Reunion The Treasure Island
Olivier Levasseur, better known in his time as La Buse, still must be laughing from his grave. From his grave? No, because he is not buried there. For a simple reason: the Cemetery Marine of Saint Paul, at the northwest of Reunion, formerly known as Ille Bourbon, did not exist when Levasseur was hung high and short.
But let us serve a generous glass of good old rum. A Vieux Charrette or a Riviere du Mat from Reunion Island, and let’s start it all from the beginning. And the beginning is, or it was, about the year 1680 in the French town of Calais, the narrowest point between France and England in the English Channel. A woman die giving birth to her baby. Thus, the child Olivier, who never knew his mother was in the care of a nurse until his father, a professional filibuster, took over teaching him sailing aboard the Reine des Indes until Louis XIV, the Sun King, completed the European wars, enacting an end to privateering. When his father died, Levasseur inherited the vessel. He sailed in July 1718, pointing bow to the Guinea Gulf. According to Captain Charles Johnson, possible pseudonym of Daniel Defoe, in his The General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, previously would have attended the meeting of Pirates in Providence, in the Bahamas, appointment where they decided to quit their activities in the Caribbean.
Levasseur, in his way to the Red Sea, shipwrecked in Mayotte, in the Comoros archipelago. Later he joined Captain John Taylor in a new campaign of looting in the Indian Ocean, forced route for several European India companies.
From Ille de France, Mauritius, on April 26, 1720, Taylor and La Buse went to Saint Denis, Reunion Island, with its vessels Victorieux and Cassandra.
Six days before was anchored for repairs in the bay the Portuguese ship Nossa Senhora do Cabo, one of the flagships of the Portuguese fleet, with eight hundred tons and seventy-two guns. It comes from India and was in route to Lisbon. On land, invited by the governor of the island, Desforges-Boucher, are some of his illustrious passengers: the Viceroy of Goa, Count of Ericeira and Louriçal Marquis Don Luis Carlos Inácio Xavier de Meneses and the Archbishop Don Sebastião de Andrade Pessanha.
Once haul down the British flag they hoist on their masts the black flag with the skull and crossbones. The four hundred eighty men of Taylor and La Buse attacked the Portuguese ship, anchored in a bad position to manoeuvre. Once submitted the Nossa Senhora do Cabo pirates realize the huge booty they just obtained: diamonds, pearls, gemstones chests, chalices, gold and silver ... And also the ship, which Lavasseur will baptize again with the same name his former vessel have got: Victorieux.
On the way to Madagascar Villa de Ostende and the Duchesse de Noailles are assaulted. After dividing the spoils John Taylor departs with Cassandra’s bow facing Panama. Olivier Lavasseur and forty of his men would retreat to Antongil Bay, near Nosy Bohara, Sainte Marie Island, Madagascar.
Eight years later, La Buse, already thought forgotten, is captured and taken first to Saint Denis and later to Saint Paul by order of the new governor Pierre Benoît Dumas, a former pirate himself. On the way shouts his famous quote: With all what I have hidden here I could buy the whole island.
On July 7, 1730 judgement is issued: "Seen by the Council on extraordinary criminal process against Olivier Levasseur ... nicknamed La Buse, accused of the crime of piracy ... is ordered to pay for their acts honourably against front door of the Church of this parish, in shirt, with the rope around his neck ... and declare out loud and intelligible that for years has had dishonestly and recklessly as a pirate, who repents and asks God for forgiveness, to King ... Executed at five in the afternoon of July 7 of 1730."
It is said that, on the way to scaffold, La Buse threw a papyrus to the mob, proclaiming: Find my treasure, ye who may understand it!
On the papyrus he had written an indecipherable cipher where Templar alphabet was used alongside other hidden keys. The document certainly exists, is preserved in Brest Maritime Archives in France and its authenticity has been verified. It was recovered in Mahé, Seychelles, in 1923, and sent to the Reunion National Archives.
In 1934 Charles de la Roncière published the study Le Flibustier mystérieux, histoire d’un tresor caché, (The Mysterious Filibuster. Story of a Hidden treasure). The transcription provided the following recipe written in old Creole:
“APRE J MEZ UNE PAIRE DE PIJON TIRESKET
2 DOEURS QE SE A JTETE CHERAL F UNE KORT
FILT TINS HIEN TECU PRENEZ UNE CULLIERE
DE MIELLE ET OVTRE FOUS EN FAITES UNE ONGAT
METTEZ SUR KE PATAI DE LA PERTOT OITOUSN
VPULEZ OLVS PRENEZ 2 LET CASSE SUR LE CHE
MIN IL FAUT QCEUT TOIT A NOI TIE COUVE
POUR EN PECGER UNE FEMME DH RENGT VOUS NAVE
QUA VOUS SERER LA DOBAUC GEA ET POUR VENGRAAI
ET POR EPINGLE OUEI UILE TURLORE
IL NOUR LAIRE PITER UN CHIEN TURQ UN
LENEN DE LA MER DE BIEN TECTE ET SUR
N VOVLEN QUIL NISE IUD FKU UNE FEMMR
QI VEUT SE FAIRE DUN HMET SE DETE DRE
DANS DU UI O OU QN DORMIR UN HOMMRE
SSCFVMM PL FAUT N RENDRE UDLQ
UUN DIFFUR QE CIEE FUR TETLESL”
The several present in the text are believed to have some kind of relationship with the Southern Cross constellation, a west coast of Reunion representation or even just the pirate’s name.
Truly neither document’s real meaning was understood nor the loot had been found. Treasure hunters have tried to find it out in Reunion, Sainte Marie, Mauritius, Mayotte, Rodrigues and the former Sete Irmanas, today Seychelles.
In the same way it’s still unknown where Levasseur corpse remains. Along the wall overlooking the sea, at one corner of Saint Paul Marine Cemetery, and once past the pantheons of Leconte de Lisle and the Keranna sinking victims, is all the paraphernalia around the supposed tomb of La Buse.
A stone cross with pirate skull symbol is surrounded by a small bombard and a metal plate with the inscription: Olivier Levasseur dit La Buse, pirate, ecumeur des mers du sud, executé a St Paul en 1730. (Olivier Levasseur nicknamed La Buse, pirate, South Seas skimmer, executed in 1730 in St Paul). No shortage of flower bunches.
In the warm, humid evenings in Ille Sainte Marie beaches, always with some kind straight relationship with rum, only the good one, you might be confused between the monotonous sound of the waves of the Indian Ocean and the cries of gulls. A slight reminiscent rumour rather than laughter, a sardonic laugh, sometimes seems to come from the east, from the coast of Reunion, sometimes from Sainte Marie, the Ille des Forbans...