Rais Hamidou. Rais Hamidou. During my recent visit to Algeria, this name was everywhere. Not only was there a city named after him, but every town had a restaurant, a street, and a neighborhood named for him too.
At first, I assumed he was some long ago head of state. But then one day, I saw an inflatable boat floating far out from shore. I hesitate to use the word “floating” because “floundering” was a more apt description of what they were doing. There had to be at least 12 children in a boat designed for four adults, and it was sagging. “Do you think they’re in trouble?”I asked the Algerian standing next to me.
He scoffed. “No. They’ll be fine. They are descendents of Rais Hamidou.”
So I had to ask. Who was this Rais Hamidou? And why did everyone love him so? From the locals’ descriptions, it sounded like he was some kind of Robin Hood of the sea, a Barbary Coast corso who captured treasure from foreign ships and brought the bounty home to the common man.
A real regency era pirate.
The kind romance novels are written about.
Historians will take exception over the use of the word pirate. Rais Hamidou was an Admiral of the Algerian Navy. He worked for the Dey, and his ill-gotten gain went straight into the state coffers. His reputation was such that most kings preferred to pay him a tribute for safe passage rather than fight him on the open sea.
But his backstory is pure romance. Born a tailor’s son, he ran away from home when he was ten years old to pursue his love of the sea. Known for his naval skills and charismatic personality, he worked his way up until he had control of the entire Algerian Navy. The people loved him, and he became so powerful that even the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire complained about having no control over the pirate who was supposed to be his vassal.
In 1817, Rais Hamidou was shot and killed during a battle with an American fleet which sought free access to the Mediterranean Sea. But his legend lives on.
Tomorrow, I will post pictures from the Palace of the Rais in Algiers.
Meanwhile, please tell me, who’s your favorite real-life pirate? Would you ever consider using him/her in a romance novel?