Island of Passion

Some time ago I stumbled upon a story about Clipperton Island, or Island of Passion (Isla de la Pasión | Île de la Passion), a deserted rock in the Pacific Ocean. Scant information about its history sparked my imagination and got my creative juices flowing:

“Clipperton’s name comes from John Clipperton, an English pirate and privateer  who fought the Spanish during the early 18th century, and is said to have passed by the island. Some others say he used the island as a hidden base for his raids on shipping […]”

“On November 17, 1858, under Emperor Napoleon III, the French annexed Clipperton as part of their South Sea colony Tahiti. Mexico reasserted its claim over the island, on December 13, 1897, occupying and annexing it, and established a military outpost on the island; it appointed military governors from that time, including Ramón Arnaud (1906–1915). The US again held it briefly during the Spanish American War  of 1898”

“The British Pacific Island Company acquired the rights in 1906 to Clipperton’s guano deposits and, in conjunction with the Mexican government, built a mining settlement. That year, a lighthouse was erected under the orders of President Porfirio Díaz, and a military garrison under Captain Arnaud of the Mexican army was sent to the island. By 1914, about 100 people – men, women, and children – were living on the island. Every two months, a ship from Acapulco sailed to Clipperton with provisions. However, with the escalation of fighting in the Mexican Revolution, the atoll was no longer reachable by ship, and the island’s inhabitants were left to their own devices.

By 1915, most of the inhabitants had died, and the last settlers wanted to leave on the US Navy warship Lexington, which had reached the atoll in late 1915.

By 1917, all but one of the males on the island had died, some in a failed attempt to sail to the mainland and fetch help. The lighthouse keeper, Victoriano Álvarez, found himself the last man on Clipperton island, along with 15 women and children. Álvarez promptly proclaimed himself king and began a rampage of rape and murder, before being killed by one of the recipients of his attentions, the widow of garrison commander Captain Ramón Arnaud. On July 18, 1917, almost immediately following Álvarez’s death, four women and seven children, the last survivors, were picked up by the US Navy gunship Yorktown.”

What a fascinating story this would make for a book, I thought, and then forgot all about it.

Time passed and I came across an article about a Colombian author:

“Restrepo is one of the many contemporary Latin American authors seeking new routes for political writing. They reject both overt realism and phantasmagoria. Instead, their novels wander down less defined, more suggestive tracks: mysticism, irony, meta-literary games, and dreamlike, melancholy sequences are all recurring elements.”

This was enough to make me seek out some of her books. Lo and behold, one of them turned out to be La Isla de la Pasión, Isle of Passion, about Captain Arnaud and his wife Alicia, two of the inhabitants of Clipperton Island. Well told!

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One response to “Island of Passion

  1. CJ Barbre

    So then? They were mining the excrement of seabirds, bats and seals…

    Last inhabitants 3 women, 1 teen and 7 children removed in the early 1900s…

    The lighthouse keeper…

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