Portraits of Men Who Fooled the Media into Thinking They Were Somali Pirates


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Portraits of Men Who Fooled the Media into Thinking They Were Somali Pirates

The true story of some fake pirates.
June 10, 2016, 8:00pm

Photographer, Jan Hoek, became infatuated with a small group of men in Nairobi, who pretended to be pirates, even though they had never seen the ocean. During the peak of Somalian hijacks in 2010, Western journalists often travelled to the capital of Kenya instead to interview ex-pirates. It was a much safer way than going to Somalia, where they were prone to be hijacked themselves. Some local guys figured this out and decided to make a living out of fooling the Western media. They made up elaborate stories about their time at sea. One of these men is Haye (46), who goes by his fake pirate name Bashir. He gave several interviews as a pirate and was even featured in a Danish documentary and Time Magazine. Even though he has never been in Somalia, his story about his life as a pirate was very believable.

Just as the journalists did in the hijacking heydays, Hoek asked fixers to arrange pirates for him. Actors, waiters, cab drivers, students, and hip-hop artists with a Somali background showed up, and he asked them to pretend to be pirates during a hijacking. From their outfit to the guns they carried, everything was covered in great detail. By asking the men to create their own image, even though they don't know it first hand, a new reality was conceived. Jan is playing with the expectation that we in the West have of exotic Somalian pirates. Some say they got their ideas from local stories, from a friend of a friend who has a relative who was a lookout boy during a hijack; others picked up their ideas from a Hollywood movie: Captain Phillips .


On the day of the shoot the men were excited that the weapons they described were present, down to the very last hand grenade they mentioned. All fake of course, just like the pirates. The first model stood awkwardly in front of the backdrop. Jan didn't try to put him at ease. He was satisfied quickly, which makes the picture as real as it can be. When Haye walked into the studio, an assistant immediately rushed in to offer him some khat, an amphetamine-like plant. He is the oldest and had to be treated with respect. Haye, who's afraid he's appeared in so many pirate stories that the police are looking for him, insisted on being portrayed as the cliché image we have of a pirate, with a live parrot and all. When Jan disappeared behind his camera, Haye in his black jumpsuit, cut up fins, necklace of clay skulls, a parrot on his arm, stepped towards the lens and said: 'will you please clear my name?'

–Words by Alma Mathijsen

The series is on view during the exhibition The Ultimate Sailor: under construction, _running from June 10–September 29 in Amsterdam's Het Scheepvaartmuseum. If you click here, you can listen to a soundscape made by the artist Torus out of interviews _Mathijsen_ and Hoek conducted with the faux pirates. See more photos below._

Lookout boy Abas, 20, student. "I was wearing khaki pants, an open vest, and sandals because it was very hot. My hair was wild back then. The shotgun I carried was purely for self-defense."

Lookout boy Ahmali, 21. “When I was a pirate, I never washed my clothes. I was so dirty it made people feel scared.”

Commander Maoud Ahmed, 53, administrator and actor. “I normally get 100,000 per ship. The boys get about 25. It’s not a lot, but if we give them more they don’t come back.”

Haye, a.k.a. Bashir, 46, security guard, actor, bus driver. “If you ask me what is the most horrible life that I can imagine, I’ll say a life as a pirate.”

Deputy leader Ibrahim, 20, student and hip-hop artist. “With all the money I made I married the most beautiful girl in town.”

Kidnapper Mohammed, 23, student. “I’m a specialist in kidnapping girls, especially beautiful girls. At the time the girls don't enjoy it, but when they look back, when they are home, they long for me.”

Translator Mohammed, 37. “The scariest thing I ever witnessed was that one of the other pirates became so scared that he took his gun and shot himself in the head. I was standing very close and bloodstains were all over my Muslim dress.”

Assistant leader Omar, 26, taxi driver, waiter, actor. “When you’re a pirate, everything changes, even your skin. Because of the salt in the sea, it becomes extremely dry, you will get scales.”

The friendly pirate Osman Mohammed, 39, driver “I always try to calm the hostages down, I’ll tell them it will all be over soon. I was a very friendly pirate. They were friendly too. If it would have been a different situation I’m sure we could have become good friends.”