I guess when you’ve got the only trees in the world growing “golden fruit” the next thing you’ll need is a way to stop people from taking it. For centuries the Arabs, Chinese, Javanese, and Buris merchants queued up to do business with the Bandanese. Using these middlemen Venice amassed vast fortunes reselling nutmeg as a preventative for the plague, kind of a snake oil scam, along with cloves and cinnamon.
Trouble started when the Portuguese and Spanish arrived in 1512 and decided that wouldn’t it be nice to monopolize the trade? Then came the well-armed Dutch, with their own dreams of monopoly and forced 40 tribal elders to sign an exclusive contract, then paid a few Japanese samari assassins to behead them all. The Dutch sailed away thinking that was done and dusted.
Several years later they sailed back, furious to find the English doing a brisk business in Pulau Banda Besar and had, in an especially cheeky move, established forts in Pulau Run and Pulau Ai. The Dutch played cat and mouse with the English, but in 1621 the VOC, under their new governor Jan Pieterszoon Coen, ordered a virtual genocide of the Bandanese thinking to replace them with enslaved workers. Just a few hundred survivors escaped to the Kei Islands, nearly 200 miles east.
Fort Belgica is the largest historic fort in Indonesia. Construction began in 1611 high above Little Bandaneira because it became apparent that the lower bastion of Fort Nassau was well within range of Bandanese fire arrows from the heights above.
Evidence of the power struggle is all around you on these sleepy isles. Each of the dozen or so bow chasers scattered about Bandaneira represents a ship on the bottom.
The Dutch and English were at loggerheads for years, culminating in 1667 with the Treaty of Breda in which the Dutch gave New Amsterdam (Manhattan) to the English in exchange for Run, finally giving the Dutch their long sought monopoly.
The English eventually solved the problem of how to successfully transplant nutmeg to India and their West Indies colonies, most notably Grenada, where we first saw nutmeg growing and processing.
As soon as we set foot on shore we fell in love with Banda Neira, the administrative center of the Spice Islands. It’s got the same lively, bordering on chaotic vibe as Bali, but on a much smaller scale and without the Hindu influence. People here are Muslim and the competing muezzins ring out a modern jazz symphony of aural ouch four times a day. But the people are as friendly and fun loving as we’ve seen so far, and obviously used to foreign visitors, as evidenced by the many shop signs in English. We’re using our Google Translate app far less that we did in Debut.
Every shop displays nutmegs, cinnamon and nutmeg candy, made from the dried and spiced meat of the nutmeg, something we haven’t seen before.
Our local host for the rally boats has arranged various tours and dinners on an ad hoc basis, so while we decide what we want to do on an organized jaunt vs. on our own we’re just wandering the streets of Banda Neira, appreciating the Graham Greene atmosphere of slightly decaying colonial architecture.
The spice that made the islands famous and the bitter conflict between the Dutch and the English it caused are evident everywhere.
But this is not a reconstructed Disneyland of tourist fakery, but rather a lively community with, of course, a traditional market, always my favorite destination.
The locals seem to absorb the influx of visitors with good cheer while still going about the daily business of living.
We have a lot more to see and do on these tiny islands. Another day. We’ve got time.