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Locations and Trip Reports / Maluka History

The fabled Spice Islands of legend lie in the modern day eastern province of Maluku, Indonesia.  These islands have attracted regional and international traders for more than three millennia.  Prior to 1500, no European had ever landed on the shores of Maluku.  Maluku had always attracted Asian traders that sailed to the region on the seasonal monsoons.  The biggest, most valuable prizes in Maluku were clove and nutmeg.  The huge impact that these tiny, remote islands had on the European Continent at the time was immeasurable.  After the first Portuguese vessel arrived in Maluku in April, 1512, the balance of power that had remained quite stable and little changed over the centuries changed abruptly.  The Portuguese arrival in the early 16th century and their decision to build series of Forts set a new precedent in Maluku.  The forts would be built to ensure security as an Asian trading center and goods and people would not be arbitrarily seized by the local ruler.  This pioneer idea in Maluku later evolved into the concept for the modern day foreign naval base.

Maluku was the most valuable real estate in the world five hundred years ago, but the irony is that those who were willing to pay the dearest price for it, in fact did not know where Maluku was located.  The Iberian powers of the late 15th century knew all too well that they needed to find the source of the spices themselves in order to cut out the huge profits being reaped by the Venetians as they controlled the entry of spices into Europe.  Thus, Prince Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan began their fates with destiny.  The Iberians would enthusiastically exclaim that they were in Maluku in order to spread the word of God and secure as much spices as their boats would hold.  The famous saying of the time was “Jesus is Great, Trade is even better.”  The risks were indeed high for 16th century explorers in search of Maluku, but a sack full of nutmeg from Banda would put a common sailor into an early retirement if he made it home alive.

Through the centuries, European colonial powers would come and go in Maluku.  The locals continued to fish and harvest cloves and nutmeg as they had for millennium and as they still do today.  One hugely significant event that finally was settled in the halls of Parliamentary Europe in 1667 was the case of a small island swap between the Dutch and English regarding the English possession of Run Island in the Bandas and the Dutch possession of New Amsterdam on the North American continent.  This island swap, which was based on the resilience of a handful of determined British soldiers in the Banda Sea in the second decade of the 17th century, may well be the primary reason why North Americans speak English today and not Dutch!

A few famous Coen Quotes

Joining the Dutch East India Company (VOC), he made his first voyage to Indonesia in 1607.  There was a particular incident on the island of Banda Naira in May, 1609 that had a lasting effect on this determined young man.  Banda was the original home of nutmeg, which the VOC desperately wanted to control.  Coen saw 42 of his comrades murdered in cold blood on that fateful day.  Most scholars believe that this single event was the catalyst that drove Coen to eventually order the mass execution of nearly the entire adult male population of Banda on May 8, 1621.  After the Banda massacre, he recruited regional workers from throughout the archipelago to move to Banda to work the new nutmeg plantations in addition to the new arrivals from Holland known as perkeniers (plantation workers).  The title “Butch of Banda” stuck to him forever after that horrible day in Banda’s history.  In October 1613 he was appointed accountant-general of all VOC offices in Indonesia and president of the head office in Bantam and of Batavia (now Jakarta).  In 1614, he was made director-general, the second highest function.  On October 25, 1617 the Lords of VOC appointed him.

Notable Characters and Events in Maluka History

"Sometimes, It's better to be lucky than good." - Pasquale Pascullo

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