Published On: Mon, Jun 26th, 2017

Mona Passage (1)

dekker_0The Islands of Mona and Monito are 46 miles southwest of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and 37 miles southeast of Punta Espada, Dominican Republic, shaped like beans with concavity toward the north, providing reasonable anchorage.

“Dear Anansi, you may never have heard of the islands, but in the 16th en 17th century, they played a major role in the discovery and development of the Caribbean by Europeans.

Mona was ‘discovered’ on November 22, 1493, when Columbus and his crew saw Mona Island on their westerly trip from San Juan Bautista to Hispaniola. Returning from Isabela. On September 24, 1494, the Admiral disembarked on the island.

The primary concern in Europe was not the trans-Atlantic slave trade of Africans but the Barbary Coast abomination. Africans bought and sold millions of so-called Christian (European) slaves, of England, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. Corsair pirates raided all European coastal cities and captured mostly young men for galley slaves, and women for resale to harems.

The regular shipping lanes for cargo and people across the Atlantic and along European coasts were heavily pestered by Corsair pirates.  They were out to seize famous passengers who could be traded for ransom. Church congregations across Europe often had to take up collections to pay the ransoms, demanded by the Corsair pirates for their captives. A record in the British Parliament of 1672, shows that at that time, already over one million Christian slaves were in African custody. Piet Hein, the national sea hero of the Dutch, also served as a galley slave for four years and lost his father and uncle to the Barbary Coast slave traders (1598-1602).

In 1510, the systematic transportation of African slaves to the New World began as King Ferdinand of Spain authorizes a shipment of 50 African slaves to Santo Domingo. In 1518: Charles V grants his Flemish courtier Lorenzo de Gorrevod permission to import 4,000 African slaves into New Spain.

Atlantic Creoles played a major role in the trans-Atlantic shipping of slaves.  They were traced back as descendants of European sailors and traders as fathers and African mothers.   Portuguese traders had been active since the mid-16th century in the port cities of the West Africa.  Their offspring grew up in multi-lingual, and multi-cultural environments.  Men worked as interpreters, or go-betweens for Africans and Europeans, others worked as sailors, merchants, and traders.  Many Creoles traveled to the Caribbean, North America, or Europe. Creole pirates and privateers in the Caribbean were no exceptions, like Mateo Congo, who captured a frigate in the Mona Passage, in 1625. Mona Island and Passage had proven to be a very strategic location for all those with opportunistic and ill intentions.

A Dutch Admiral-pirate-privateer-corsair, Adriaen Cornelis Jol, (1597-1641) nicknamed, Pie de Palo for his pegleg, active against the Spanish in the Spanish Main, and throughout the Caribbean, used the Island and its Passage.  In 1626, Jol captured ships from Puerto Rico on their way to Santo Domingo in Mona Passage. Earlier he attacked San Juan and sank four ships from Santo Domingo.

The adventurous Adriaen Jol had quite a reputation. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean nine times and attacked the Spanish and Portuguese along the coast of Brazil and in the Caribbean. In 1637, the Admiral leading 14 ships, boarded an African ship in Mona Passage carrying cedar lumber from Central America and stole part of her cargo.

Jol was also the buccaneer, who attacked Campeche, an important port in the Yucatan, looting the settlement, in 1633.  This wild and ruthless Dutchman brought back enormous treasure in loot to the Dutch Admiralty and was lauded as a national hero. The ethics and morals of warfare and needless, cold-blooded killings did not seem to conflict with the discussions on morals and ethics of the Protestants at the Synod of Dordt (1618).  Note: Supposedly, AFC Ajax trainer Martin Jol is a direct descendant.

So, Passage Mona was a crossroad for African pirates, Dutch Corsairs and Buccaneers, British and  French slave traders, and Spanish gold and silver treasure fleets. Today, it is a forgotten, heavily polluted, very sad island, inhabited by poor and Taino Indian descendants.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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