Thursday, 18 April 2013

Hidden Treasure in the Seychelles: The Legend of La Buse

At some point, every child pretended to be a pirate, dressed up as a pirate, played pirate treasure hunts, watched pirate movies, and told pirate jokes. How do you know if you're a pirate? You just arrrrr... Lame I know, but even as adults attending fancy dress parties, a common theme seems to be pirates.

But why the fascination with these thieves and hijackers of the sea of years gone by? Is it the free open air, care-free, do as you please lifestyle? The rum? The songs? The accent? Or perhaps, the reason the legend of these pirates has never died is the most obvious.... treasure. There are numerous stories of hidden or lost pirate treasure that has never been found. In the 1600's, pirates would sometimes bury their treasure on remote islands in order to keep it safe from other pirates, or prevent it from weighing down their ship. Of course these pirates would then have maps and cryptic clues in order to find the treasure... we've all seen the movies, we all know the stories.

Here in the Seychelles, many stories of hidden pirate treasure abound. In the 1600's before the Seychelles Islands were inhabited, pirates would pass through the islands and it is believed that treasure could be buried all. Evidence of pirates has been found. At Bel Ombre beach on Mahe Island, stones were found with carvings of snakes, dogs and horses, a figure of a young woman, and the head of a man. After excavations, two coffins were discovered containing the remains of two people, identified as pirates by the gold ring in their left ear. This remained a popular tourist destination until recently, but it is no longer operational.

One of the most popular and intriguing stories of a pirates hidden treasure in the Seychelles is that of Olivier Levasseur. He lived from 1680-1730, and was nicknamed La Buse or La Bouche (The Buzzard), due to the speed with which he threw himself on and ultimately overcame his enemies. In 1716, he joined the Benjamin Hornigold pirate company. After a year with the company and a year of successful looting, the Hornigold party split, and Olivier decided to try his luck on the African coast. He continued in this area until his capture and hanging for the crimes of piracy on the island of Reunion in 1730.

The grave of Olivier Levasseur
The Treasure....
"My treasure is buried here... find it who may." These were the words shouted to the crowd gathered at the foot of the gallows on the Isle de Bourbon (Reunion), as the noose tightened around the neck of the notorious French pirate Olivier Levasseur.
The legend goes that when he was hung, Levasseur had a necklace around his neck containing a cryptogram of 12 lines, and was supposed to have thrown it into the crowd whilst exclaiming: "Find my treasure, he who may understand it!" What became of this necklace is unknown, but to this day a number of treasure hunters continue to search for this treasure, estimated to be worth anything from a few million Euros to over 100 million Euros. In 1923, a Mrs. Savoy found documents describing Levasseur's treasure at a southern island in the Seychelles. There were some coordinates and text in a mysterious alphabet, which led to the previously mentioned discovery at Bel Hombre beach, which went on to become a popular tourist site. However, no treasure was found and Mrs. Savoy realised the cryptogram was much more difficult to solve than previously anticipated. In the words of a treasure hunter... "Deciphering it could be carried out only starting from the Clavicles of Solomon, two letters, a will and documents compiled in rebus or at least in initiatory writing which could be put in relation to maconnic symbolism. These documents explicitly affirmed the existence of a treasure localised on an island in the Indian Ocean. However the name of this island was not mentioned anywhere." Make of that what you will!
In 1947, Reginald Cruise-Wilkins, discovered a connection with the twelve operations of Hercules. Various tasks representing the Twelve Labours of Hercules had to be completed in a strict order to get to the treasure. The treasure chamber is located somewhere underground, and must be carefully approached in order to avoid falling victim to its many challenges. It is protected by the tides, which require damming to hold it back, and is to be approached from the north. A stairwell cut into rocks will give you access, and proceeds into tunnels under the beach. Until 1970, he searched and dug all over Mahe. He found some old guns, coins, and pirate sarcophagi, but nothing of any value. He died in 1977 before he broke the last piece of code...
Fact, fiction or legend? I suppose there is a good chance we'll never know. That's what makes it so intriguing. If there are any potential treasure hunters or cryptic code-breakers out there, below is the cryptogram described above. In the words of Olivier Levasseur: "Find my treasure, he who may understand it!"

 The cryptogram of Olivier Levasseur
The alphabet of Olivier Levasseur



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