May 19, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean - Fermin Mundaca

Mundaca's tombFermin Anonio Mundaca y Marecheaga was born, on October 11th, 1825, in Santa Maria, Spain. He was well educated, but as soon as his studies were completed, he crossed the oceans to make his fortune in the slave trade. He raided Mexico, in search of Mayan people to abduct and sell. He also undertook voyages to Africa, where he bought people to ship to the Americas. Both Mayan and African slaves were destined for the sugarcane plantations and mines of Cuba and the Antillas. There were rumours that he was also a traditional pirate too, but no actual anecdotes to back this up. He certainly called himself a pirate and none of the other pirates around at the time challenged him on the nom-de-plume.

By 1858, the British Navy had started to crack down upon the slave trade. Mundaca decided that it was time to retire, signalling the act with a symbolic torching of his own ship. Mundaca was wealthy enough to settle down and so bought half of Isla Mujeres. This was his tropical island retreat and he had money to spend, so he spent it. His hacienda was based near to Playa Lancheros and took over 40% of the island. It exists today and was called 'La Vista Alegre' (Joyous or happy view).

Mundaca had plenty of people to whom he could show off. In 1847, the Caste War of Yucatán had begun and, by 1858, around 250 people fleeing from it had populated the Isla Mujeres village of Pueblo de Dolores. These included fellow pirates, who no doubt looked with envy upon his hacienda. Between them, these pirates owned the other 60% of the island, upon which also lived local fishing communities. Amongst them was an emerald eyed, Mayan woman, Martiniana 'Prisca' Gómez Pantoja. She was eighteen years old, willowy, with pale skin bronzed by the sun and her beauty was already attracting interest amongst the young men of her community.

Hacienda MundacaMundaca fell in love. He called her La Trigueña (The Brunette) and had a great archway built, as the northern entrance to his estate, in her honor. El Paso de La Trigueña! The Gateway of the Brunette! He built a two-storey, palatial home overlooking a shallow valley. He created stone terraces with carved stone benches, each bearing a hand-carved plaque. He made a massive sundial for her called 'La Rosa de los Vientos' ('The Rose of the Wind'). You could tell the time by seeing upon which flowers the shadow of the dial fell, during any hour of the day. He dug a well and constructed eight walled gardens around it in an octagon shape. He extended his gardens and added a menagerie of livestock and exotic birds. He had ploughed and sown a huge vegetable garden. A second archway, as the south-eastern entrance to his estate, had the words etched into it, 'Entrada de La Trigueña' (Entrance of the Brunette). He plundered the local Mayan ruins and brought back ornately decorated stones to be used in his own hacienda. He created a warren of small pathways, lined with sea grapes and icaco, lit with torches and leading down to the bay. Coconut palms and chitale were planted for their milk. All for her.

Unfortunately for the pirate, Senorita Gómez Pantoja was having none of it. She was 37 years younger than Mundaca and already had a sweetheart of her own. She was also Mayan and he was Spanish. Three centuries of Spanish conquest was culminating even now in the War of the Castes over on the mainland. She, along with the rest of the Mayan population of Isla Mujeres, hated his guts. There was also the fact that Mundaca hadn't quite finished with his slave trading. Between 1858 and 1870, he continued to rent boats to the Government of the Yucatán, which were used to capture rebel Mayans and sell them to the Cuban plantations. Mundaca took his cut of the proceeds and he became referred to as the Spanish Consul on Isla Mujeres by the same government. He also captured Mayan people from the mainland coastline and used them as slaves to build his sprawling estate. They were made to dismantle the ancient temples on the island and use the stone for his own constructions. All in Pantoja's honor. Mundaca seemed to find no incongruity between his trade of her people and the fact that she didn't want a thing to do with him.

Prisca married her own love, Senor Martinez, and Mundaca went a little crazy watching her from afar. He became a recluse inside his hacienda, walking endlessly and stuffing his pockets full of random stones. These stones were piled up around the well, almost as a cairn to his lost love. He planted hundreds of flowers in his gardens. Except for two male servants, Mundaca saw no-one and traded with no-one. He allowed his vegetables and fruit to ripen in the ground, then fall and rot. His animals were given free rein. They frequently escaped and trampled over the crops and groves of the rest of the island. He never attempted to control them, even when they ruined the food of his neighbours.

Mundaca's tombMundaca also went to the cemetery, in the north part of Isla Town, on the island and created a tomb for himself. The granite tombstone is peculiar. It was carved by Mundaca in 1877, the date which he added to the stone. It is intriguing to ponder upon the date. Did he intend to do away with himself in order to render the date correct? Or did he consider this the moment when his life was over, despite himself still moving and breathing in it? The tombstone shows a skull and crossbones as its icon. There is also a message for his disinterested love:

Lo que tu eres, yo fui
lo que lo soy, luego seras
-As you are, I was - as I am, you will be

In the end, he couldn't stand watching Prisca getting on with life, raising a family and making her home any longer. He left the island, in 1880, and travelled 200 miles away to Mérida. There he died within weeks. Some say that he contracted plague; others say that he just withered away alone in a brothel. His body was not returned to Isla Mujeres, to the tomb which he had already prepared. It lies empty.

* Hacienda Mundaca, Isla Mujeres: The ruins of Vista Alegre are on the south side of the island. The entrance fee is $20 pesos.

* El Cementario, Avenida López Mateos, Isla Town, Isla Mujeres: Mundaca's empty tomb with the tombstone carved by himself.

* Mérida: Mundaca died there.


  1. He certainly called himself a pirate and none of the other pirates around at the time challenged him on the nom-de-plume. limo maui


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