On the small island of Ile Sainte-Marie, four miles off the coast of eastern Madagascar, lie the bones of pirates who terrorized the seas during the 17th and 18th centuries.
For around 100 years, Ile Sainte-Marie was the off-season home of an estimated 1,000 pirates. A recently discovered map from 1733 refers to it simply as “the island of pirates.” Situated near the East Indies trade route, the beautiful tropical island’s numerous inlets and bays made it the perfect place to hide ships. Pirates from all over the world lived in wooden huts, adorned with flags that signified which captain’s “crew” they belonged to. It was a pirate’s paradise. There were local women to satisfy their lust, and plenty of tropical fruit to satisfy their hunger.
When one of the pirates died, they were buried on a scenic, palm shaded hilltop cemetery overlooking the water. Today, 30 headstones remain, including a few sketched with a skull and/or cross bones, the international symbol of piracy. Legend has it that the notorious William Kidd is buried in a large black tomb in the cemetery, sitting upright as punishment for his dastardly deeds. He was actually buried in England, but his legendary ship, the Adventure Galley (rediscovered in 2000), was left docked near the Island, and his booty is said to be buried somewhere in the surrounding sea. In fact, the prospect of undiscovered treasure, from at least half a dozen documented shipwrecks off the coast, continues to lure adventurous explorers to this very day.
The pirates were off Ile Sainte-Marie by the late 1700s, when the French forcibly seized the island. It was returned to Madagascar in 1960. Today, Ile Saint-Marie is a thriving tourist destination. The crumbling cemetery, its graves half covered by tall, swaying grass, is open to the public. It is an ironically peaceful and still place, filled with the bones of violent and restless men.
Know Before You Go
Not far from Ambodifototra, overlooking the bay