Cuba, Commerce and Cannibals

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The captain and his wife
The captain and his wife

My father passed on a couple of old photos he received from a member of his family.  They are severely scratched, scuffed, dirty and faded with ink marks and portions missing.  I’m glad I was able to restore them as I only had low resolution pdf files to work with, which is not the ideal format.

This first photo is of a sea captain and his wife – my great grandparents.  If you go to this page of my website, you can see the before-and-after second photo, a portrait of my great grandmother.  Why she is alone is an inquiry into family history that is more difficult to restore than the photographs.

Cuba

The story was pieced together from scattered memories and old church documents to accompany the photo my father received in an email.  Someone in his family even visited the town of Gibara in Cuba where my great grandparents lived.  A centenarian from the town was interviewed, but she could not remember anything.

It piqued my interest and I poked around without finding anything of substance.  Over the summer, I worked on a photographic project for the Boston Harbor Islands.  Along the way, I visited New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.  Their Chief of Interpretation suggested I visit the Whaling Museum where I found a database containing the names of whaling vessels and crewmembers from the town.  My search yielded nothing for the family name of “Ocampo.”  But when I entered the related family name of “Dieguez,” it did produce an 1850 listing of “Jose Dieguez” from the ship Amethyst.  No other information was available and, as far as I know, there is no family connection with New Bedford.  But I was surprised that the last name came up at all and that it belonged to a sailor.

Xiomaro_Photo_Restoration_1B
The captain and his wife… restored

So there are many unanswered questions and I’m not sure how much is fact, embellishment and speculation.  But here’s what was presented to my father in an email he received in Spanish.  In time, I hope more information will be gathered.

In 1926, my great grandfather, Enrique Ocampo, contracted the ship Pinta Azul from the widow of a man name Pijuan.  He left the port of Gibara in Cuba and made two trips to “Nassau.”  I haven’t had a chance to look it up, but I’m assuming it’s the Nassau in the South Pacific, which is part of the Cook Islands.  But, perhaps, it’s a reference to the capital of the Bahamas.  In any case, it’s reported that all the merchandise carried by the ship was sold at a good price.

Upon his return, Elena – my great grandmother – asked Enrique not to make any more trips because she had to stay all alone with their seven children.  He promised that his trip in October would be his last one.

And it was.

Commerce

As before, all the cargo sold quickly and at a good price.  Most of the products were food items as crops could not be planted on the island he visited.  Whether this was Nassau or another island is not clear.  But it is said that he deposited his earnings with the Bank of England as sterling silver and was given a note so that he could collect his money when he returned to Cuba.  This method was the safest way to transport money to avoid one’s cash from falling victim to pirates and other thieves.  Indeed, Enrique was known to have carried a gun for his protection.

One night, Enrique and his crew were playing guitar and singing when they were interrupted by the chief of the port.  For reasons lost to history, the chief prohibited them to leave the port but Enrique and the crew decided to sail anyway.

Port of Gibara, Cuba
Port of Gibara, Cuba

They never made it back to the port of Gibara.

After it became evident that something had gone awry with her husband’s ship, a distraught Elena asked her mother-in-law, Rosa Tejeda, whether the family could dispatch Enrique’s brother to lead a search party with other ships.  But Rosa refused to send another son to possibly face the same fate.  Unlike Enrique, her other son had no experience as a sailor let alone as a captain.  He was the owner of a café and bar in Gibara called Ronda la Marina.

Within a few days, though, Rosa would come to change her mind and she sent her other son to look for Enrique.  Elena was, of course, hoping that Enrique would be found alive.  If not, at least floating in the sea so that his body might be recovered and returned.

Cannibals

According to one of Enrique’s older daughters, Eva, the search party was successful in finding the ship’s engine.  Apart from that, all that they could retrieve was a pink shirt identified as belonging to Enrique.

The shirt was found in the sand at a small island.  The name or location of the island is unknown.  What is known, or believed, is that the island was home to cannibals… who Enrique and his crew had the misfortune of meeting.

Elena lost her husband as well as her mother-in-law.  Rosa Tejeda’s delay in dispatching the search party created a rift that the two women could not overcome.  Communications between Elena and Rosa came to an end.  Eventually, the widow remarried to a man named Gonzalez with whom she had ten daughters.

Published by Xiomáro

Nationally exhibited artist, photographer, speaker, teacher, and curator. Author of "Weir Farm National Historic Site" (Arcadia Publishing). www.xiomaro.com.

9 thoughts on “Cuba, Commerce and Cannibals

  1. Wow! You look a LOT like your great grandmother! What a beautiful post. Good job restoring the photos! This is amazing information that you were able to dig up! It’s such a detailed and vivid story. Wow. What an adventurous guy your great grandfather was. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading Amanda. My father sent the link to this post out to the family. So perhaps some other details will get coaxed out of the memory banks. I’m especially interested in knowing whether the visit to “Nassau” is the one in the South Pacific. We’ll see…

  2. Efectivamente, esta historia es tal como se ha contado, las Islas Nassau al Sur, Elena mi abuela se quedo sola desamparada con siete hijos pequeños, pero fue una mujer valiente y no se doblegó ante nadie, sus hijos mas mayores , entre ellos Eva, Blanca y Enriqueta mi madre, empezaron a trabajar en tareas domésticas para ayudar a su , e incluso el abogado de la familia le pidió matrimonio, cosa que ella se negó, las relaciones con la madre de Enrique se rompieron y es mas podían haber ayudado a Elena y ella no quiso, la madre de Enrique se volvió a casar y en efecto tuvo diez hijas hembras, las cuales disfrutaron de aquel patrimonio que Elena no quiso aceptar, la misma no se casó nunca mas,fue una gran mujer con mucho orgullo y dignidad

  3. the principal subject of investigation, it’s true. the great grandfather concerning to my wife is real, so real, like a dream…. ENRIQUE has left from Gibara’s port for about 1924 or 26 in the last century… a terrible hurricane… probably was the principal cause of the drawn of “Pinta azul” name of the ship involucrated in the travesy.. there were many stories about… but xio has published the real one..congratulations xio…twice.. one for restoring this old story… and the other one for restoring the original photo… which was preserved like a great treasure…until the next..

    1. Thanks at Xiomaro who has taken time to write about something that touches me closely. My grandfather Porfirio Gonzalez left in 1926 from the port of Gibara towards Nassao on the “Pinta Azul” and never return. Supposedly the hurricane in 1926 has had to do with this or not. If someone could give me more information I would appreciate infinite. Lucasalejandria@msn.com

      1. PROBABLY, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE SAME SHIP, THIS IS INCREDIBLE….TWO DIFFERENTS PEOPLE INVOLVING IN AN UNFORTUNATE LOCATION, I MEAN IN TIME. BOTH OF THEM CUBANS, DEPARTURED FROM GIBARA’S PORT.
        MY e mail is merly.frank@gmail.com

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