History of the Spice Islands: Banda-part I

Reading through an account of the history of the Spice Islands, the name Banda come up. Indonesia is such a fascinating place, and the European conquest of the country, started with the search for spices. Banda is located in Eastern Indonesia, close to Ambon.

A book I’m reading, about the European struggle for control of the spice, offers an account of how things developed.

The Banda islands derive their name from Nusa Banda (Islands of Wealth). Spices are bound up inextricably in the history of these islands. For centuries the Bandanese had been selling their spices to such traditional trading partners as the Bugis, Chinese and Arabs, in exchange for medicine, ceramics and textiles. Scholars believe the Hindu-Javanese merchants were the first to introduce nutmeg and mace in the internatioal emporia, the commodities reaching Europe around 500AD.




The demand for spices as preservatives accelerated in Europe to such an extent, that by the 16th Century, expeditions were dispatched in search of te source. The Portuguese captain, Antonio d’Abreu discovered the Banda’s in 1511, inaugurating a profitable Bandanese-Portuguese trade, which lasted nearly 100 years. The Portuguese controlled the Indian Ocean for a century with a string of ports stretching to Japan. Atypically, the Portuguese did not leave a trail of intrigue in the Banda’s as they did in the other Malukan spice islands. The Portugese kept a tenuous hold on the islands until the arrival of the Dutch in the early 17th century.

Early Dutch Expeditions:
The Dutch first attempted to lure the Bandanese away from the politically and economically bankrupt Portuguese. In 1599 the Dutch Vice Admiral van Heemskerk arrived with 2 ships and 200 men to barter iron goods, heavy woolens and velvets, gunpowder, mirrors and trinkets. For these inappropriate and unwanted goods, the Dutch demanded the islands’s entire crop of nutmeg and mace. The village elders signed a written treay under pressure, not realizing the Dutch considered the document, to carry the full force of the law. After signing, the Bandanese ignored the treaty and went back to freely selling spices to their traditional buyers, which included the British on the island of Run. When the Dutch found out, they were outraged, threatened reprisals, and demanded even more stringent agreements.

Finally, under the auspices of the Dutch East Indies Co., in 1609 Admiral Pieter Verhoeffe sailed a war fleet of 13 ships and 1,000 men into Bandaneira’s harbor to impose an airtight monopoly on all spices leaving the Banda’s. After cursory negotiations, the admiral began constructing a massive fort upon the foundations of the former Portuguese fort, a premature and provocative act. Under pretense of further negotiations, the Bandanese lured the unarmed Dutch into an ambush in which the admiral and 45 of his entourage were killed. This escalated the pace of events, unleashing a catastrophie.

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