The romantic and captivating image of pirates is entirely familiar.From top children's stories, to favoured fancy dress.
The notion of bloodthirsty plundering is easily tempered by the knowledge that the navy of the day was considered pretty brutal, the new world was being forged with little thought towards its occupants.The same ship may equally sail under a jolly roger or privateer ensign depending on political whim.
Digging a little deeper, was there more to the bad press?
There are often clues in dissecting language. The word used to be spelled pyrate.Pyre?. Someone who lives by fire in some way?
Let us start with a look at South America. Ravaged by the Spanish, whose gold fever in turn inspired hordes of nautical opportunists.(The English navy once sent three ships to "go and sort out the pirate problem", they cruised into Port Royal and were met by over two hundred pirate ships!(some of the occupants of which were known to have wild long hair and indulged in narcotics))
So, a multi-national self-governing community thrived. Doudtless evolving all sorts of cultural practices from various sources.
Interestingly, the Mayans lived by a fire ritual (pyre rite?). This was a lenthgy and delicate process of spiritual cleansing and revitalisation, starting with a simple shape formed in crystalised sugar on the ground, a circle covered by a cross with smaller circles .(ie, white on black) Wait a minute, doesn't that look remarkably similar to a skull and cross bones? Could be a coincidence. Moving on to the ritual garb, red bandana, white shirt with red sash about the waist.
In the unlikely event of an international artists conspiracy, you will find it very difficult to find any pirate picture that doesn't depict the character wearing exactly these colours(the work of Howard Pyle (that word again) being a classic example)
The Spanish brought cows. The cows roamed free in the rain forest and bred. Men were shipwrecked, or just stayed there. They lived on these cows and cooked on a greenwood fire (Mayan technique?) Known as a bucan, hence buccaneers.(Plausably the origin of the word barbeque)
Did these wild boys with their cows and their fires drift up into Texas and California? Does a cowboy hat look like a tricorner with the back folded down to keep the sun off and did red bandanas drop down to neck level? Is there any connection between sea shanties and American country and folk music?
Interesting also that pirate radio epitomises independent culture.
Some of these questions may be no more than conjecture, but then when characters such as Tex from Beccles surface there is possibly more to the notion.