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A history of the Bandanezars Part 2

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In 1610 the East Indies Company sent a three-boat fleet, its sixth, flagged by the 1,100 ton Trades Increase, under Sir Henry Middleton. Middleton’s party was imprisoned by the Rejib Aga at Aden and Sana’a, but they escaped and blockaded the port. Upon reaching Bantam they found that the flagship was riddled with shipworm and was no longer seaworthy; meanwhile almost all the men died of dysentery, typhoid and malaria. Middleton, too, died in Bantam. One of the few who survived was Nathaniel Courthope, of whom more later. Only one ship of the party managed to return to London, and the commander was immediately arrested for alleged piracy in the Red Sea.

In 1611 the governor of the VOC, Pieter Both, sent a big fleet to Banda. They built Fort Belgica, at vast cost, on the hill above Fort Nassau. (Indeed, Fort Nassau is an eccentric place to build a fort, since it is more or less at sea level, and overlooked by the hill next to it. Belgica still stands, and has been restored. Nassau is in ruins, destroyed by the guns of Belgica.) The fleet sailed to Ternate before launching any attacks. So it was the next governor general, Gerald van Reijnst, who was ordered to complete the control of the islands.

In 1611, encouraged by Hudson’s reports of a fertile land, the first Dutch traders arrived in Manhattan, wedged between the two English colonies in Virginia, in land which King James regarded as belonging to England. They lived in shacks and did not stay long. But in 1623 the Dutch West India Company transported colonists to the area it now called New Holland. Soon the Dutch built a fort, a copy of Fort Belgica in Banda Neira. Its outlines included Beaver Street, Broad Street, Pearl Street, Broadway, Park Row and Fourth Avenue.

By 1611 the East India Company had factors all over the east, looking for markets for English goods. But they rarely stayed long, usually fell sick – the life expectancy for a factor was three years – and the survivors often went bankrupt.

In 1613 John Jourdain sailed to Ambon, where he suggested to the Dutch that he might buy cloves from them, and was denied in strong language. In Seram he met Jan Pieterszoon Coen for the first time (they had a blazing row), and managed to trade a little. In Bantam he found that the English factors had split into two groups that did not talk to each other. He was himself appointed chief factor of Bantam by the commander of the tenth Company expedition. He saw Banda as the future of the spice trade, and tried in vain to get the Company to send more ships there.

In 1614 Jourdain sent two ships with the intention of leaving English factors on the islands. They arrived at a time when the Dutch governor general was there with over a thousand soldiers. Cokayne was told that the Dutch had the right to all the Banda islands. Ball and Cokayne sailed to Ai and the Dutch were unable to follow owing to contrary winds. The islanders immediately consented to the building of a permanent factory. Sophony Cozuke, possibly a Kazakh, was left behind with a few other men.

The new governor general, Gerald van Reijnst, sailed in 1615 with an army of 1000 men. He demanded the entire crop of the islands; the Bandanese demanded that he level the forts. Van Reijnst, unable to tolerate the English presence, ordered the invasion of Ai for the morning of 14 May 1615. A thousand Dutch soldiers and Japanese mercenaries were landed against Ai’s 500 defenders. But the defensive fortifications were designed to be abandoned in modular fashion, so that as the Dutch took each fortification they remained under fire from higher up. The islanders’ marksmanship was far more accurate than expected. (It seems the English had trained the islanders and designed the fortifications.) The Dutch took the island on 14 May, all except for a fort at the top of the hill. The “Bandanezars” counterattacked during the night, and drove the invaders. The Dutch force suffered 36 dead and 200 wounded. What a humiliation. Reijnst died several months later.

So in 1616 the VOC sent Admiral Jan Dirksen ‘t Lam to the Bandas with twelve ships and over a thousand men. His sole instruction: to take Ai. Sophony Cozucke sailed to Bantam with one of the local headmen to plead for English reinforcements. In return he offered an English monopoly on the spice of Ai. Jourdain sent Samuel Castleton with five ships in January 1616.

Lam immediately ordered the invasion of Pulau Ai. At this point Castleton realised that his adversary was the same man who had assisted Castleton in an action against the Portuguese three years earlier. Sensible of his obligation, he offered Lam a deal: he would leave the islands in return for freedom of trade with Ai once the invasion was complete. Deal done, he sailed to Seram to deal in cloves. Castleton must have thought this an honourable solution, but it was a shameful act that sold out the islanders of Ai and went against the interests of his employer and his country.

The islanders of Ai and Run formally surrendered their islands to the last English factor on Ai, Richard Hunt. It was a desperate act. The Dutch invaded anyway and took the island after two days of fighting. Most of the defenders escaped to Run, but many capsized in rough waters and over 400 people drowned.

Lam built a fort on the island, named it Fort Revenge and installed a garrison. Only a part still stands, next to the remains of one of the grand plantation villas. Lam drew up an agreement with the Ai islanders, leaving only Run outside their formal authority. To pick the nutmeg he brought in slaves from Siau, north of Halmahera, and from Solor. But nutmeg has to be picked at precisely the right time, then dried in the sun or in a kiln. The slaves concentrated their energies on trying to escape, so the Dutch received little nutmeg.

Although the two countries were not formally at war, their two Indies companies behaved as if they were. In 1613 representatives met to draw up a peace agreement. Among the Dutch representatives was Hugo Grotius, the great scholar of international law. Grotius argued that a country must erect a some building before it could claim possession of land; the Company said that landing was the key, and it got to Run first (and this was also the basis of the king’s claim to the east coast of North America, which the Cabots had visited in an expedition sponsored by Henry VII).

During the second conference the VOC team proposed a merger, which would have been an early version of Unilever or Royal Dutch Shell. (It was a good idea. The combined monopoly would have driven the Spanish out of the area and bought spices as a monopsonist. Naturally, the English company rejected it.) By 1615 the talks broke down.

In October 1616 Jourdain sent Nathaniel Courthope to Run with two ships. He was to meet the islanders and ask whether they stood by their former surrender of the island to Richard Hunt. They did, and they confirmed it in writing, binding over Run and Ai to King James and promising to sell nutmeg and mace only to England. The flag of St George was raised and a two-day feast was held.

So Courthope set about organising Run’s defences against the inevitable attack. He fortified the islet of Neijalakka, connected to Run at low tide, and built a fort on the cliff above the village of Run. The forts were armed with cannons from the ships.

The Dutch, when they found out about the batteries, did not attack for a long time. It was easier to blockade the island, which was not self-sufficient in food and had no source of fresh water.

One of Courthope’s ships, the Swan, was taken by the Dutch as it sailed back from receiving the formal surrender of the islanders of Rozengain to England. That left Courthope with one ship, and soon none. Some of his own men sailed the Defence to Neira, surrendered, and gave the Dutch information about the defences of Run.

The governor general, Laurens Reael, called Courthope for a meeting. He offered to restore the captured ship and prisoners and to allow Courthope to sail with a full hold of nutmeg, so long as he left and signed away the rights to Run. Courthope said he would sail away if Reael allowed the matter of sovereignty to be settled in Bantam or in Europe. Reael refused and said that he would have to take the island by force.

In 1617 Courthope sent six of his men in a hired boat to Bantam, where Jourdain’s successor (Jourdain had been shot by a Dutch marksman while carrying a flag of truce) refused to despatched any of the six ships available to him to relieve Courthope. Finally, in 1618, three ships were sent to Banda. They were intercepted by a squadron of Dutch ships and, after a fierce fight, they struck.

In 1617 Reael offered the VOC a tactical resignation, which the VOC promptly accepted, appointing Coen in his place. His orders are astonishing:

“The inhabitants of Banda must be subjugated, their leaders must be killed or driven out of the land, and if necessary the country must be turned into a desert by uprooting the trees and shrubs.”

That was always Coen’s plan: to take the islands by force, kill or transport the native population and replace them by slaves.

In January 1619 Courthope received a letter from Sir Thomas Dale, the man who had brought Pocahontas to England in 1616. He was bringing a huge fleet and promised to expel the Dutch from Java and then relieve the men on Run. It was around this time that Coen moved the Dutch headquarters from Bantam to Jakarta. Dale formed a pact with the local sultan to attack the Dutch fort at Jakarta, and Coen withdrew most of his men to the ships. Dale’s fleet attacked Coen’s fleet on 2 January 1619. After a fight that lasted all day, the Dutch fleet retreated the following day, and Dale, eccentrically and disastrously, allowed them to sail away. He then somehow failed to take the Dutch fort and sailed off to Coromandel, abandoning the Run mission. Coen returned to Jakarta from Ambon with reinforcements and burned the entire city to the ground.

At this point Courthope had been on Run for three years and had no chance. He should certainly have surrendered. In October 1620 the people of Banda Besar rebelled against the Dutch. Courthope decided to row to the island to help organise the rebellion. But a Dutchman on Run warned the Dutch forces and Courthope was ambushed at sea and killed. The remaining English forces, sensibly, surrendered. The Dutch landed on Run, pulled down the forts and required the islanders to submit to Holland. They also ‘extirpated’ the nutmeg trees of Run to ensure the English did not return.

In 1619 the English and Dutch companies finally signed a Treaty of Defence, under which captured ships and prisoners were to be returned, and the English company was to contribute one-third of the ships and men in the region in return for one third of the revenues. Coen was appalled, and cleverly caused the English to break the agreement in 1621, by calling for a massive naval expedition just as all the English ships in the region were at sea. He then told the English that he would proceed without them. He sailed to Banda with 1,700 Europeans and 100 Japanese mercenaries, and prepared to invade Banda Besar, which the Dutch had never fully occupied because of its rugged topography. A patrol ship came under accurate fire and the Dutch became convinced that they had spotted numerous English gunners.

On 11 March 1621 the Dutch invaded with 1,655 European soldiers, plus the Banda garrison of 250, plus a hundred Japanese mercenaries, and took the island. The leading orang kaya visited Coen on his ship and sued for peace. They agreed to destroy their fortifications, hand in their weapons, recognise Dutch sovereignty, to present their sons as hostages, and to sell only to the VOC.

Inevitably, they did not abide by these harsh terms, and Dutch soldiers were periodically ambushed. Coen gradually demolished recalcitrant villages and herded refugees out of the hills. In April he sent out parties to Banda Besar to burn the villages. Those who surrendered or were captured were transported to Batavia as slaves. Many islanders chose to jump off the cliffs rather than face capture. The number transported is not known, but of the original population of 15,000 or so, no more than a thousand were left in the archipelago when Coen was finished with them; they became slaves. (Not all of those massacred or enslaved will have been locals. Since the islands were trading posts, there would have been Arabs, Malays and Chinese traders too.) Some refugees made it to Seram, Kai and Aru. There are still Bandanese communities in the Kai islands.

Coen seized 45 prominent orang kaya and kept them in chains on his ship. He had them tried for conspiracy to kill him, submitted them to torture and had 44 of them put to death (one committed suicide). They were herded into a bamboo pen, where Japanese mercenaries beheaded and quartered the eight chief orang kaya and then all the rest. Their heads and quarters were impaled and displayed on bamboo poles. Then they were dropped down a well.

The English factors on Banda Besar were then imprisoned (even though Holland was at peace with England). Three Chinese assistants in the employ of the English factors were beheaded.

Coen then invited applications for grants of land in the Banda Islands. Applicants had to agree to settle permanently and produce spices only for the VOC. The VOC were to buy all spices produced, would provide rice at cost, would transport slaves to work the concessions, and would guarantee security. The slaves came from New Guinea, Seram, Timor and Borneo. The 68 concessions did not include Run. There were 34 on Banda Besar, 31 on Ai and 3 on Neira.

Sixty-eight men were chosen to farm the perken, or concessions, and they became the original perkeniers, whose families lasted on the Bandas until well into the twentieth century. Each perk was given 25 slaves, which turned out not to be enough. The perkeniers were prohibited from buying private slaves. They were also prohibited from fornicating with or marrying the locals; the perkeniers typically converted some (nominally) to Christianity and kept them as mistresses. They had mixed-race children; some were free, some were slaves, some were freed slaves.

And the VOC did not successfully provide security, since they failed twice to prevent the English from occupying the islands. The VOC was to collect ‘a tithe’ of the crop, which turned out to be an eighth. They paid the perkeniers half a stuiver for prime nutmeg that they sold for 61 stuivers in Amsterdam.

Nevertheless many of the perkeniers did well for themselves. They built mansions along the main road of Neira, and maintained smart European fashions. Many of the larger buildings in the islands date from colonial times.

Several hundred of the Bandanese shipped to Jakarta as slaves had to be repatriated later because no-one in the Bandas knew how to pick nutmeg.

[Coen was for a long time a colonial hero in Holland. There is a statue of him in his birthplace, Hoorn. His portrait adorns the banknotes of the Dutch Javanese bank. It was only recently, as European countries began to question the morality of shooting natives, that his reputation declined somewhat.]

The English kept up their claim to Run, and visited it in 1636, 1638, 1648 and 1662. But the English Company’s revenues inevitably declined as trade with the Indies dropped to near zero. Meanwhile the Dutch exported nearly a million pounds of nutmeg and mace a year. In 1657 the Company entered into voluntary liquidation. But Cromwell and the Council of State would not have it, and Parliament duly passed an Act that gave the company a new charter to trade as a joint stock company. Three quarters of a million pounds were raised in new subscriptions in a matter of months, and the Company turned its sights to India.

In 1654 the Anglo-Dutch War was ended by the Treaty of Westminster. A small amount in damages was to be paid to the Company and £4,000 to the families of those massacred in Ambon. Run was restored to England. The Dutch governor in Java refused to allow the transfer, and the English only managed to retake possession in 1665. Great Britain and Holland almost immediately went to war again and the Dutch retook Run, where they again chopped down all the nutmeg. At almost the same time the King’s brother James, the Duke of York, sent a fleet to take Manhattan. Peter Stuyvesant, the governor, plainly acting under duress, signed away the Dutch rights to Manhattan in 1664.

The whole mess was only sorted out by the Treaty of Breda in 1667. The treaty recognised the adverse possession of both islands: England got Manhattan and Holland Run. Theoretical right amounted to nothing.

Milton’s thesis is, it seems to me, flawed. The sub-title of the book is ‘How one man’s courage changed the course of history’. How he changed the course of history is not really expressly stated but the idea seems to be that Nathaniel Courthope, by enduring four years of siege on the island of Run, cemented England’s claim to the island, eventually enabling it to be exchanged for Manhattan. The trouble is that he didn’t change the course of history in any way. The claim arose from a document entered into by the islanders of Run, voluntarily assigning the island to England. They did so in order to avoid the fate of the other islands of the group, which had been occupied and fortified by the Dutch. But Courthope could have confirmed the agreement and withdrawn honourably in the face of far greater numbers, while England maintained the claim.

The English never managed to establish permanent factories anywhere east of India. The Dutch in the East Indies – particularly Jan Pieterszoon Coen and Herman van Speult - behaved with a complete absence of humanity, massacring large numbers of Bandanese and selling the rest into slavery, and torturing and massacring smaller numbers of Englishmen in Ambon and elsewhere (the English in Ambon were subject to waterboarding before they were murdered). However, they achieved their aim of taking over the Spice Islands and cornering the world market.

The English made a lot of money on some of their trading expeditions in the early seventeenth century, but they went to trade. They never sent anything like sufficient ships, men or guns to the East Indies to defend their factories from hostile competitors. They expected their few factors to trade in competition with garrisoned Dutch ports. (The Dutch sent 14 expeditions in the first few years of the seventeenth century alone.) The factors and the occasional expedition coped well in the circumstances, but never had a chance in the long run. Frankly, it seems that the Dutch behaved vilely and the English incompetently. And the English might have been just as vile had they been competent.

Courthope did not succeed in holding the island of Run. The Treaty of Breda ended up recognising Holland’s occupation. And Courthope didn’t prevent Dutch monopoly either. It was another English captain, Captain Cole, who broke the monopoly by taking the Banda Islands one night in August 1810. He handed the islands back to the Dutch seven years later, but in the meantime he had transported nutmeg trees to Singapore, Ceylon, Bencoolen and Penang.

Posted by Wardsan 05:10 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

A history of the Bandanezars Part 1

A postscript

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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 Comments (0)

Myristica fragrans

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At the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore I bought two postcards of old maps of southeast Asia. One dates from 1574, according to the postcard, and depicts India, China and the Orient, with Latin and Portuguese names. The postcard does not say who made the map, but I think it is by Ortelius, who was following the map drawn by his friend Mercator in 1569.

The map makes the errors usual for the time. Southeast Asia is too big in comparison to India and China. There a pars continentis Australis just south of Java, which is itself too round. Persia is too big, Borneo too small, Sumatra too wide. Timor is too far north. Sulawesi is cigar-shaped and roughly the same size as Halmahera. Surprisingly, Singapore is on the map; it was then but a backwater, in decline after its golden age.

Most informatively, the Spice Islands are too large. Seram, inaccurately labelled “Ambon”, is huge. Banda is listed as being southwest of Seram – in fact it lies to the southeast – and it is far too large.

The "1607" map shows southeast Asia alone. It is, I believe, by Hondius in 1606, created for Mercator's Atlas. Its plan of Indonesia is in general similar to the earlier map, but the Philippines have improved, and so have Java, Nusa Tenggara (although Lombok is missing) and Borneo. The Dutch had, after all, established operations in Tidore, Ambon and Banda by then. But Indochina has got worse; and Singapore is far too large.

Seram seems to have been duplicated, and Banda is now south of the correct Seram, which is labelled Cenaon. Banda Besar, Run and Ai seem to be shown, although only Banda is labelled. Again, the Bandas are far too large.

This is so for a reason. Maps are social statements. The map is a bit like the famous New Yorker map of the world: it depicts importance from a particular perspective. By the time the map was produced, it was known that the world’s entire supply of nutmeg and mace came from the tiny Banda Islands, so they had to be shown. Their surface area is only 180 square kilometres – a fraction of that of London. On a modern map to the same scale they would not feature at all.

Why was nutmeg so important? Spices were in demand, mainly as medicines. Cloves, for example, were worth their weight in gold. Columbus sailed west in order to find their source. Nutmeg was also a preservative (slowing the oxidation of meat) and a medicine. The Romans used nutmeg as a preservative; so even 2,000 years ago there must have been a complex chain of trade stretching from the Bandas to Rome. It was used as a cure for flatulence and the common cold. In Elizabethan England medics began to claim that it protected against plague.

Although it was not known in Europe until the Portuguese arrived, the nutmeg grew only in one tiny archipelago between Sulawesi and New Guinea: the Banda Islands. Each of the islands occupies only a few square kilometres. The central island is a volcano, Gunung Api, a perfect green cone 650 metres or so high. It is periodically active, and was so for much of the islands’ Dutch history. Today you can see a couple of lava flows down the mountain, where things still do not grow.


Just across a narrow channel, curving slightly around the volcano, is Banda Neira. The main town of the islands, Neira, faces the volcano. It is in fact part of the caldera of Gunung Api.


The other side of Neira, to the south and east, is the largest and hilliest island, Banda Besar (Great Banda). This is where much of the nutmeg was grown, as it still is.


To the east of Banda Besar lies a small island known in the seventeenth century as Rozengain, and now called Hatta after one of the heroes of independence. A few miles to the west – crucial miles, when ships could not sail against the wind – is Pulau Ai. A few miles west again lies Pulau Run. Ai and Run also had a lot of nutmeg plantations.

I visited the Banda Islands in December. After a very bad start – my wallet stolen and my trousers slashed with a knife – I grew to like them very much. They are your archetypical tropical islands, covered in green trees and surrounded by white sand and coral reefs.


Many of the trees are nutmeg. As described by John Cameron in 1864, the leaves of the nutmeg tree are like bay leaves. The tree is thirty feet high and thirty feet wide at the crown, and flowers all year round. The blossoms are small, thick, waxy bells. The fruit looks like a peach. When it ripens it splits open and reveals the mace. Eventually the nut and its surrounding caul of mace fall to the ground.

The mace is dried in the sun. It is an attractive dark red reticulum.


Then the nut itself is split. The nutmeg is the kernel. A good tree yields six hundred nuts, or eight pounds in weight, per year.


Dotted around the islands are kenari trees, Kanarium commune. They provide shade for the nutmegs. They are fine, very tall trees, with dark red dipterocarp buttresses, producing nuts that taste like a cross between an almond and a hazelnut. These can be eaten raw, or chopped and baked into delicious bricks with sugar or honey. The best local dish is baked aubergines in a spicy kenari sauce, which is also lovely.


Alfred Russel Wallace, who visited in 1857, 1859 and 1861, found few interesting animals in Banda, and his chapter mostly comprises an extremely eccentric defence of the Dutch monopoly system. (He is not remembered for his economic analysis.) But he wrote of the fruit pigeons which “eat the nuts whole and digest the mace, but cast up the nut with its seed uninjured.” He had earlier seen the same bird in the Kai islands, to the southeast. By the time he wrote The Malay Archipelago he had described the species. In his entry on the Kai islands he writes of it as

A magnificent bird twenty inches long, of a bluish white colour, with the back wings and tail intense metallic green, with golden, blue, and violet reflexions, the feet coral red, and the eyes golden yellow. It is a rare species, which I have named Carpophaga concinna, and is found only in a few small islands, where, however, it abounds. It is the same species which in the island of Banda is called the nutmeg-pigeon, from its habit of devouring the fruits, the seed or nutmeg being thrown up entire and uninjured. Though these pigeons have a narrow beak, yet their jaws and throat are so extensible that they can swallow fruits of very large size.

There were plenty of large pigeons on the islands, but I cannot now remember if they were the same species; I had lost my Wallace and could not check. I suppose they were.

For a few days I stayed in a guesthouse in the main town of the islands, Neira, on the island of the same name. Also staying in the guesthouse were Vera, Niek, Hans and Bruno, all from Holland, and Robert, from Austria. These were the people who lent me money and thereby saved my skin.


(It is a mild paradox, although not unexpected, that I found the best social life on the trip in the most remote places. In Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia you are rarely far from tourists. Where there are crowds of tourists, they do not acknowledge each other or talk to each other very much, any more than you would if you happened to bump into an Englishman in the West End of London (which does happen sometimes). East of Lombok, though, if you see a white face you probably talk to it. So I spent most of my time in Vietnam on my own, while in Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and the Moluccas I was rarely alone.)

The guesthouse was near the port and the water was a little paraffinny, but it was nevertheless worth dipping in with a mask. For under the piles of the house next door were mandarinfish, a most extraordinary goby. They are rather shy but tend to come out around dusk. Some people travel a long way to see a mandarinfish; when I saw a mandarinfish in Malaysia my dive guide said he had dived a thousand times before seeing one. Here there were dozens. Robert took photos and we discovered that behind the adults, which we had seen, were lots of juveniles hiding in crevices.

We went snorkelling at several locations around the islands. On one occasion, as we returned from snorkelling, the captain of our chartered boat caught a beautiful fish of the mackerel family, possibly a wahoo. He was delighted, and gave us half of the fish, which we ate barbequed in the evening. It was extraordinarily tasty, possibly the best fish I have ever eaten.


We ate wonderfully on Neira. On another occasion, returning from Pulau Ai, we ran into a man with half a dozen lobsters in a bucket. He was going to Neira to sell them, so we bought them and Data from the guesthouse cooked them. They were, however, nowhere near as good as the wahoo.


Nutmeg is also used for food, as you might expect. The fruit is used to make jam (aromatic, spicy, moreish) or turned into a spicy cordial. Or you can eat the fruit dried, as I am doing right now. It tastes almost like a panforte, with flavours of nuts, spice and dried apricots.


Neira town faces Gunung Api and consists mainly of two streets running parallel to the sea. Until the 1960s the road by the sea was an attractive gravel street shaded by trees, but the trees were cut down, and now it looks much like any other road. Farther inland are the villas in which Syahrir and Hatta resided during their internal exile. Another colonial villa held the expats’ social club. There is a single block on the islands where a mobile signal can be found, so people congregate on the verandah of a public building to use their phones.


In the same area are the remains of the two forts, Nassau and Belgica. Fort Nassau, built in 1607-09, is in a romantically ruined state.


It was destroyed by Captain Cole, an Englishman, in 1810. He captured Fort Belgica first and then turned its guns on Fort Nassau. This is Fort Belgica, built in 1611 in the form of a five-pointed star, and extensively restored. I kept on meaning to undertake the ten-minute walk to see it, but somehow never got around to it.


The day after being robbed I tried to book a ticket on the weekly plane back to Ambon through the headman. In the event, however, the plane did not fly owing to bad weather in Timor, so I stayed on the islands for a little over a week. There used to be three flights a week to the Bandas, but the religious violence that hit the Moluccas in 1999 also disfigured the Banda Islands. Churches were burnt, and Wim Van den Broeke, the ‘last perkenier’ was killed in the violence along with five female members of his family. (He was a descendant of Pieter Van den Broeke, a governor of the Bandas in the early seventeenth century. His portrait, painted by Frans Hals, hangs in Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath.) Most of the Christian population fled to Seram. Tourists stopped coming – partly because the government would not let them, I suspect – and the tourist trade has almost disappeared.

Down the coastal road to the south is the old governor’s residence, known as the Istana Mini. It was originally built in 1611. It is not in bad shape, but it is unused. The doors are locked. It stands next to a barracks – half the buildings in Indonesia stand next to a barracks – which was, perhaps, the VOC Authority headquarters. There is a sign warning that the maximum penalty for trespassing is ten years, if I remember rightly. So I walked up to the guard post and asked for permission to enter, and the captain accompanied me to the governor’s residence. We walked around a bit and he offered to unlock the place. What is inside? I asked. ‘Kosong’ – ‘empty’. I declined. If there was any significant tourism they would do well to turn the building into a museum.


Wandering around the back of the barracks, next to the soldiers’ bikes, I found the old bust of Stadhouder Willem III. It was thrown into the sea during the Dutch-Indonesian conflict of 1950, but later retrieved.


Down the road in the other direction is a set of three large square openings filled with sea water. It is a sort of aquarium. It is in a sad, dilapidated state, and the water level is very low. This is a black-tipped reef shark.


Like Indonesian, Bandanese Malay contains a lot of Dutch loan words, but it also contains a few Portuguese words. But there are more Portuguese words in the dialect of Ambon, where the Portuguese had a more permanent presence. As Wallace recorded:

The following are a few of the Portuguese words in common use by the Malay-speaking natives of Amboyna and the other Molucca islands: Pombo (pigeon); milo (maize); testa (forehead); horas (hours); alfinete (pin); cadeira (chair); lenco (handkerchief); fresco (cool); trigo (flour); sono (sloop); familia (family); histori (talk); vosse (you); mesmo (even); cunhado (brother-in-law); senhor (sir); nyora for signora (madam). None of them, however, have the least notion that these words belong to a European language.

After a few days we all relocated to Pulau Ai. To a Brit this island is even more historically significant than Neira. It was here that the English, on several occasions, bought the entire crop of the islands from under the noses of the Dutch. It was the scene of the fierce battles of 1615 and 1616. Nutmeg used to cover the island entirely.

Ai is a lovely place. There is no mobile network, no internet, and almost no tourism. There are probably three guesthouses, all apparently run by the same family (try getting permission to do anything if you are not related to the headman). Four of us stayed at the Green Coconut, which looked out on to the sea.


There is nothing to do. You can wander around the village and see the old cemeteries, tended by goats.


And next to the remaining corner of an old plantation mansion is the bastion of a fort, all that apparently remains of Fort Revenge. That is about it. So we spent most of the time snorkelling or sitting and staring at the Banda Sea.


The snorkelling in the Bandas varied from the excellent to the terrible. Even the same site varied from the interesting to the dull.


The primary reason is simple. The environment is excellent for marine life, but whole stretches of the coastline have been dynamited. You drift over dead and shattered coral, devoid of life, an underwater desert. Dynamiting a coral reef to obtain fish is like chopping down an apple tree for the apples. It destroys the reef and the corals and algae that live in it; as a consequence it takes away the foundation of life in the reef. It seems amazingly shortsighted (although it could just be a consequence of common ownership of a resource). But people all over Indonesia actually believe that they have to harvest coral. They believe that unless it is harvested, it will grown to block navigation channels. In fact coral regrows painfully slowly, over decades, even without the hindrances of global warming and carbonic acid.

Where the snorkelling is good, it is very good. The best soft coral I have seen anywhere was on Pulau Hatta. There are several nice drop-offs; not far from the Banda Islands the sea is 6.5 km deep.

Pulau Hatta: notable for the best soft coral I have ever seen. Not very good for large fish though. I saw five different kinds of unicornfish in large numbers. Five Napoleon wrasse. Huge numbers of black triggerfish and many pink-tailed triggerfish, lots of titans and clown triggerfish. Lots of bluefin trevally, and few bigger ones. Some crocodile longtoms, and lots of yellow trumpetfish. Lots of black snapper and big yellow snapper and sweetlips. Blue fusiliers, yellow fusiliers, batfish, bannerfish, only one starfish, very few sea squirts.

Pantai Panjang on Pulau Ai. Strong currents. Didn’t see much of interest except for an eagle ray, 3.5 m long, 1.5 m wide. It came past a couple of times and the second time is came close enough to frighten me. Its head extends forward; the head is shaped like a cuboid with a bullet projection in front, which functions as a sandshovel. It had a strange alien face, with an open mouth, and gave me the creeps.

North of the jetty at Pulau Ai: a brilliant swim. Three barracudas, a biggish Napoleon wrasse, 1.2 m or so, lots of batfish. Forty schooling cornetfish, and a weird sea snake in very shallow water as I waded back. Then half a dozen big bumphead parrotfish swam past, the biggest in the lead. Five minutes later, in only three feet of water, I saw even more: a school of 27 by my count. The adults were patrolling the perimeter, and the smaller ones were feeding on the coral. The patrols displayed aggressive defensive behaviour, swimming straight at me and raising their dorsal fins.

Pulau Run, very strong currents, two small turtles and a barracuda.

Pulau Neijalakka, little of interest.

Pantai Panjang again: not very interesting. Clouds of ebony triggerfish, black with white margins like piscine guillemots. A very large dark green moray. A few red-tooth triggerfish. Lots of snapper, some very large, and some large groupers.

Pantai Panjang again, two turtles, including a good look at one, 10m down, male, illuminated by bright sunlight. Orange masked pufferfish, three crown of thorns starfish, several bluefin trevally, yellow cigar wrasse, a small Napoleon, two bumphead wrasse, lots of big snappers and plenty of small batfish, a spiny lobster, lots of yellow-margin triggerfish, lots of humpback and brown unicornfish.

Two more snorkels on the village side on Pulau Ai, both fairly poor. The coral has been dynamited to smithereens.

By the lighthouse at the top of Pulau Gunung Api: some scorpionfish, and crabs, and a flatworm.

And in the evening the people who owned the guesthouse would cook for us. And we would each suck on a bottle of warm beer. It is illegal in the Banda islands – regarded in exactly the same way as illegal drugs, and listed as such on a poster at the police station - but one or two guest house owners will buy it. Electric power was intermittent, operating only for a few hours in the evening, so fridges were little use. We drank beer with slushy ice that melted almost instantly. On Neira we could buy beer from the Chinese shop. In principle we could also buy arak, but this was harder to get hold of as the police were cracking down. When we did get hold of some, we drank it with a nutmeg fruit cordial, which worked very well.

On 5 December it was Sinta Claas day, and Niek and Vera exchanged presents: traditional Dutch spice biscuits and hot chocolate.

In the village 100 yards away from the Green Coconut were two longboats in a shed. They were kora kora, racing boats. They are supposed to be raced annually, but in fact there had been no races for 15 years, until a race was held two weeks before our arrival. Apparently it was held to celebrate the reopening of a well. Children around the island were obviously particularly excited by the event, as we saw several kids trailing wooden kora kora toys.


Nowadays the perken are still producing nutmeg, but they are all owned by a single government-owned company. Nutmeg does not command the prices it used to, and income per head in the Moluccas is well below the Indonesian average.

Posted by Wardsan 04:03 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Nu Gini

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Of all the places I have been, Papua was the least like any other. The reason is simple: despite the diversity of language, religion and food across Southeast Asia, many of the characteristics of the countries in the region are shared. New Guinea, on the other hand, is not Asian. There is plenty to say about the place and it is hanging over me like an essay crisis, so I’ll split the posts into two and start with the background briefing.

The five biggest islands in the world are Greenland, New Guinea, Borneo, Madagascar and Sumatra. Indonesia owns all or part of three of them.

At slightly under 800,000 square kilometres, New Guinea is only a little larger than Borneo. The land west of 141º E is Papua, a part of Indonesia previously known as Irian Jaya (irian means land of hot weather in the language of Biak). It accounts for 22% of Indonesia’s land area.

The second-largest rain forest in the world is in New Guinea. It is not as rich in tropical hardwoods as Borneo and so has not been so intensively logged. However, we did see a lot of evidence of logging in Biak, where there is a sawmill.

The island and its mountains are relatively young. Sedimentary limestone, sandstone and shale have been pushed up as the Sahul Shelf and the Pacific Ocean Plate collide, and so the island is mountainous. There is an igneous intrusion in the Sudirman range, at the western end of the central spine. Gold, silver and copper are found here, and mined by Freeport.

The two highest mountains in southeast Asia are often said to be in Papua. They are permanently glaciated. The highest is Puncak Jayakésuma, which reaches either 4,884 m or 5,029 m depending on your source; about the height of Mont Blanc.

But New Guinea shares its continental shelf with Australia, to which it was attached until the end of the last Ice Age, and it must be considered part of Australia, not Asia. If so, the highest mountain in southeast Asia is in Burma.

The two parts of the Australian continent are wholly different, as Jared Diamond points out in his fascinating book Guns, Germs and Steel. New Guinea is very mountainous; Australia is the flattest continent. New Guinea is one of the wettest places on earth (most places receive over 2,500mm of rainfall annually, the highlands over 5,000 mm); Australia one of the driest (mostly under 500 mm annually). New Guinea has permanent large rivers; Australia’s rivers mostly dry up in the summer. New Guinea lies just off the equator; most of Australia is sub-tropical or temperate. New Guinea is covered in rainforest; the Australian interior is desert. Australia has the oldest rocks, and the oldest and most infertile soils on earth. New Guinea has young, fertile soil. New Guinea, a tenth of the size of Australia, has as many species of birds and mammals. And, by the way, indigenous Australian languages appear to be unrelated to New Guinean.


The very shallow Arafura Sea separates the two hemi-continents, and land bridges to Australia have appeared occasionally. When the two halves have been connected, the bridge has been dry savannah, not rainforest. The last land bridge disappeared 16,000-18,000 years ago. Temperatures were seven degrees cooler then, and the snow line lay only a thousand metres above sea level.

The largest indigenous animal is the cassowary (kasuari).


Many, but not all, native mammals are marsupials. The native marsupials are wallabies, tree kangaroos, bandicoots, possums and cuscus. There are two monotremes (‘one-holes’, because they lay eggs and defecate through the same orifice): the short-beaked echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus, also found in Australia, and the long-beaked echidna, Zaglossus bruijni, endemic to New Guinea. Most of the amphibians and many of the small mammals (rodents and bats) are Asian in origin. Overall there are 63 marsupials, two monotremes, 59 murids and 77 bats. (The population of mammals is massively more diverse than anywhere in the nearby Moluccas, where the largest island, Halmahera, has only 31 species. Almost all the mammals of the Moluccas are bats and rats.)

There are more frogs in New Guinea than anywhere else: over two hundred species. Twenty new species were discovered on an expedition into the interior only two years ago. There are also estuarine crocodiles, monitors, other lizards, and lots of snakes.

So far 640 species of birds have been found in Papua – fewer than in Thailand, but still plenty. They include crowned pigeons, parrots, cockatoos, lories, kingfishers, megapods, bower birds, cassowaries, and, of course, birds of paradise.

There are 42 species of Paradisaeidae – which also include riflebirds and sicklebills - including 36 in New Guinea. Birds of paradise have been traded across the world for centuries. Janissaries’ headdresses bore their feathers in the fourteenth century. The birds were traded as skins without feet, and hence grew the myth, accepted by Linnaeus, that the birds themselves did not have legs.

I thought I saw one in the Baliem Valley. It was a dull brown colour, and appeared at first sight to be carrying a huge golden feather, which was in fact probably its tail. I asked the boy walking next to me what it was. “Burung”, he said. “A bird.” Ah. Actually, birds of paradise live in the Bird’s Head peninsula, to the northwest, and on Pulau Yapen near Biak, not in the highlands. [I'm not so sure any more. In Throwim Way Leg, zoologist Tim Flannery recounts seeing several different species of bird of paradise in the highlands of New Guinea. I think it may well have been a bird of paradise. This is a bark picture on sale on an island in Lake Sentani; the bird I saw looked much the same.]


The trade in birds of paradise is now banned, but I saw some bags made of birds of paradise in Wamena. One bag had a whole bird on it, beak included.


As for arthropods, there are very large butterflies in the region, including very large Papilio and Idea species, and Pieridae. There are stick insects and katydids, and thousands upon thousands of species of beetles.


There are also 800 species of spider, including the bird-eating spider. The strangest spider we saw was small, wider than it was long, and shell-bound like a crab (I saw the same in Banda) - possibly a spiny-backed orb weaver.

New Guinea may host the greatest concentration of plant species in the world: perhaps 16,000. There are 2,500 species of orchid alone. Perhaps 90% of its flowering plant species are unique to New Guinea. The swamps to the south of the central mountains have the most extensive patches of sago palm in the world. Sago is the staple of all lowland Papuans. As Wallace observed, it is the least labour-intensive of all staples. It requires less than half the man hours required to obtain the equivalent amount of starch growing wet rice. The sago palm is not farmed, merely collected.

Here are some sago palms next to Lake Sentani, in northeast Papua.


And Indonesia has more mangroves than any other country. Seventy per cent of them are in Papua.

A life of ease causes a problem. Hunter-gatherers have usually switched to settled farming when the cost-benefit analysis (energy produced minus energy consumed in production) favours farming, although there are other factors in this decision. So easy is sago to collect that the inhabitants of the southern swamps remained hunter-gatherers until modern times, even though their neighbours to the north began farming 9,000 years ago. Wallace observed that wherever people rely on sago, they are poor.

(The Austronesians never relied on sago. They were the ones who traded with Tidore, Bugis and China. Their main exports were bird of paradise skins and slaves.)

Homo sapiens settled New Guinea and Australia 30,000-40,000 years ago at the latest. Papuans and Australian Aborigines are the descendants of the early arrivals. Although there are populated islands all the way between New Guinea and Cape York, the two populations have been substantially genetically isolated for at least ten thousand years, and they look surprisingly different. Papuans are typically frizzy-haired and hairy. They often have hair on their backs, although oddly not in the region of their penis gourds; perhaps it is shaved. Australian Aborigines tend to have curly or wavy hair rather than frizzy. (And blood group B occurs in the Papuan population but not in indigenous Australians.)

Even within New Guinea, populations have been relatively isolated, both by the rugged terrain and by the constant warfare. Despite the relatively high population density in the highlands, the population of New Guinea never exceeded a million before the arrival of colonial administrations, which brought medicine and largely ended warfare. This was fragmented into tiny micropopulations. A lot of languages are spoken – perhaps 1,000, a sixth of the languages of the world. (The figures vary wildly depending on the source.) The population is only 2.7 million, so most languages are spoken by very few people: more than half have fewer than 500 speakers. Many of these languages are completely unrelated. They can be divided into at least five phyla, which share only tiny fractions of their vocabularies and are as unrelated as English and Basque: the East Bird’s Head; Cenderawasih Bay; West Irian; Austronesian; and Trans-New Guinea. The Trans-New Guinea phylum accounts of 84% of speakers of Papuan languages and two thirds of the languages.

Austronesian languages are spoken natively in parts of the north and northwest coasts (Indonesian is spoken by everyone who has been to school). The Austronesians began spreading, perhaps from Taiwan, down through the Philippines and into Malaysia and Indonesia, beginning 6,000-7,000 years ago. They reached most of the Indonesian islands around 3,000 BC. Everywhere they went, they displaced the original inhabitants – except in New Guinea, which had long before reached a high degree of agricultural sophistication. Instead the Austronesians settled along the coast, from where they gave Papuan languages many loan words. At the same time the Trans-New Guinea languages were spreading west to Timor, Alor and Pantar, and into the highlands of New Guinea.

(The source for most of this information is Irian Jaya, by Kal Muller.)

The most densely populated part of New Guinea was always the highlands. People have lived here for at least 25,000 years. The high valleys are fertile, temperate and have little malaria. This is where agriculture began in New Guinea, 9,000 years or more ago.

Irrigation seems to have been discovered very early; the earliest drainage ditches discovered are 9,000 years old, and they are similar to today’s. This allowed for very short fallow periods. They cut down forests, drained swamps, fenced fields and turned the valley into gardens. Even 5,000 years ago, deforestation was already well advanced. Taro and yams may have been the first crops; later came sugar cane and bananas. Taro and sugar cane are from New Guinea, as are some yams; bananas were assumed to be introduced from Asia but some species are actually endemic. In fact there are no highland crops known unequivocally to have come from Asia. Agriculture undoubtedly occurred here independently of Asia, by domestication of local wild species. New Guinea may have been left behind technologically, but once upon a time it was not backward at all; the Austronesians failed to colonise the interior of Papua, probably because it was already intensively farmed. (One thing they did always lack was domesticated animals capable of providing power, like oxen.)

There were later agricultural revolutions arising from the introduction of foreigners: pigs; the sweet potato. Each agricultural revolution supports a higher population density. Chickens are also certainly foreign. Chickens and pigs were domesticated in Asia and brought to Papua by the Austronesians 3,500 years ago (although pigs may have arrived earlier). Wet rice was introduced at some time point after 1,000 BC, but it never took off in the highlands.


Sweet potatoes came from the Andes. They may have arrived from the Philippines, where they were introduced by the Spanish, or they may have arrived by some other route 2,000 years earlier. They grow more rapidly, have a higher yield per acre and they grow well at higher altitudes and in poorer soil than taro, so they quickly replaced it as the staple in the highlands.


Posted by Wardsan 16:07 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Buon Natale

View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I'll be spending Christmas, mostly, at Changi Airport. Here is a Christmas photo.


It is one of the loud geckoes, known in Indonesian as tokek , in Thai as tokay, in English as a tokay gecko and in Latin as Gecko gecko. This one was at Labuanbajo. Locals like them, as they eat some of the more irritating insects, and in Thailand it is auspicious to be born within the sound of a calling tokay.

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The big wheel in Singapore, known I think as the Singapore Flyer, got stuck yesterday for a few hours. I took some photos of it during this time, but failed to notice.


Ah. Actually that's the London Eye. The two are quite similar, although the Singapore version is 30 metres taller.


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This is the opening paragraph of a piece by AA Gill in The Times yesterday.

Apparently, one in five affairs starts in the workplace. Which makes you wonder about gravediggers and deep-sea fishermen: “Olaf, you great halibut of a man, put my plaice on the slab and fillet.” Do doctors pull sickies? Any office you walk into, two out of 10 of them are going to be up each other. Which is, frankly, hard to imagine in most hardware stores, but perfectly believable in most bookshops. There are certain places where I assume everyone has everyone, and there are those where nobody’s getting any. MPs plainly hump each other like labradors on ecstasy, whereas the House of Lords rarely fingers the ermine. I’m certain that all call centres are gallivanting, open-plan orgies. I could swear that the last time Shani-Lee called me from Vodafone to ask if I was happy with my service, she was on all fours getting her 3G-spot charged up, downloaded and broadbanded. I just know that traffic wardens are all parking in each other’s residents’ bays. Actors famously can’t stop rehearsing their parts, however small. But I suspect that ballet dancers fail to see the pointe. And for all their promise and pert, pulchritudinous provocation, models hardly ever smudge the maquillage. They think love is best squandered in handbags. Accountants do it, actuaries don’t. Butchers do, bakers don’t, and candlestick makers burn it at both ends. Plumbers plumb, carpenters join, brickies lay. Scaffolders whistle for it, IT wonks control, command and escape. Van drivers deliver, cabbies ask for something smaller. Vacuum-cleaner salesmen suck, waiters spoon, panto dames are behind you. Mimes do it up against invisible walls, tailors fit nicely, publishers make advances.


Posted by Wardsan 23:41 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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