II from 1703-1711) against the repressive aristocracy of the time and place. Janosik later became a soldier in the Imperial army. While serving as a guard in one of the Emperor’s gaols he met a prisoner named Thomas Uhorcik who had for some years been a brigand and resister in one of the robber gangs that roamed Northern Slovakia during this period. Uhorcik would later initiate Janosik into a life of brigandry that would evolve into the legend of the Slovakian Robin Hood.

By 1711 Janosik had left the Imperial army and returned to his home country, where he again met with Uhorcik and was drafted into a gang of brigands. Janosik quickly demonstrated an aptitude for the outlaw life and was elected leader of the gang, his exploits in robbing especially the aristocracy earning him the approval and support of the many disaffected people in the region, and far beyond. His headquarters were in thick pine forests in the mountainous area known as ‘King’s Plateau’, but he operated throughout and beyond the eastern counties of Slovakia and into neighbouring Moravia, Silesia, Poland and Hungary, apparently generating sympathy and support wherever he went.

Despite their being little historical evidence of Janosik giving to the poor, there is a strong tradition that he gave jewels stolen from a Lord Skalka to the ladies of Tarchova. He was also said to possess a number of magical objects, including a belt that made him invincible, a shirt that made him invulnerable to bullets and a general ability to carry out superhuman feats.

In spite of these useful skills and amulets, Janosik was captured in 1712 but, like many an outlaw hero, managed to escape, adding further to the already established legend. Also according with the outlaw hero tradition was the manner of his recapture. Betrayed either by one of his gang or by his girlfriend, he was taken the following year. At his trial Janosik was keen to clear his name of crimes he did not commit, mainly those involving violence or ungallant behaviour. He admitted to those he had perpetrated, none of which had involved killing. He also revealed the names, though not the whereabouts, of his comrades and the location of his treasure. 

The defence made an appeal for leniency but Janosik was condemned to a double punishment: he was first to be stretched on the rack for his lesser crimes, then hanged for his greater ones. Within a day or two of the verdict the sentence was carried out and the great robber, already a national hero, was hanged in front of a vast crowd. According to tradition he died game, performing a lively folk dance in his shackles four times around the gallows, beneath which he was buried after the sentence had been carried out.

Now Janosik’s afterlife could begin. One tradition has it that his body was buried in the crypt of the church in St. Mikulas. Here the hero lies completely preserved until the day when a new Janosik will arise and strike down the oppressors of his people.

Writing in 1929, Cyprian Tkacik observed that Janosik’s home country ‘and many other regions in the Pohron and Malohont districts, abound even today in folk songs, ballads, and stories of his exploits on behalf of the poor and the oppressed’.[i] There are still hundreds of folksongs celebrating Janosik, his life and his myth.[ii]

Janosik is far more than just a robber, he is the very model of the noble thief, robbing the rich, helping the poor, harming none, righting wrongs and ‘gallant, generous, honest, and honorable with his people.’ He has been celebrated in poetry, novels, drama, art, art song, folk ballads, placenames, film, popular iconography and a continuing repertoire of legends about his deeds, his treasure and his heroic status. [iii]  Like a select few outlaw heroes, including Robin Hood and Ned Kelly, Janosik has transcended the role of outlaw hero to become a culture hero, sleeping until the day his people need him.


  • Attribution: Juraj Jánošík (1688–1713), a Slovak Carpathian Highwaymen – a statue in the Smetana Park in Hořice, Jičín District, the Czech Republic.
    Sculptor: Franta Úprka (1868–1929).Čeština:Juraj Jánošík (1688–1713), slovenský zbojník – socha z roku 1919 ve Smetanových sadech v Hořicích v okrese Jičín. Autor návrhu: Franta Úprka (1868–1929). Picture: Ben Skála

NOTES

[i]  Tkacik, Cyprian, O. S. B. ‘Janosik The Slovak Robin Hood In the Light of Documentary Evidence and Popular Legend’, (Parts 1 and 2) Slovenske Pohl’ady (Slovak Review)Vol. XLV, Nos. 1-2, 1929, accessed at http://www.iarelative.com/history/janosik.htm July 04

[ii] Hobsbawm, Bandits, p. 47.

[iii] Tkacik, Part 2.

THE EROS CODE

Talmey list

The language of romantic love was once said to consist of ‘sweet nothings’ meant to be whispered softly into the ears of the beloved. But on the wilder shores of human sexuality is an extensive glossary of words and phrases generally considered rather too rude for polite society. An American sexologist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Bernard Simon Talmey, made an intensive study of sexual practices and wrote several books about his findings. To conform to the proprieties of the era, he used Latin to describe what was going on. Rather a lot, in fact.

But readers complained that they couldn’t understand these terms and so, in the subsequent editions of his Love: A Treatise on the Science of Sex-attraction (1919) he provided translations of the Latin. Few of these terms, or the situations they describe, would raise an eyebrow today. Some are completely banal, such as Pernoctare, to ‘spend the night’ and conjux meaning a ‘husband’. Others are suggestive of more adventurous behaviours, mainly referring to male and female genitalia and their excitation, such as cunnilingus and fellatio, defined as ‘sucking (obscene)’. Here’s a sample of Talmey’s code in action.

The girl, a domestic servant, was always moral before her illness. When she began suffering from hysterical attacks, amato liberos in fidem suam commissos exhibebat ad constuprandum et noctu pectators rerum turpium eos faciebat, while the whole household was asleep under the influence of narcotics. When she was discovered and driven out of the house, the formerly modest girl became shameless and finally meretricium fecit.

It basically means that the girl engaged in self-masturbation and ended up as a prostitute, a typically Victorian moral consequence.

However, the range and variety of human sexual activities covered in this book might occasionally challenge even modern readers.

Rosse reports the case of a young white, unmarried woman in Washington who was surprised in flagrante delicto with a large English mastiff, who in his efforts se solvere a puella caused an injury of such a nature that she died from hemorrhage within an hour.

If you’re game, you can read all about it here.

BANDIT LANDS 5 – ‘PIGEON’

Pigeon

 

Australia’s vast and mostly arid northwest had been largely ignored until the 1880s when its almost infinite acres attracted sheep and cattle farming and its seas an embryonic pearling industry. As settlement increased, the newcomers increasingly encroached on the traditional lands of the many indigenous groups in what would become known as the Kimberley region. Some of these groups resisted, others seemed to fade away as the frontier pushed relentlessly north and east. The Bunuba were not inclined to simply walk off their land and nurtured an ongoing resistance that eventually produced an outlaw hero.

Jandamarra (Jandamurra) was already approaching initiation age when his country became the object of commercial and political interest. At around eleven years of age he was taken into employment on a local station to be trained as a stockman. One of the attractions for settling the Kimberley was the availability of cheap indigenous workers for the labour intensive pastoral and pearling enterprises. The settlers hoped that if they got the ‘natives’ when they were young they could at once be dispossessed of their land and trained as useful hands. Jandamarra appeared to be the ideal type of such conversions, quickly excelling at the necessary skills and eventually also becoming a crack rifle shot. Although he was unusually short for a Bunuba man – they were typically six-foot or more – he had great speed and agility, leading to the settlers nicknaming him ‘Pigeon’.

Working and living in the company of the settlers caused Jandamarra to grow up without being initiated into the spiritual secrets that would rightly have belonged to a Bunuba man. Aboriginal belief revolves around the sanctity of the land and everything within it and upon it. Bound up with this spiritual system are interrelated social, economic, political and legal systems. Once the ‘law’ is lost or untaught, so the individual is disadvantaged – potentially lethally – in the Aboriginal world. Although Jandamarra would come to know his country, its gullies, hills, trails and caves intimately, he was never fully a man in Bunuba society.

None of these matters worried Jandamarra, it seems. He was content to work for the settlers and even to become a ‘blacktracker’ or adjunct member of the police force and take part in tracking down other Aboriginal men and women wanted by the law. There were many of these in the Kimberley of the 1880s. As settlement increased, so did resistance to it. Stock were speared, supplies stolen and whites attacked by one or usually small groups of Aborigines. The settlers reacted with violence based on fear as much as racism and there was an ongoing level of attack and counter-attack as Aborigines sought to stem the unstoppable advances of the settlers and they sought to ‘disperse’ them so their stock could graze the grassland and drink from the waterholes.

A noted Bunuba warrior of the time was a man named Ellemarra. Through the late 1880s he offered fierce and ongoing resistance to the settlers, often being arrested but usually escaping again. So dangerous did Ellemarra become that the settlers called for ‘the whole tribe of natives inhabiting the Napier Range to be outlawed’.[i] While there was no official proclamation of outlawry, the settlers were increasingly prepared to take the law in to their own hands and to protect themselves by hunting and gunning down those Aborigines they believed meant to harm them. Ellemarra was among the most wanted of the resisters and Jandamarra, caught between the worlds of white and black, formed part of a police party sent out to bring him in, effectively going against his own people. Ellemarra was flogged and imprisoned. He eventually escaped again but was recaptured and chained with a group of other Aboriginal prisoners. Possibly with the help of Jandamarra, Ellemarra managed to break his chains and escape again.

Now Jandamarra had to again take part in tracking Ellemarra down, under the command of a policeman named Richardson. Jandamarra led the policeman to his countrymen and they were captured in late October, 1894, the largest haul of resisters the police had yet netted. Richardson delayed returning with them in order to gain a greater allowance for being on active duty. It was a fatal mistake.

The Bunuba men naturally placed pressure on Jandamarra to let them go and acknowledge his true Bunuba identity. Eventually Jandamarra accepted their argument released Ellemarra and shot Richardson dead while he slept. The two men then released their comrades, took the guns and ammunition and disappeared into the bush. They soon raised a large group of Bunuba and engaged in a large-scale battle with police sent to track them down for the murders of a number of settlers in November. Ellemarra and a number of Bunuba women were killed in the shooting and Jandamarra seriously wounded. He managed to escape, evading the pursuit through his unparalleled knowledge of the country.

While Jandamarra was in hiding, recovering from his wounds, the government sent police reinforcements to the Kimberley as quickly as was possible at the time. An undeclared war was in progress. It would make Jandamarra a great hero to his people and their struggle. The police had almost convinced themselves that the Bunuba resistance was broken when rumours of Jandamarra’s survival were confirmed in May, 1885. Jandamarra and the Bunuba now conducted a guerrilla war. Police continually came across the outlaw’s tracks, only to lose them in the rocks and ravines.

Bunuba people also misled the police with false information, making the police look like fools, further demoralising them. In October 1895, Jandamarra became over-confident and failed to post a guard around his camp. He and his band were surprised by the police. Employing his legendary agility, Jandamarra disappeared into a convenient cave, but most of his band was captured.

Over the following months Jandamarra concentrated on harassing and demoralising police and settlers by demonstrating his mastery of the country and of stealth. Robbing storehouses, visiting police camps at night, shadowing police patrols, always ensuring they knew that he had been among them. Jandamarra, the uninitiated man now came to be seen by his own people as a lawman, an individual with great spiritual authority and great magical powers. He was said to be able to turn himself into a bird and to fly away from the police. He was also said to be invulnerable because his real spirit was hidden at his hideout and it was only his animated body that crossed his country to taunt the police and the settlers.

This went on for many months, interspersed with moments of violence and the besieging of the police outpost at Lillimooroola station, immediately below the limestone cliffs that marked the easily defended edge of Bunuba country. Towards the end of 1896 the settlers began forcing their cattle deep into Bunuba land, effectively going behind Jandamarra’s front line. The Bunuba resistance went back into action with psychological warfare and attacks on settlers. The police cranked up their attempts to end the conflict, committing more atrocities against the Bunuba, but had no more success than in their previous attempts.

But within the police ranks was a secret weapon. An Aboriginal member of the force named Micki was from far outside Bunuba country and had no loyalty towards Jandamarra’s fight. He was also considered to have magical powers by the Aborigines. On March 23, 1897 Micki was solely responsible for capturing five of Jandamarra’s band. Jandamarra attempted to free his comrades but was badly wounded. He was pursued through the ranges as he struggled towards his hideout cave at Tunnel Creek, thirty miles east. He made it back inside the cave through one of its many secret entrances, but Micki was waiting for him outside the cave’s main entrance. On April Fool’s Day, the two lawmen faced each other with Winchester rifles. Jandamarra missed and Micki’s shot sent him hurtling down a 100-foot cliff. The police reached the scene, confirmed the body was that of their feared foe and then chopped the head from the torso with a tomahawk. It was reportedly despatched to adorn the trophy wall of a British arms manufacturer.

The Bunuba resistance was finally broken with Jandamarra’s death. But his legend lives on, becoming a powerful oral tradition in the Kimberley. [ii]

NOTES

[i] Quoted in Pederson, H & Woorunmurra, B, Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance, 1995, p. 49. See also Aboriginal History 9:1, 1985, passim and p. 98, note 26.

[ii] In 2004 a folklife fieldwork project recorded further strong traditions about Jandamarra and his legend from his descendants. See ‘Report on the Western Australian Folklife Project, 2004’ National Library of Australia and WA Folklore Archive, Curtin University.

BANDIT LANDS 4 -‘THE LAMP’

Lampeao2

Lampião and some of his cangaceiros. Lampião is left of centre, to the right of him is Maria Bonita. The distinctive leather hats with upturned brims and leather clothes can be seen. The men have Mauser rifles, a great deal of ammunition and several have long peixeira knives thrust though their waist-belts.

 

Under his cangaçeiro or bandit name of Lampião – ‘The Lamp’ –  Virgulino Ferreira da Silva (1897-1938) followed a nearly twenty-year career of banditry in the Brazilian backlands from before the age of twenty until his grisly death in 1938.

Known as Lampião from his reputed ability to light up the darkness with rapid fire from a lever-action Winchester rifle, his gang’s gang’s first major attack was very much in the Robin Hood mould.

With around fifty men, Virgulino attacked the home of a wealthy aristocratic widow with good political connections. This was profitable and gained the outlaw the immediate attention of the press. His legend now began.

Over the next sixteen years and through several states, Lampião and his various gangs fought pitched battles with police and the volantes, or ‘flying squads’ formed especially to hunt down bandits. They kidnapped police, politicians, judges, the wealthy and the not so wealthy demanding and usually receiving hefty ransoms for their safe return. Towns and farms were plundered, travellers robbed, and sometimes murdered.

As the years passed, Lampião became increasingly savage in his actions, which included torture and humiliation of enemies and informers as well as raping several women. A number of unfortunates were castrated at his orders and he is said to have gouged out the eyes of one poor man in front of his wife and children. He then shot his victim dead through the empty eye sockets. Other atrocities are recorded and documented.[i]

The reality of Lampião’s banditry was therefore very much at odds with the benign image of Robin Hood. Although he professed strict rules about violence and rape, Lampião was feared as a cruel and sometimes sadistic killer, not only of those who opposed him, including peasants, but also of his own men who offended in some way. Over the course of his bandit life Lampião’s power and wealth grew, though most of this seems to have been used in the expensive business of maintaining a band almost continually on the run.

In 1926 he had a flirtation with the politics of his time and place, being given a commission as ‘Captain’ by one group of revolutionaries, together with a promise of amnesty when they came to power. In return, the bandit was to hunt down and eliminate one of their enemies. Lampião soon returned to his bandit ways, but from then retained the title of ‘Captain Silvino’.

Periods of pillage and plunder were followed by times of partying and celebration. Lampião was a noted party-thrower, his wealth allowing him to entertain his friends and allies in style. He was also a flashy dresser in the colourful style universally favoured by cangaçeiros. Distinctive upturned hat, scarf, crossed bandoliers of bullets, rings, boots and liberal applications of eau de cologne and hair pomade, allowing friend and foe alike to smell their presence. The list of possessions made at Lampião’s death included a hat and chinstrap adorned with fifty gold trinkets, rings set with precious stones, gold coins and medallions. His weapons were set with gold and silver and even his haversacks were heavily embroidered and fastened with gold and silver buttons.[ii]

Lampião’s success as a Robin Hood figure despite his cruelties, was largely due to his network of connections at various levels of backlands society and his ability to manipulate the outlaw hero code. He threw coins to the children of the poor and made generous gifts to peasants suffering from droughts and other hardships. He usually kept a tight rein on the carnal instincts of his men and he knew how to use the media. As one of Lampião’s historians put it, the bandit ‘was not unconcerned with his own image’.[iii]

In addition to playing to the press, Lampião has the distinction of being the first bandit to be filmed in action. While Pancho Villa had been filmed in the field for Barbarous Mexico, a documentary released in 1913, he had assumed the more respectable role of revolutionary general for that piece of propaganda. Lampião’s ten minutes of celluloid immortality show him and his men in their natural bandit habitat. Lampião was an enthusiastic collaborator in this public relations initiative.

A number of feature films have since been made based on Lampião’s legend, including one titled Lampião, Beast of the Northeast (1930). His afterlife is also assisted by the folk ballad tradition and an ongoing series of cordels glamorising the outlaw’s life and death, sold cheaply on the streets, initially in regional centres though today freely available in the larger Brazilian cities.

By 1930 the bandit’s fame had reached The New York Times, which in the following year predictably portrayed him as a Robin Hood. While Lampião evinced little interest in helping the poor, he was able to motivate support and sympathy in both high and low sectors of backlands society. Like some other bandits who were seen as possibly useful tools, if properly managed, he was able to call on the intercession of local political figures and power brokers, notably Padre Cicero for favours, money and shelter. His coiteros, or sympathisers, were not only in the upper echelons, though, and the ‘barefoot coiteros’ as the poorer sympathisers were known, assisted by providing the police and volantes with misleading information about the bandits’ movements.

As in other cases of rural banditry, the sympathisers and families of the outlaws experienced harassment from the police, including imprisonment without trial. In the Brazilian situation, this was exacerbated by the inability of the police to act against the wealthier and more influential individuals who colluded, willingly or otherwise, with Lampião due to their powerful political connections. It was not until a degree of inter-state cooperation between police forces and governments developed in the 1930s that Lampião and other cangaçeiros began to feel serious pressure from the authorities.

lamp3

The religious currents of the backlands were also an important element of the cangaçeiro. The endemic poverty and devastating droughts that ravaged the region gave rise to numerous extreme and millennial religious movements, some of which became linked with revolutionary political activity. Lampião and many of his followers were deeply pious and came to display religious tokens and images of Padre Cícero on their costumes. These were partly related to the belief that such tokens made them invulnerable to bullets, a belief shared by most other Roman Catholic backlanders. By the time of his death, Lampião had become ‘almost a beato, a kind of holy person common to northeastern Brazil.’[iv] This belief did not save the outlaw from his almost inevitable end.

The ‘king of the backlands’ as he was often dubbed, met his doom in the usual manner of the outlaw hero. Early one fine morning a party of police crept carefully towards the sleeping cangaçeiros. So confident were the outlaws of their safety that they had not bothered to post a guard. ‘Lampião’ was clearly visible, sleeping close by his outlaw bride, Maria Bonita (originally Maria Déia). Deliberatel,y the police took aim. One of the bandits, more awake than the others, sensed something wrong and raised the alarm. The police opened fire on the surprised and confused band. Many of the bandits escaped but Lampião was targeted and fell in the first burst of bullets. Maria Bonita and a few loyal comrades fought to the death.

As the gun smoke cleared, the triumphant police strode into the shattered outlaw camp, checking that the outlaws were all dead. One took out a long, sharp knife of the kind favoured by the backlands outlaws and hacked off Lampião’s head. Then Maria Bonita’s head was also severed from her body. The grisly trophies were placed in a jar of kerosene and ridden through the district, proof that the police had at last killed the great cangaçeiro chieftain. A soldier cut off the hand of one of the dead outlaws, packing the severed body part in his pack so that he could later strip the rings from the dead fingers. In keeping with the savage nature of the cangaçeiro and the embedded cultural notions of honour and dishonour in backlands, Bonita’s body was further humiliated.[v]

In an alternative version of the great bandido’s death, it is said that he and his men had already been betrayed to death by poison when the police arrived at the scene of the final shootout. In 1959 the head of the peasant unions claimed the bespectacled outlaw as a pioneer of agrarian land reform and resister of official injustice.

In the early 1970s historian Billy Jaynes Chandler, in Brazil to research his book on Lampião, was told that the notorious cangaçeiro was not dead at all, but living his life out quietly on a farm somewhere: ‘the majority of backlanders with whom I talked in rural areas and small towns held this opinion’.[vi] The outlaw’s granddaughter has published her own version of Lampião’s life, death and afterlife, and the commemorative structures marking the place of his death are the site of considerable touristic and carnivalesque interest.

According to an Al Jazeera report of early 2007, the outlaw now ‘features in a new TV mini-series, one of Brazil’s most famous singers will wear a costume of Maria Bonita at this year’s carnival and another samba school will parade with a huge puppet of the legendary north-easterner.’[vii]

Betrayed, butchered, beheaded and beatified, Lampião’s already powerful legend has long outlived him and shows no signs of fading away.

 

NOTES

[i] See Chandler, B., The Bandit King: Lampião of Brazil, Texas A&M University Press, College Station and London, 1978.

[ii] Hobsbawm, Bandits, 2000, p. 92.

[iii] Chandler, B., The Bandit King, p. 68.

[iv] Chandler, B., The Bandit King, p. 208.

[v] Chandler, B., The Bandit King p. 226, quoting an eyewitness he interviewed, note 24.

[vi] Chandler, B., The Bandit King, p. 240.

[vii] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/archive/archive?ArchiveId=18847, accessed February 2007.

LOST TREASURE IN THE CAVE OF DEATH – Part 2

Wreck_of_the_American_Ship_General_Grant

Six more weeks they waited, then gave up their companions for dead. Despair and depression were balanced by the need to find ways to stay alive. They moved to another island and built a substantial house using materials left over from an abandoned Maori settlement. They learned to capture and kill the wild pigs and goats that roamed the island and began domesticating them.

Life was maintained but it was monotonous and hard, rescue constantly in everyone’s mind. They prepared signal fires, used Cape hens as messenger birds, forced written pleas for help into seal bladders which were then inflated and set afloat. Scraps of wood were carved with information for potential rescuers and cast into the sea. They made small boats of wood and metal with sails of zinc on which was scratched:

“Ship General Grant wrecked on Auckland Isles 14 May, 1866; 10 survivors to date. Want relief.”

As autumn chilled the air even more their situation seemed hopeless, Sanguily recalled:

… we were sorely afflicted with scurvy, or, as whalers call it, “the cobbler”. The entire party was attacked, and it was only later that we realized how severely our ankle and knee joints were stiffened, and the flesh so swollen that the imprint of a finger would remain for an hour or more. We had heard that the remedy for scurvy was to bury a man all but the head. This we tried in several cases, but it did no good. In closing our mouths our teeth would, on meeting, project straight out, flattened against each other. General weakness and despondency, with a longing for vegetables, was our torment. Severe exercise seemed to be the only remedy. This was our most trying time.

David McClelland, the oldest member of the group, cut his hand on a scrap of copper. The hand became infected and he passed away: ‘All cripples, we bore him to his grave.’ Who would last the longest, they all wondered?

On November 19 a sail was seen. They rushed to light the signal fire but the ship passed without seeing the desperate and despondent survivors. But two days later another sail appeared. They manned their remaining boat and’ pulled with might and main’ for the brig Amherst.

The boat reached the strange vessel, and through our savage appearance at first alarmed the crew, they received us on board. Then were we made welcome to all they could spare. The Amherst, Captain Gilroy, of Invercarghill, manned by Maoris, and bound on a sealing voyage, was the means of our rescue. Captain Gilroy beat up between the islands and anchored off the huts. We were all taken aboard, and treated in the most hospitable manner. No Persian monarch ever enjoyed such a treat as we when tobacco and tea were set before us.

The survivors remained with the Amherst for two months and eventually landed at Invercargill in January 1868. A private subscription was taken to send the Amherst out in search of the boat launched with such high hopes a year before. The search failed. The men in her had made the wrong guess about the direction of New Zealand from Disappointment Island. They sailed west into thousands of kilometres of empty ocean and were never heard of again.

The nine survivors of the wreck moved on with their lives. Some of the gold sunk with the General Grant belonged to Joseph Jewell. His life was saved but his fortune lost. He eventually became a station master on the Victorian railways. Fortunately, Mary was able to make a great deal of money giving lectures about their survival epic. Her ordeal probably accounted for her inability to bear children. In later life they were able to become parents through a surrogate arrangement.

Patric Caughey returned to Ireland and went into the insurance industry. He was known as a storyteller, often regaling people with yarns of his adventures, whether they wanted to hear them or not.

‘Yankee Jack’ was from the eminent French-Cuban family of Sanguily Garrite. He returned to Boston to follow a less adventurous but safer career as a shop keeper, later marrying an Australian. He and his wife returned to Sydney where she gave birth to several children. William died in 1909.

Two months after the survivors of the General Grant were safely back in New Zealand, the first salvage attempt put to sea. Accompanying the expedition was James Teer. He led them to the ‘cave of death’ where the barque had gone down but the waves were too powerful. They failed to find the wreck, as did the next few attempts in 1870. The first of these was accompanied by another survivor, David Ashworth. He disappeared with five others lost in a whaleboat as they tried to find the fatal cave.

At least a further eight expeditions are known to have searched for the General Grant’s sunken gold. Coins, cannon balls and a range of miscellaneous artefacts have been recovered, probably from a number of the ships wrecked on these bleak islands. But no one has come across 4000 ounces of gold and despite all these attempts, the General Grant herself has not been located.

They say.