Bandanese in a traditional Kora Kora war canoe
The sea crossing from Flores north east to the Spice
Islands in Eastern Indonesia is more than six hundred
miles. They are called the spice islands for their crops of
nutmeg, cloves and mace.
Cinnamon, nutmeg and mace made the tiny Banda Islands highly
prized and their 17th Century Dutch colonists extremely
rich, but at a severe price for the Bandanese. Spices had
value not only for their exotic and unique flavours but also
their medicinal properties, balancing the "humours"
of the body and as a symbol of extreme opulence and luxury.
In 1596 the Guild of Spice Breads was formed in Paris.
This luxury loaf contained cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg honey
and brazil wood.
As the world's only source of nutmeg and mace, the Banda
islands have attracted traders from China, Asia and the Middle
East for over 30 centuries, ever since the Persians
first traded cloves from Moluccas. The Roman Empire's
spices also can from this remote site in East Indonesia. Only
the handful of volcanic islands here are ripe for growing
cloves and nutmeg.
By the 1600s, spices were more widely available due to new
sea routes, which were dangerous but profitable to the new
Portugese traders. They conquered the Banda islands which
were the west's first experiments in plantation colonialism.
Many of the native Bandanese were slaughtered or enslaved
by the Dutch during this period. The Dutch, British
and Portuguese battled endlessly to control the islands. The
Dutch even gave the British Manhattan Island for one
small spice island. Initially the Dutch traded amicably with
the Bandanese, but in the late 17th cenutry they tried to
imposes a trade monopoly which incited a war with the proud
Bandanese. Banda was so rich at the time, people used to joke
that when you shake a nutmeg tree golden guilders would fall
6,000 people were killed during the spice war. The Bandanese
fought from the water in boats called Kora Kora, a
war canoe, with a cannon to blast the Dutch. Nowadays, twice
a year the Bandanese decorate their war canoes in preparation
for the Kora Kora races. Theres a lot of village pride
Spice life today
Traditional life hasnt changed much in the Banda islands,
but it may soon. Already the island is beginning to take off
as a tourist destination for the rich and famous, attracted
by some of the richest and most varied marine life in the
world and its smouldering island active volcano, Gunung
Api. Despite its threatening appearance Gunung Api has
only erupted four times in the last four hundred years although
the last time in 1988 it forced the evacuation of everyone