15th
Nov
2013

Posted in Reference

Back in Medieval times, nutmeg was a rarity in Europe. No one really knew where it came from, as the Arab traders who had sold it kept the location of the source a secret. The spice was popular amongst those who had the adequate wealth  to get their hands on it; during the plague it was sought after by people who believed it could ward off the ill effects.

It wasn't until 1511 that the first Europeans discovered where the nutmeg was coming from. During the August of that year, the Portuguese general Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Malacca, a vital trading port located on the southern coast of Malaysia. It was here that he heard of the Bandas islands, which was where the nutmeg had been coming from all those years. He sent off three vessels, guided by Malay pilots, which arrived at the islands in 1512. They stayed there for a few weeks buying nutmeg, mace and cloves before travelling back.

Several European powers traded with the islanders, and some even established small colonies around the area in a bid to control the flow of trade. In order to maximise their profits, a group of Dutch traders decided to stop competing with each other and form the incredibly powerful Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie- the Dutch East India Company.

The Company set about establishing an absolute monopoly on the lucrative spices of the Bandas. Over the years, they used increasingly heavy handed and dire methods- building a fort on the main island, fighting off other Europeans powers, and in 1621, their attempts culminated in the slaughter of most of the native inhabitants. They justified this action by claiming that the islanders had not kept to a treaty- one which was impossible to keep to and which the Company had forced the Native leaders to sign at gunpoint. After this atrocity, the land was divided up and given to Dutch colonists, with slaves brought in to tend to the nutmeg crops.

For three and a half centuries the Dutch held on to large regions in South-east Asia, controlling a number of trade goods, such as nutmeg, which they had a complete monopoly on for a time. Coffee and tea grown in the area is a legacy of the Company's influence as they brought in new cash crops. Following the invasion of Indonesia and the overthrowing of Dutch rule by the Japanese in World War 2, a clamouring for independence was fostered amongst the people. After World War 2, the Netherlands attempted to reclaim the area. Following further conflict, the Dutch formally recognised Indonesia's independence in 1949.

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