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Buccaneers and Filibusters

They were marooned sailors, runaways, men who had shipwrecked or escaped from Spanish prisons. They consisted of groups of English, Dutch and French men that subsisted solely on hunting. They primarily inhabited the island of Española on the north-western part of the island. This part of the island was poorly inhabited by the Spaniards allowing the foreigners to range freely. On this side of the island, there were large number of domesticated animals (cattle, pigs, horses and dogs) that had turned wild and were available for the taking. There were very few women or children in these groups, and the men lived wildly. Their only possessions were the weapons they carried, knives, cutlass and rifles. They hunted the wild cattle and pigs with the help of packs of dogs which they had captured and trained. The animals they killed were smoked to preserve the meat (no refrigeration) according to a method they learned from the natives. Strips of meat were placed on a rack made of branches and slowly smoked over hot embers of charcoal. The natives referred to the smoked meat, as "Bucan". The European hunters called the process "Buccaneering", and called themselves "Buccaneers!"

The Buccaneers wore distinctive clothes, which consisted of a coarse shirt which hung loosely over the pants. Their pants were loose fitting and normally only reached their knees. They carried their rifle, powder pouches, and collection of butcher knifes and a hat to protect them from the sun. Originally, they processed the meat for their own consumption and limited trading with the Spaniards. They started trading with the Pirates and other sailors that were sailing the Spanish Main.  Towns sprouted up in the region, particularly the area that is now Haiti. Towns like Port Paix, Port Margot & Cape Francis attracted more Buccaneers, and grew. Up too then, the Spaniards were not bothered, but as their towns grew larger, the Spanish declared war on them. The Spaniards were successful in routing the Buccaneers, and those that escaped, moved to an island on the north coast a short distance from Port Paix, that was named Tortuga, because it had the shape of a turtle. Tortuga was a very defensible island, and the Buccaneers started to use it as their fortress, from which to harass the Spaniards in Española and then the Caribbean. 

Originally, Tortuga's main inhabitants were English Buccaneers. Later a Frenchman named Levasseur settled there and brought with him a large number of French. The French eventually outnumbered the English and it became a French colony, with administrators being sent by the French government. 

The Spanish, in an attempt to get rid of the Buccaneers permanently, started killing most of the large animals in Española to deny the Buccaneers their livelihood. They were so successful in this task that the Buccaneers had to turn to piracy. Instead of hunting game, they started to hunt Spanish Galleons. The Englishmen called themselves "Freebooters", the Frenchmen called them "flibustier", and the English then called the French "Filibuster". Originally, the terms Buccaneer and Filibuster were two different things, each meaning something different. Eventually, both terms had the same meaning, they were either English or French pirates.

A very important attribute of the Buccaneers was that they were excellent marksmen, since they depended on the ability to shoot a wild animal from a distance and not waste valuable shot and powder. This skill proved to be very deadly for the Spaniards in their battles with the pirates. Over and over again, the skilled marksmen proved their worth when they attacked Spanish shipping and settlements. 


Spice Trade - Enlivening the imagination like these pungent plant parts do food, spices epitomize the exotic, sunny tropics. In the days of the Spice Trade, peppercorns were worth their weight in gold... And it was the incredible value of the cloves filling the hold of Magellan's only returning ship that ensured the financial success of his historic


The Caribbean, crossroads of the world
No Frames   Frames

The Caribbean is in many respects the crossroads of the world, especially in the days of sail, when the tradewind routes led from the far ends of the earth to the British Virgin Islands' home in the Lesser Antilles.



History - A succession of peoples and cultures swept over the Caribbean bringing or finding their distinctive foods, many still eaten today.


The Arawaks were followed by the fierce Caribs, for which the Caribbean is named. Explorers and many sea captains transported food items. Colonists, settlers and planters of Spanish, Dutch, English, and French origin brought their respective cuisine with them in some form.

East Indians contributed their distinctive curries, called colombos in the French Antilles, condiments such as chutneys and food items like the widely adopted roti.

Africans were a strong influence throughout the region, bringing many foodstuffs such as okra and yams, and many other varieties of greens, beans and roots as well as cooking techniques and seasonings, such as Creole-style gumbos.

Derived from an African word for the okra that originally contributed its thick, characteristic texture, gumbo broadens to a thick stew or soup with a hodgepodge of local ingredients, then travels to the West Indies, transmuting there into that ubiquitous soup called callaloo that is emblematic of the Caribbean.

Callaloo - Often thickened with okra and well-seasoned with chile peppers and other herbs, this irresistible West Indian soup (Crab Hole and Callaloo) may be ladled out of an iron cooking pot with a wooden spoon into a calabash bowl in a Caribbean version of age-old practices (see recipes).

Callaloo comes in as many styles as there are islands and cooks, and now refers to a complex mixture with a "confusion" of ingredients (see song lyrics). Strictly viewed, if that's possible, callaloo exhibits one constant--  a spinach-like, tender green leaf. Generally from the dasheen family, the preferred variety has a large purple dot on its leaf. Sometimes the leaf is what is called callalou and the soup is called Pepperpot.

The focus on the "greens," including green vegetables like okra and the green leaf itself, and their preparation in the form of a thick soup or sauce, expresses African-inspired cooking, with its emphasis on the importance of greens and garden-variety seasonings, albeit in sensual, aromatic combinations.

Paradoxically, key ingredients of callaloo and gumbo-- the chile pepper and tomato-- originated in the New World... And their transport to Africa as foodstuffs during the Age of Discovery, before coming back as part of these distinctive dishes, demonstrates the complexity of this cultural "stew" that has enriched the Caribbean.

Jerk - The original inhabitants of the Caribbean, the Arawaks, cured meat by smoking it over a slow fire-- no doubt a very widespread "primitive" practice. Jerk, in fact, means to preserve dried meat, derived from American southwest Spanish charqui, from the Native South American cc'arki.

Also, the term buccaneer, a 17th century adventurer or sea robber, comes from the technique, called "boucan" (meaning barbecue), of curing meat by smoking it slowly over a fire, its French practitioners being called "boucaniers." See Pirates & Privateers.

Tortola's Beef Island gets its name from its use as pasture for cattle for this purpose by local buccaneers (see Black Sam Bellamy: Prince of Pirates).

So today we see "jerk" pork ribs and chicken, the Jamaican being the most famous with the roadside jerk huts, smoky with the open pit fires of smoldering Pimento wood to ensure the proper slow-smoke cooking. But it is the "fire" and subtlety of the seasonings that make "jerk" what it is. Fiery Scotch Bonnet or bird peppers, onions, scallions, Jamaican pimento or allspice, thyme, cinnamon and nutmeg are combined into a pungent "paste" that is rubbed "voyage" around the world. New spices and routes motivated Columbus to set sail to the East Indies in the first place-- hence the West Indies name when he accidentally discovered a new land.

Except for saffron where countless tiny crocus stigmas must be plucked by hand, spices are now commonplace, inexpensive and widely grown (and annatto oil is used for saffron). Once only grown in China, ginger is a major product of Jamaica, and widely diffused, via East Indian chutneys and curries, throughout Caribbean cooking. Now nutmeg is synonymous with Grenada, called the Isle of Spice. Conversely, as mentioned, the chile pepper was transported to Africa for cultivation.

Nutmeg - One of the spices, nutmeg, was brought to the Caribbean when an English sea captain brought the tree from Indonesia to Grenada (an important producer of nutmeg today). From a tall, fragrant, tropical evergreen tree and found in local markets, the best is the nut's fresh shell with its threads of bright scarlet mace still clinging to the outside. Rum drinks favor a dusting of nutmeg, so much more flavorful when freshly grated.


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