Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas

Ahoy, ye dirty doggs! Relinquish yer booty or we shall cleave your accursed heads and feed them to the sea!

How we love to remember that grand, golden age of plunder, pillage and romance, when reckless rogues scourged the deep blue in search of ill-gotten goods and profit with dagger in hand and evil in eye. Piracy has proven to be an alluring career choice for hundreds of years, and, yes, occasionally has appealed to those of the more delicate sex.

Written by Sara Lorimer, Booty chronicles wicked women anywhere from 9th century Viking waters to 1930s rivers of China. It’s framed by vivid, color-rich illustrations from Susan Synarski who portrays the girls-gone-wrong in a childlike and comic expressionism with menacing off-kilter eyes — which works as hip and adequate packaging for pop history.

Cheng I Sao was given the choice of continuing a life of prostitution in a 19th century Cantonese brothel or marrying into piracy. That’s a no-brainer. She got hitched, insisted on a 50-50 split of the booty, and began her bloody and cruel reign over her “wasps of the ocean.”

And if you think it’s tough being a working mother today, try raising a family while plundering the west coast of 16th century Ireland. Grace O’Malley was born into piracy, successfully purloining and burying nine tons of treasure, which is (as legend has it) still unfound, and rearing her own clan. She actually gave birth to one child aboard ship, then the day after went from breast feeding below to battle on deck.

Pirates never made anyone walk the plank, except for Sadie the Goat in 19th century Manhattan, who took her pirating position so seriously, she researched pirate lore and incorporated the “walking the plank” tradition of fictional pirates.

Booty reads like a Cliffs Notes on very, very bad women, mostly relaying information in generalities — downright exciting ones — with few specific looting accounts. Perhaps this is due to a lack of available information. Regardless, you’ll find yourself craving the dialogue and details from the day-to-day lives of these brutish bitches — begging for more, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s amazing how the distance propagated by time turns sea-she-devils into heroines, placing them on a twisted pedestal of admiration for their ability to terrorize societal conventions, partake of a little drink and “take” a profit to boot. Lorimer wraps up her fun foray with a short, simple and demystifying handful of pirate essentials that covers grog, flogging, and just how does a woman posing as a male pirate pee standing up? Hmmmm.

Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].