The Partners of Columbus
Los argonautas porcel1
'Columbus brothers had two partners in my town, which are mentioned by Josep-Maria Quadrado in his study of the peasant revolt, Strangers and Citizens. Based on their occupation as revolutionaries, it's not illogical -in fact very possible - that these two would have formed a partnership with the fugitive brothers for the development of a piracy business.'

Excerpt from The Enchanted Isles by Baltasar Porcel. Translated from the Catalan by John L. Getman.

A new and erudite light has been cast upon the enigmatic figure of Christopher Columbus: three new books try to grant the distinguished admiral a real Majorcan birth certificate. Amid the torrent of data which they uncover, one point is clear: that our illustrious personage devoted his youth to full-time piracy along the Andratx coast.

This news, of course, was not well received by local property owners. To know that a certain person had practiced robbery on one's property, even though many years ago, is not pleasant for anyone. Let's leave the personal questions aside, then, and get on to the historical truth, that which is as sure as the sun, bitter as it may be.

According to the scholars who affirm his Majorcan birth, Christopher Columbus must have been a fellow named Joanot Colom, from Felanitx, who, along with his brother Tomeu, had to escape at the tender age of nineteen, when the formidable peasant uprising of 1450 was crushed, in which his father had evidently taken lusty part, and for which he, along with his family, suffered the rigors demanded by law...that is, the heavy hand of the victors. The Colom brothers, who had to work at something in order to eat, decided on the profession of piracy, in which they shortly attained great notoriety. With predictable frequency, they worked under the protection of the French against the peninsular monarchies. That's why, when he returned to Spain, fascinated by the matter of the spice trade routes, Joanot had to disguise himself as Christopher and make up a story about his Genoese birthplace. If not, he would have wound up in a state prison, and later would have been beheaded as a Majorcan rebel and pirate.

The researchers into the matter assure the reader that the coast of Felanitx, on the eastern end of the island, and that of Andratx to the west, were the areas most frequented by the brave pirate. I'm not surprised. An enormous piracy consumed Majorca - and my town specifically - from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. It was scandalous. The fact that Joanot and Tomeu also ran around in that nest of corsairs, milking the same cow, doesn't surprise me a bit.

What today's historians haven't yet discovered is that the Colom, or Columbus brothers had two partners in my town, which are mentioned by Josep-Maria Quadrado in his study of the peasant revolt, Strangers and Citizens. Based on their occupation as revolutionaries, it's not illogical -in fact very possible - that these two would have formed a partnership with the fugitive brothers for the development of a piracy business.

The two gentlemen in question were Bonanat Jovera and Lluc Marcer, both from Andratx and both watchtower guards on the island of Dragonera, located right in the middle of all the pirate traffic. Their job was to warn the town with bonfires and conch horns if they spotted any enemy ships. Their salary came from the Great and General Council of the Kingdom of Majorca, that is, they were on the State payroll. They were both solitary characters, crafty and anarchistic. Jovera came from a little place called Coma Calenta, and he was an ancestor of mine on my mother's side.

When the peasant revolt of 1450 broke out, led by Simó Tort Ballester and Pere Mascaró, and in which old man Colom and his sons Joanot and Tomeu were involved--and all that has been well-documented by Quadrado -, Jovera and Marcer hurriedly left Dragonera to sign up with the rebels. Quadrado assures the reader that during the terrible siege that the rebels laid on the city of Palma in the hot summer of that year, those from Andratx were among the rowdiest and meanest. Old man Colom, who was one of the most pig-headed of the lot, didn't waste any time getting together with my ancestor. Another of the tough ones was the hunchback Moragues from Bunyola. The bunch of them plugged up the Royal Aqueduct, cutting off the city's water supply. They sacked vineyards, vegetable gardens and farmhouses; they quashed all resistance; they perpetrated riotous butcheries all over - in effect, they just went on doing what they did best.

Once the revolt was crushed, The Great and General Council hurriedly notified the University - that is, the City Council of Andratx - that Marcer and Jovera were to be fired because they were bandits and assassins, and that they should be arrested and hauled before the court. But the University operated under a special set of rules, known as the pariatge, which split final authority between the Bishop of Barcelona, with feudal rights, and the Crown. Basing their decision on the juridical entanglement and its royal enforcement, the lack of discipline and their attitude of every-man-for-himself, the University refused to obey the order. The paper on which it arrived was torn up in a solemn and public session, while the members cried out against the oppressive governmental tyranny.

Bonanat Jovera and Lluc Marcer stayed on at Dragonera, fanning smoke signals and emitting lugubrious sounds on the conch horn. Furthermore, tradition has it that Marcer brought his wife, a peasant from L'Evangèlica, who was fat and dirty; also that Bonanat usually had some slave girls, both whites and Moors, which he bartered with the pirates for information. One of them, an ex-cloistered nun from a convent in Palma, bore six children and was very adept at interpreting erotic dances, due to which, Jovera and Marcer tangled with each other more than once.

Well, since that's the way things were, it's evident that when the Colom brothers arrived in their galleys and got back together with Jovera and Marcer, the old partnership reemerged: all four of them were wanted by the law, and for the same reasons. So if they could come to an agreement, they would be able to carry out profitable crimes with ease. Historical data, psychology and monetary interests came together in this case to make the hypothesis true. I suppose if I were to dig a little deeper into the records, I could document the case in more detail.

Meanwhile, I like to reconstruct in my mind the joy that my ancestor Jovera and his companion must have felt when they saw that, year in and year out, when the summer calms beset the sea, Colom's ship would haul into view, its sails fully set, from behind Punta Galinda. They probably signaled each other by waving a yellow banner three times. Then the ship would drop anchor within the shelter of the little cove of Es Lledó on Dragonera. The four partners would all embrace each other amid pleasurable laughter, slapping each other on the back. Then they would immediately order their sailors to unload a couple of barrels of light and savory wine from Provence. The Dragonera guards had most likely skinned a kid goat and were roasting it on a fire made of rosemary bushes.

The people on the mainland, when they saw the smoke, would become scared, thinking that it was a warning signal that 'the Moors were coming!' They would then lock themselves in their houses - those who had a building that was more or less solid - and all the others would run off toward Andratx, to seek refuge behind the fortified walls. Homesteads, farms and fields were all left abandoned.

So, their bellies stuffed with roast meat, euphoric from the Provençal broth, the Colom brothers, Jovera and Marcer,with their gang right behind them, must have launched their boats toward the coast, where they could pick up everything they wanted without too much fear of the natives. It must have been the perfect partnership: Joanot and Tomeu, Jovera and Marcer.

Too bad that it all came to nothing, what with Columbus's obsession for higher class navigation.

© University of Wales, Aberystwyth 2002-2009       home  |  e-mail us  |  back to top
site by CHL