The “Real” Somali Pirates
Project info

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 when waited with photographing them till they had chewed so much khat, an amphetamine-like plant, till they had the bewildered pirate look in their eyes .

When Haye walked into the studio, an assistant immediately rushed in to offer him someprivate khat. 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