A Travellerspoint blog

A history of the Bandanezars Part 1

A postscript


View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I made some rather lengthy notes on the history of the islands, which I may as well post as a postscript to the previous entry. The sources are Indonesian Banda, by Willard A Hanna, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, by Giles Milton, and some internet research. It is only for those seriously interested in the history of the islands - which is the early history of colonialism.

In the fifteenth centuries the spices of Banda would have been bought by Malay, Chinese and Arab traders, and some of the crop was shipped to the Persian Gulf, carried by caravan to the Mediterranean and shipped to Constantinople. Banda was also an entrepot like Makassar, and sold bird of paradise feathers from Aru, cloves from Ternate and Tidore, medicines and slaves; they imported rice, textiles, ceramics and Chinese medicines. In western Europe, Venice had a monopoly on spices via its trade with Constantinople (although another source says that Genoa received the spice too).

In 1471, the Portuguese crossed the equator. In 1498 Vasco da Gama reached Calicut, where he heard about Melaka. In 1511 Alfonso de Albuquerque took Melaka, and a few months later, in 1512, Antonio de Abreu reached Banda via Java, Nusa Tenggara and Ambon. Abreu’s party stayed a month and bought nutmeg, mace and cloves. They left ten people behind, under Francisco Serrão, to explore the area. He soon ended up back in Ambon, from where he was invited to visit Ternate, where he stayed. (Ternate is well to the north, even now a day’s journey by ferry.)

So Ternate became the first foothold of the Portuguese in the Spice Islands. They concentrated on cloves and only visited Banda now and then; instead they bought their nutmeg and mace from intermediaries. Within a few years the Portuguese had built forts on Ternate, Tidore, Ambon and Seram.

The Portingale Fernando Magellan sailed to the East Indies as a young man and returned in an expedition to Banda sponsored by Charles V of Spain in 1519. The expedition was to sail west. In October 1520 Magellan passed through what are now called the Magellan Straits and saw the Pacific. The expedition endured months at sea – scurvy and starvation taking many of the men – before reaching the Philippines, where Magellan was killed on 27 April 1521. The survivors reached Tidore, south of the Philippines, in November of that year and traded with the Sultan. They bought cloves (26 tons), nutmegs, cinnamon and mace. On the way back more than half of the remainder died from dysentery, but 18 survivors brought the spices back to Seville in 1522, under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano, having circumnavigated the globe. Their calendars were a day behind.

In 1529 Captain Garcia of Portugal landed on Banda Neira and, without seeking permission, began to build a fort. The locals drove him out. Little else is known of the Banda Islands from Portuguese times; it seems they decided that the Bandas were not worth the bother, since they could buy spices in Melaka.

Naturally, Spain and Portugal argued over possession of the rights to the East Indies. In 1594 Spain and Portugal had split the non-European world in two by the Treaty of Tordesillas, which was approval by Pope Julius II in 1506. It defined a north-south line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. Portugal got the eastern part (and the route around Africa). After their discovery in 1512 Spain claimed ownership of the northern Moluccas, arguing that the Tordesillas meridian included the anti-meridian on the other side of the world, and the Spice Islands were within the Spanish hemisphere. Of course, no-one knew where the line went. The Tordesillas line was expressly extended around the world by virtue of the Treaty of Zaragoza 1529. But at the same time Spain relinquished claims to the Spice Islands in exchange for 350,000 ducats. However, Spain still went on to colonise the Philippines, which lie directly to the north.

Equally naturally, the Papal Bull of 1506 was not regarded as effective within England, and Francis Drake set off in 1577 to conclude trade treaties with the people of the Pacific, and with a secret licence from the Red Queen to plunder any Spanish possessions along the way. He followed the Magellan route via the northern Moluccas, but ended up in Ternate, across the water from Tidore, at the invitation of the sultan. He bought tons of cloves, but they were of less value than the Spanish bullion and gems that he had plundered. His ship, the Golden Hind, was so overloaded as he left Ternate that it hit a sandbank, and Drake threw overboard eight cannon, some of the food, and three tons of cloves. He reached England with a boat stuffed with precious items and was knighted by the Queen at Deptford.

In 1582 the merchants of London sent an expedition to trade in the spiceries under Edward Fenton. He was instructed to sail by the Cape of Good Hope. But he had his own ideas: he wanted to crown himself king of St Helena and attack Portuguese shipping in the Atlantic. He never left the Atlantic.

In 1583 the insanely courageous Ralph Fitch headed for the spiceries with four partners. They sailed to Tripolis in Syria and then overland to the Euphrates, where they bought a boat. They were imprisoned in Hormuz and shipped to Goa, where an Englishman provided sureties for them and they were freed. Only Fitch continued the journey, leaving Goa in disguise. After eight years travelling he eventually reached Malacca, from where he returned to London. It was a success only of intelligence.

The second English expedition to circumnavigate was that of Thomas Cavendish. He attacked a Spanish galleon on the way home, the Great St Anne, and arrived back in England and glory two months after the Spanish Armada was defeated. But he didn’t go to the spiceries.

In 1591 the Queen granted to the merchants of London a licence to trade in the East Indies, and they sent an expedition under James Lancaster, a trader who had been brought up in Portugal. He sailed with three ships from Plymouth in 1591. They took the eastern route, and soon suffered the usual horrors of scurvy, diarrhoea and starvation in the South Atlantic. Soon after leaving Table Bay there was only one ship left, as the Merchant Royal had been sent home with the ill men, and Penelope was lost with all hands in a storm. The expedition kidnapped a ‘negro’ in Mozambique when they heard he had been to the East Indies. He wasn’t much use, though, and they missed the Laccadive Islands and Nicobar. By the time they reached Penang only 33 men were still alive. Lancaster then attacked a Portuguese ship heading from Goa, and then headed towards Ceylon. On the way his men mutinied and demanded to return home. In the West Indies all but five of the crew headed to shore when they found land; the remainder cut the moorings and abandoned them. A month later they were picked up by a French ship and eventually returned home. Only 25 men out of 198 had survived the journey. Two ships were lost and one came back with no goods.

In the decade to come, about five expeditions followed from England. All ended in disaster.

In 1595 three merchants from Amsterdam financed an expedition to the east. When they eventually reached Bantam in Java, the chief merchant, Cornelis Houtman, became angry at the escalating cost of spices, and they decided to teach the pesky locals a lesson. They bombarded the town with cannon fire, took prisoners and killed them. When they reached Madura, an island of the north coast of Java, the local prince rowed out with a flotilla of perahus to welcome them, and they rowed ceremoniously around the Dutch ships. Houtman’s ship opened fire and slaughtered all but twenty of the welcome party, including the prince. The expedition never made it to the spiceries, and took home only a tiny quantity of nutmeg – which was enough to pay for the expedition and more.

The Dutch sent 14 expeditions in just a few years after Houtman’s return. In 1599 Jacob van Neck returned to Amsterdam after a successful expedition to the spiceries, the second expedition of the Compagnie van Verre, the forerunner of the VOC. Van Neck simply bought his spices in Bantam and returned home with nearly a million pounds of pepper and cloves, and tonnes of nutmeg and mace and cinnamon. Van Neck made up for Houtman’s previous behaviour in Bantam by conspicuously paying over the odds in order to cement the relationship with the locals.

While he was at Bantam two other squadrons of the fleet – which had become separated from the main fleet around Madagascar – arrived. One captain, Jacob van Heemskerck, had discovered an island east of Madagascar and named it Mauritius. Van Neck sent Wybrand van Warwyck to Ternate to buy cloves, and Jacob van Heemskerck to the Bandas – which no Dutch or English had yet visited.

Van Heemskerck arrived in the Bandas, with two hundred soldiers and merchants, on 15 March 1599 and the islanders’ troubles began. At this point Gunung Api, the volcano (half the volcanoes in Indonesia are called Gunung Api, which means fire mountain, or volcano), became active for the first time in centuries, and the Bandanese took it as a bad sign. Van Heemskerck anchored off Banda Besar, introduced his party as enemies of the Portuguese, and petitioned to trade. They paid the orang kaya (the ‘rich men’, who were also the headmen of the villages) and the syahbandar (port master) and set up two trading posts.

Van Heemskerck started buying spices. On average they paid five stuivers for every ten pounds of mace, and half a stuiver (less than an English penny) for every ten pounds of nutmeg. One of the Dutch units of currency at that time was the Rijkdaalder, also a reeal, or piece of eight. It was divided into 48 or 50 stuivers, of which 19 or 20 made a guilder, or florin. The guilder was divided into 100 duiten. (So in old money the guilder was a bit like a crown, and the stuiver like a shilling.)

It took a month to fill the two ships. Van Heemskerck departed in July, leaving behind 22 men on Banda Besar and Neira, under two traders. They were told to buy spices in preparation for the next visit.

The Portuguese tried to organise an attack, but had not carried it out before a second Dutch squadron arrived on 9 May 1600. Van der Hagen converted the trading posts into fort-factories and palisaded the living compounds. He also built a fort on Hitu in Ambon.

In 1601 James Lancaster returned to the east. This time he was captain of the first expedition of the Governor and Company of Merchants trading to the East Indies, formed in 1599. (One of the documents forming the basis of the expedition was a legal refutation of the claim that the Treaty of Tordesillas bound anyone but Spain and Portugal. Not difficult, one would think.) The five ships’ main cargo was textiles: broadcloth and woollens, for which there was never a market in the East Indies. Fortunately they also took bullion. The fleet took 36 factors. Only on Lancaster’s boat, the Red Dragon, did the men not fall victim to scurvy. This was because Lancaster insisted that they be given lemon juice. Unfortunately the effectiveness of antiscorbutics was forgotten until Captain Cook rediscovered it nearly 200 years later.

In 1602 he reached Achin in Sumatra (Aceh). He presented a letter from Queen Elizabeth to the sultan. It expressed friendship, hoped for trade, and slagged off the Spanish and Portuguese. The sultan – who thought Queen Elizabeth a great warrior for defeating the Spanish armada - was delighted. Shortly afterwards, the Red Dragon took a Portuguese carrack, the Santo Antonio, loaded with calico and batik – exactly what he needed to trade for spice. Then he sailed to Bantam in Java where he established a factory and bought spices, mainly pepper. He left eight men and three factors, to stay behind in Bantam and buy pepper for the Company’s second expedition. He instructed them to sail to the Banda Islands in the forty-foot pinnace that he also left.

In September 1603 the Lancaster expedition returned to England. All five ships returned, carrying over a million pounds of spices. Only half the men had died. Lancaster was duly knighted. It was the first truly successful English expedition, and one of the last.

The factors sent the pinnace to the Bandas as ordered. It was shipwrecked and washed up on Run, the westernmost island. The natives gave them a friendly welcome, and the English began to buy nutmeg and mace immediately. The Englishmen were allowed to build a warehouse on the north coast, and they also established an outpost on Pulau Ai.

The second Company expedition sailed with four ships under Henry Middleton, who had sailed on the first Company expedition. They arrived in Bantam in December 1604. Of those men left behind by Lancaster, only one lived to see the second fleet. Middleton immediately loaded two of the ships with pepper and sent them back to England. Only one ship made it, and that only just. Middleton left behind more factors in Bantam, including Gabriel Towerson.

Landing at Ambon he found that trade was forbidden without the permission of the Portuguese garrison. Middleton told them that the two countries were now at peace – something he could not have known – and permission was granted. But while he was there a huge Dutch fleet arrived and took Ambon. Middleton split the fleet, taking the Red Dragon north to Ternate and Tidore, the clove islands, and sending Ascension south to the Bandas.

While in Ternate, Middleton obtained a licence to trade from the sultan, but hours later a Dutch fleet took Tidore and threatened Ternate.

The Ascension, under Captain Colthurst, sailed to the Bandas trailed by a Dutch flotilla. He anchored in the sound between Banda Neira and Gunung Api and dined with the Dutch commander. (He took along a chicken pie, because he disliked Dutch food.) The meeting was amicable. Colthurst sailed away shortly afterwards with his holds full of nutmeg and mace, and Colthurst and Middleton sailed back to England after another successful expedition, arriving home in 1606. Middleton was knighted.

The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) was formed in 1602, granted a total monopoly on trade in the East. It immediately sent several expeditions. According to Hanna it was Admiral Wolpert Hermanszoon who, on 23 May 1602, signed a contract with some of the orang kaya that granted a complete and perpetual monopoly over the produce of the Banda Islands to the Dutch. According to Milton it was Steven van der Hagen. (I believe Hanna.)

Whoever it was, the headmen did not take the treaty seriously - for one reason, the islands relied on imported rice and sago, which the Dutch did not sell - and they traded with an English fleet almost immediately, but for the Dutch it served as a pretext for genocide. In fact, like the English, the Dutch did not generally offer anything useful. The Bandanese wanted to buy Javanese batik, Indian calico and Chinese porcelain, metal and medicine. Furthermore, the Bandanese had been trading with Javanese, Buginese, Arabs and Chinese for centuries and saw no reason why they should desist. The deal was utterly fanciful in their eyes.

Indeed, one theme that lasted all the years was that the Dutch always tried to enforce a trading monopoly; the English just traded. Probably as a result, the islanders consistently preferred the English. As some English doggerel of the time ran:

In matters of commerce, the fault of the Dutch
Is giving too little and asking too much.

According to Hanna, van der Hagen arrived in 1605. He was the one who had driven the Portuguese out of Ambon and Ternate. When van der Hagen knocked on the factory gates he was greeted, not by one of the Dutch factors, but by an Englishman, Christopher Colthurst. There were also English factors trading merrily on Run. Van der Hagen learned that all the Dutch factors had been murdered after a blood feud. He signed a second contract with the Bandanese orang kaya, much like the first. The contract also fixed prices.

The Dutch made themselves unpopular in another way – by refusing to bargain, which is to this day not merely the only way to conduct business in southeast Asia, but a social necessity. (American tourists are often criticised for the same omission.)

In 1607 the English East Indies Company sent its third fleet to the Indies. In charge of the fleet was William Keeling, but David Middleton, brother of Henry and John, pressed on ahead at about twice Keeling’s pace. Middleton had returned to England by the time Keeling reached the Spice Islands.

Middleton headed via Bantam to Tidore, where he wined and dined the Spanish and Portuguese but somehow managed to avoid getting involved in their fights with the Dutch. The Spanish refused permission to buy spices, but Middleton found it easy to do secret deals with the locals. Just off Sulawesi Middleton encountered a junk fully laden with cloves, bought the lot, and headed straight home. The cloves that he had bought for £3,000 were sold at home for £36,000.

Keeling, meanwhile, driving in the slow lane, reached Bantam in late 1608. He bought a shipload of spices in Bantam and sent the Red Dragon home with them. He pressed on in Hector to the Bandas and anchored off Banda Besar. Naturally the Dutch were there in force. Keeling presented a letter from James I to one of the local chiefs, and began buying nutmeg. Three Dutch ships arrived in March 1609. While outwardly friendly to the English, they hatched plans to take Keeling’s ship. Keeling received word of the plot and sailed west to Pulau Ai, where he made a secret deal with the local headman. Unfortunately for him, the Dutch were in on the secret, and within the week six more ships arrived, so that Keeling’s sixty-two men faced a thousand or more hostile Dutch. The Dutch told him to be gone immediately without even collecting any debts.

Before he complied, another Dutch fleet of 14 ships arrived in April, under Peter Verhoef. Verhoef had been instructed by the VOC to win the Banda Islands ‘either by treaty or by force’. He summoned all the chieftains to a meeting on Banda Besar, read them a script accusing them of breaking their contract, and said that he intended to build a fortress on Neira ‘to defend the country from the Portugals’. The headmen, naturally, were appalled. But there was nothing they could do, since they had no control over Neira. On 25 April Verhoef landed 750 soldiers on Neira. Verhoef’s men started building the fort, Benteng Nassau, on the site of the old Portuguese fort.

The people of Neira abandoned their houses and moved into the hills. The headmen of Neira called Verhoef to a meeting on 22 May 1609. He attended accompanied by his captains, merchants, and some English prisoners in chains. The Dutch party was ambushed and massacred. Twenty-eight were killed on the spot, and others were killed running away. Verhoef’s head was displayed, mounted on a lance. In the long run, it was a bad move: Jan Pieterszoon Coen was in the Bandas at the time, and he took his revenge fourteen years later.

The Dutch blamed Keeling, although he was on Pulai Ai at the time buying nutmeg. They took a couple of prisoners, who promptly escaped, and the Bandanese killed two Dutch merchants on Banda Besar.

In July the Dutch declared war against the islands and started to loot and burn villages, destroy boats and murder any locals they could find. On 26 July the Dutch attacked Celamme on Banda Besar and were beaten back with nine dead and seventy wounded. At this point Admiral Hoen changed tactics and blockaded the islands.

In August 1609 the Dutch signed a peace treaty with some of the orang kaya, which placed Neira under Dutch protection in perpetuity; henceforth there was to be a Dutch governor. The orang kaya promised that the islands would trade only with the Dutch thenceforth. The treaty purported to bind all the islands. There was still no way that they could adhere to this promise. The Dutch regarded this as a binding contract, but it should have been obvious that the orang kaya were not in a position to make promises binding other villages or islands, particularly those of Ai and Run. There was no single authority, which the Dutch never really understood, probably conveniently.

Hoen sent a letter to Keeling informing him of the treaty, and Keeling rightly ignored it. He loaded a shipload of spices and left a factory on Ai. (At exactly the same time, Henry Hudson entered Delaware Bay. He suspected it might be a passage west to the Indies. In the event he reached Albany.)

David Middleton arrived in the Bandas shortly after Keeling left. He was told by the factors in Bantam that the Dutch had left behind a governor in Fort Nassau. No foreigner was allowed to settle without a Dutch permit and all shipping was monitored. Even trade between the islands was forbidden unless authorised. But of course the Bandanese regarded this as unenforceable and ignored it, as did Middleton, who anchored off Neira and fired all his cannons. He soon struck a deal with a trader in Ai, who promised to sell all the spices he could get. In what became a common wheeze, the men of the other Banda Islands shipped their nutmeg to Ai as well, in order to avoid selling it to the hated Dutch. The Dutch were left with two half-filled ships and no more nutmeg.

So Middleton based himself in Ai and enjoyed irritating the Dutch. He wrote to the Dutch governor informing him of the deal, reminding him that the men of Run and Ai had signed no agreement, and challenged the governor to act. In the manner of the day, the two men then spent a very pleasant dinner together. Middleton based himself in Seram and sent his assistant in a pinnace to Ai, where he set up a temporary factory. The pinnace shuttled between Ai and Seram with nutmeg and mace. As Middleton set sail for home, the Bandanese again rose up against the Dutch and massacred all they found outside the walls of the fort.

Posted by Wardsan 05:04 Archived in Indonesia

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint