History of the Spice Islands: Banda-part II

After the Dutch got a foothold in the Banda’s, they went all out to gain a monopoly on the spice trade. Here’s how it happened.

Dutch Conquest:
After the ambush, the cheifs and much of the population, deserted the spice gardens around the fort, and fled into the hills. In retaliation, the Dutch survivors blockaded the islands, attempting to persecute and starve the Bandanese into submission. Punitive expeditions were launched against the islander, but the stubborn Bandanese resisted, expelled the Dutch from the island of Ai, and continued to trade with the British. The Dutch were getting nowhere in this war of attrition, and at last decided to take more drastic measures. The new commander, the ruthless Jan Pieterszoon Coen, had witnessed the murder of Verhoeffe during the 1609 expedition. This man, of whom, the Dutch historians have said ‘his name reeks of blood’, gave no quarter. Invading the Banda’s from Batavia (Jakarta) with a force of 2,000 men, Coen’s mercenaries rampaged through the islands razing villages, burning boats, raping and looting. Two-thirds of the population was wiped out, the remainder sold into slavery or driven to the hills, to die of exposure. Only 1,000 Bandanese survived in the archipelago out of an original population of 15,000.




In Coen’s attempt to impose a monopoly once and for all in the Banda’s, British factories and forts first had to be destroyed, stocks of spices confiscated, and their merchants and seamen beaten and thrown into chains. Coen began setting up a closed horticultural preserve to control the growing and sale of spices. To keep the supply down and prices up, nutmeg groves on all but the 2 main islands were destroyed. Coen carved up the remaining gardens into 68 concessions, or perkens which were offered free to Dutch planters called perkeniers, mostly rogues and drifters. In order to work the nutmeg trees on these now unpopulated islands, each land grant was provided with 1,500 imported slaves. The Dutch East India Co. controlled demand and fixed prices, ensuring a guaranteed income for the perkeniers and astronomical profits for the company.

Hooray for capitalism! This type of struggle, complete with the disregard for locals, is a story repeated 100 times in the European conquest of the world. All the same, the impact the tiny Spice Islands had on world history in immense. Christopher Columbus was actually searching for the Spice Islands when he discovered America.

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