Mixtape #8: Pirates & the Wind of Change (Chapter 1)
Produced by Camille Duran / Published by Eleen Murphy / Senior Editors Eleen Murphy & Camille Duran / Music Credits: License by Ins. Green White Space.
Transcript from the Episode
Camille Duran [CD]: Ahoy sailor! Today we take a deep dive into the world of piracy. Piracy? Are you kidding me? What does this have to do with sustainability? aren’t we supposed to talk about social and environmental change? Isn’t this Green Exchange? – Talk shows for change makers?
Yes it is. Calm down. Let me explain. Pirates are not what we think they are. Yes they were probably a bit [Laughter sound] and sometimes even a little bit [Maniacal laughter sound]. But they have played a very important role in periods of history that were both tumultuous and critical. And they keep influencing our world every day. They just don’t operate on water anymore. For most at least.
This mixtape comes in two chapters. Chapter 1 today will be about pirates of the old times, Chapter 2 -coming soon – about modern pirates, from sea pirates in Somalia to computer hackers and other forms of piracy we know today.
Sailor, it’s time to ask yourself. What can we learn from pirates throughout history?
As always with our mixtapes, music is what will transport us into this adventure.
And I have to say: the sounds we will be playing today are of the epic kind. To be more precise, this mixtape is designed for 3 specific situations:
- Situation 1: You are on a big piece of work, writing the report of your life. Or maybe you are preparing for an important meeting, or your dream job interview – you want to make this a turning point in your life – and why not – in history. At your service, this music will get you in the mood.
- Situation 2: You need an escape moment – How about training your imagination? How about reinventing your life in different times? What would you look like in 1750 for instance? Where do you work, what do you do in the morning? Where do you go on vacation? Haha – and how about your friends and colleagues? imagine meeting them up the in 1750?
“jack… I didn’t know you were a pirate!”
[Jack Sparrow audio clip]
- Situation 3: You are going on a hunt. Well actually you’re just going to pick up mushrooms on a Sunday. Well… actually you are just going to walk the dog… See? how boring is this. Bring some action into your moment. Again, use your imagination. With this mixtape, you are going to run in between the trees – duck the arrows that evil forces are throwing at you, shut down a fire, save a dear from drowning in the river, help a baby fox find his mother, clean up all the plastic littering, and come back home with a bag full of mushrooms for dinner. Wow, what a ride
Yes, we push you to performance that’s what we do at Green Exchange!
Be careful, this music may make you feel like a hero. Well wait, you are a hero, you may just not know it yet?
To make this mixtape as relevant and realistic as possible, I need help from someone who is a real pirate nerd. Yes, those people exist. Pirate nerds. Let me tell you, those guys are as valuable as researchers and historians even. And they are most likely funnier to talk to.
So let me look at my notes… who do we have … let’s see?
Eleen Murphy [EM]: Ahoy!
CD: Hey Eleen? I didn’t know you were joining, great, so I was looking for our pirate nerd to help me on this mixtape
– yes, that’s me!
CD: What? You a pirate nerd?
EM: Oh yeah…
CD: Ah now I understand why this mixtape got on the editorial calendar…
EM:Haha, my evil plan!
CD: Well ok, ….Help me understand, how pirate nerdy are you?
EM: Well, let’s see…I wrote my school dissertation on pirates, there were posters all over my room, I’ve watched every type of treasure island adaptation out there, know all the movies and video games about pirates…and my cat is called “Calico Jack”
CD: Okay okay I think you qualify. I can sense the excitement. A dream come true at Green Exchange today ladies and gentlemen – Let’s talk piracy with Eleen Murphy
CD: Okay what do we start with?
EM:A sea shanty.
CD: What’s that? A type of ice cream?
EM: No, it’s basically a maritime work song.
CD: Ah okay, I see, so like a work song, you mean for labour work on the ship?
EM: Yes, It’ll get us in the mood, and then we’ll start decrypting what we, change makers can learn from pirates.
CD: Let’s go, from now on I let you hold the ship’s wheel Eleen, Just don’t make us sea sick, that’s all I’m asking
EM: Keep looking at the horizon.
EM: So first, let’s clarify what kind of pirates we should be talking about, piracy is a vast area.
CD: Ok, you tell me. Who can we learn from?
EM: Ok I’ll start from scratch, there are lots of different types of people called pirates, which makes it confusing. It’s messy, but generally when we talk about pirates we think of the “OG” pirates.
CD: The OG pirates? Can you explain?
EM: Basically those who didn’t work on behalf of any country, like Blackbeard – they roamed the seas in search of treasure. They were enemy of every state…
CD: Okay, so bad guys on a ship, drinking, raping, stealing and treasure hunting. Is that who we need to learn from?
EM: See? that’s the common perception…The golden age of piracy was a time of brutal oppression and you know we had those big colonial powers trying to take over the world. Pirates were often those who escaped this oppression.
CD: Ah I see.
EM: So, like, many pirates were escaped slaves, who would have had no other means of making a living. Blackbeard’s crew is thought to be made up of 60% black people – freed slaves mostly.
CD: Oh that’s why the crews were always very diverse.
EM: Yes, Pirates formed their own societies, and went against this status quo.
CD: Ah that sounds friendlier to my ear. So they were change makers?
EM: You can say so…
EM: Morality, law and justice play a big part in this topic. It’s argued that pirate societies were the most egalitarian societies of their time, bringing together multi-ethnic crews, allowing a form of gay marriage.
CD: Haha nice!
EM: Yeah! They also had a strict moral and ethical code – which isn’t what we usually think of, right? They even had healthcare system.
CD: A healthcare system? with the little card and your photo on it?
EM: That’s right
CD: How was it called? Williamacare? How about that.
EM: And democracy – with each man having a vote. They worked as a team, each sailor being part of a bigger whole.
CD: Wow, I never saw it like that this is fascinating .
EM: All this was a direct backlash to the tyrannical rule on merchant ships. And we need to put this in perspective: Pirates had separation of the powers and democratic “government” aboard their ships at least one century before France.
CD: Who brought it on in 1789.
CD: Eleen, I am so into this, the music and everything, I feel like you and me are on a ship called “the Black Sheep” navigating the tumultuous seas of podcasting. Our listeners are probably willing to join our quest at this point! What route should we occupy?
EM: Well, that’s one interesting thing we can learn from OG pirates actually. They strategically occupied the waterways that formed major trading routes.
CD: Oh – so they were not far out in the ocean?
EM: No, they were typical occupying the Bahamas for instance because that’s were all merchant ships going to Spain were passing by. They were really good at finding the strategic spot. Rather than challenging their targets head on, pirates surprise and attack their enemies at their weakest points, giving them no time to react.
CD: Okay so – lesson learnt: Take a strategic position in the space you want to occupy. Be ready for when opportunities show up.
EM: And fire!!!!!!! Fireeeee! Fireeeeee!!!!!
CD: Wow, I never saw you so excited Eleen…
CD: Let’s talk about Captains’ powers, shall we?
EM: Unlike merchant vessels, on pirate ships, captains weren’t able to secure special privileges for themselves at their crews’ expense. Their lodging, provisions, and even pay were nearly the same as everyone else.
CD: They had their own cabin though. No?
EM: Yes but at any time, crew members were free to come in unannounced and yell at the captain if they were doing a bad job. Your privileges were quite limited and if you were not a good leader, things could rapidly change.
CD: interesting idea. So a pretty flat organisation
EM: You’re going to like this, I brought with me a few common rules from the world of piracy:
CD: Tell me.
EM: Lights out at 8pm
CD: What? no drinking and partying every night?
EM: Lights out at 8pm I said!
CD: Copy that…
EM: No gambling. Keep your weapons ready for battle. No stealing ….
CD: Wait a sec…
EM: From other pirates, I mean.
CD: Ah right
EM: All disputes are settled on land, with pistols. And… wait for it….Musicians have Sundays off.
CD: Wow – interesting. But I have this image of them drinking and partying on some island.
EM: After big victories maybe, they have some down time.
[Audio Clip of Jack Sparrow]
CD: Story of the day: Is there a pirate that stood out in your research?
EM: Yes definitely. Do you know the story of Ching Shih?
CD: That sounds Chinese
EM: it’s , it’s a female Chinese Pirate that has been called the most successful pirate in history.
CD: Oh yea? More than Blackbeard?
EM: Well to give you an idea Blac k beard was leading 4 boats and 300 men – at his peak.
CD: Okay…That was peak Blackbeird. What was peak Ching Shih?
EM: 1800 pirate ships and an estimated 80,000 men.
CD: What? 80,000? Sorry to ask but How did a female pirate in China in the 1800s rise to that level of power?
EM: Well it’s a long story but I’ll make it short. She was ex-sex worker, and…..
CD: A sex-worker…ah I see.
EM: Married to Cheng I (or Cheng one, I’m not sure how to say it), who was commanding the red flag fleet of pirates. It was big fleet already, his main achievement was to unite many rival fleets under the same flag. And he married her in 1801. The thing is: She demanded equal control of the fleet as a condition for her marriage.
EM: She was actively participating in all piracy activities, like a few women in history. When he died, she took over and since then built a legacy that completely over shadowed the one of her husband.
CD: How did she do this?
EM: Well, Back when she was a sex worker she was hanging out with very influential people and business men. And some say she learnt a lot about the financials and politics at this point – and there is evidence that she was very savvy. She also maintained a very strict code of conduct across the fleet.
CD: Right. I suppose you don’t carry on at that level if you’re a clown. What happened to her?
EM: The fleet was undefeated for 3 years, they were really dominating that period. And in 1810, Ching Shih could finally retire by accepting an offer of amnesty from the Chinese government.
CD: Wait? What? She retired? that’s it?
EM: Politics, there was a lot of tension, another pirate fleet called the black flag fleet recently surrendered, and she felt she was going to lose control. So it looks like she made a wise decision given the context. She died 34 years later at age 69.
CD: In a retirement home?
EM: More or less, haha.!
CD: But this is boring, Eleen…
EM: Ah but you have to put this into context. And she had tremendous influence over Chinese popular culture.
CD: Wow, that’s an unexpected ending for that kind of profile.
EM: Yeah I don’t think retirement happened very often. She was probably the only one to do so.
CD: Let’s throw the anchor Eleen, It’s time to end this first chapter about piracy. We learnt a few lessons, what can we conclude?
EM: Well I think one main point – is: it’s not about breaking all the rules – it’s about making better ones. We can’t celebrate everything that pirates stood for (because yes there was a lot of murder and violence), but we should definitely follow their example of trying to make a better, more equal world & be brave enough to stand against the big tyrannical powers of today.
CD: I don’t know what you’re talking about Eleen.
EM: I think Fairness & Cooperation was Key to their Success?
What helped them be successful was that everyone on board had a vested interest in their success, and all bounty was shared equally. This is a good lesson for us to keep in mind (cooperatives, shared spaces, workplace as a democracy, etc). There is more of course but I think we went through the most interesting points.
CD: Yes that was great, that’s all we have time for today, but don’t miss chapter 2 were we’re going to dive into modern piracy and see if there anything we can learn from. Eleen I think you’ll be our pirate guide for next chapter as well
CD: …Okay, well get some rest in the meantime. We hope you enjoyed this mixtape, we’ll be back soon for more, we’ll let you go occupy the waters of change until next time, ciao!