The Road Less Traveled “From Libertalia to Xanadu”

Legendary cities in their own right, both Libertalia and Xanadu were a melting pot of various cultures, religious ideas, creeds, and nations. Although Libertalia is considered a fable fashioned by the mind of Captain Charles Johnson in his book “A General History of the Pyrates”, it remains a symbol of freedom from tyranny and the religious and social vices of their day; Liberi, “Free Men” as they were.

Xanadu, on the other hand, was a very real place, and the heart of the Mongol empire and summer capitol under Kublai Khan in Mongolia. It was the legendary final destination for Marco Polo himself, and the start of his infamous service to the Khan. The Polo company travelled years from venice along the Silk road to reach Kublai. So why did my grandfather, in his next fifteen pages of journal entries, map out a journey from the supposed location of Liberatalia across the Indian Ocean, through the spice Islands, through Papua territory to the feared cannibal headhunters of Agates, the Asmat? The Journal further hints that his exploits took him far north into Mongolia.. The connection? What was it?

Perhaps my grandfather was using the travels of Pirates and Mariners to chart a path
backwards in time. Indeed, if Libertalia was a direct result of social and religious oppression, then traveling backwards to the source of its emanation, learning the oddities and customs of those who survived off the beaten path may help better understand why there was such a need for a utopia in the first place.

The Silk Road brought many ideas, cultures, and religions together across vast expanses of land. It was a rudimentary form of the first Internet. It connected people, beliefs, and ideas. But, the golden age of exploration was not so much about conquest as it was of intrigue and wonder. Kublai Khan attempted to bring the world under one global rule. The European powers, spanish, english, Dutch wanted to expansion of their empires, yet they were years behind Asia in technology, expansion, and exploration. The western powers conquered, but did not integrate traditions and customs and learn from those they overcame. They converted, rather than embraced. Religion was a weapon, a cause, a motivating force to impose on territories they came into contact with. Despite his reputation, painted vividly by western scholars as a barbarian and warlord, Kublai, on the contrary, wanted to connect rather than disconnect the world and those territories he conquered.

There is a significant lesson to be learned here. Perhaps this pirate utopia, Libertalia, and what it stood for, was closer in principle to what Xanadu and Kublai Khan fought to instill. Was I on this journey to uncover something deeper than the spoils and conquests of a horde of pirates, or was a taking a trip through history? My grandfather was leading me down a path, an alternate universe where, for a moment, the western powers did not take the world in its quest for dominance, but instead he was presenting a very different history. He was proposing a reality where the ideals of Xanadu and Libertalia were to form the modern world.

If the belief of magic, animism, mysticism, and religious piety were to fashion the central themes of the world. Maybe this was the upside down world, the world that fell not because it wanted to, but because it had to. The world of basked in the glory of conquest and power was more persuasive than that of humbled integration, honor, and social and religious tolerance. This world still exists today, a shadow to the modern world, but still a world, which is the closest glimpse we can get to the past.