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Published: October 22nd 2017
Three hundred and fifty years ago New York was still called Nieuw Amsterdam. And three hundred and fifty years ago, the British had a useless speck of an island in the Banda archipelago. Useless though it was, as the Dutch had destroyed all the nutmeg plantations on the island, which was the original reason for the British to set up shop there, it was a bit of thorn in the side of the Dutch who controlled the rest of the islands and thus the lucrative spice trade. The British, basically, were an irritating nuisance, too close for comfort to the important Spice Islands. The Dutch tried to dislodge them several times, when this didn’t work they burned down all the plantations in order to render the island useless, in short they tried everything to get rid of those Brits! In vain, the British, despite the costs of maintaining a base on this worthless island, remained, simply to annoy the Dutch.
Then came the year 1667 and the Dutch decided to try and trade one territory for another. The Dutch had a colony in North America which they considered a hassle, as it cost more than it brought up. Ever the
Collin Beach Hotel, views from my bungalow
traders, they suggested a swap with the British. Their worthless isle in the Banda’s for the Dutch island in North America. The British accepted, and thus Nieuw Amsterdam became New York, and Run Island became Dutch. Some consider this a bad deal for the Dutch, but it wasn’t. Nieuw Amsterdam was not profitable, and even though New York eventually became the place it is today, remember that for all their effort, the British spend a lot of money on it, only to lose it anyway. As for the Dutch, they made a huge profit on the spice monopoly, without having to spend much on keeping the British out.
Clearly the Indonesians agree. They are celebrating the 350th
anniversary of this deal with gusto! A month long festival on the Banda Islands to commemorate the event. I wish they hadn’t been quite so enthusiastic about it. Accommodation is hard to find at the moment, with Indonesians flocking to Banda Neira, the main island. Add to that the fact that Banda is becoming more popular with the tourist as well, and you end up walking the quiet streets of Banda Neira in search of a very elusive room. Now, when I
say more popular with the tourist you shouldn’t imagine Bali kind of numbers, it’s just simply that there are more than you would expect for such an out of the way place. For all that, it is still a wonderful peaceful part of the world with an illustrious history. And a black one as well. The Dutch weren’t the nicest colonial power. Revolt or refusal to sell to the Dutch at unprofitable rates, were met with genocide and forcible expulsions from the islands of the local populations. The Dutch Golden Age was built on the back of a great deal of misery.
Enough on history. I arrived, like the first Dutch, by boat. The fast boat from Ambon. Along the way we were met by whales, who spouted fumes of water vapor into the air, as if in gesture of greeting. On the horizon the cone of Gunung Api became visible, a volcanic island opposite Banda Neira, indicating my eminent arrival to the Banda Islands. Before long I was walking the streets in frustration as one hotel after the other turned out to be full. I guess it was payback for 400 years of brutal Dutch rule. However, after
Ambon to Banda
The Banda Islands ahead!
a long and sweaty search I found a room. Possibly the last one on the island. I surveyed the Fort Belgica which gives fine views over the island and the neighbouring isles, and made plans to immediately leave Banda Neira for Hatta. Why? I was told it had the best coral reefs in these parts, combined with superb visibility. I was also told that accommodation, as in Banda Neira was hard to come by. Alas, they have very limited connection to the outside world, so phoning ahead to ask about the situation was not a possibility. I would just have to go and see.
So, I went and saw and found! It wasn’t as bad as expected, there was actually some choice. It seems a lot of people don’t actually leave Banda Neira at all, but simply take day trips from there. The better for me. A simple room on the beach, three meals a day, good snorkeling a stones’ throw away, et voila, what more can a man ask for? A perfect sunset maybe… Oh no, there were those as well. Nutmeg then? The reason the Dutch and the rest of the world were ever interested in these
Sleepy Banda Neira
islands. No, they didn’t have it on Hatta. For that you need to go to one of the other islands. They have some pretty old plantations on Banda Besar. And you can buy it on the markets on Banda Neira, or have a pancake with nutmeg jam, or perhaps nutmeg juice, it is quite refreshing.
As for me, eventually I left Hatta again, ended up looking for a room again on Banda Neira, and found one once again after many futile attempts. Soon I am off to other isle’s. There are plenty of them. I am leaving the spices and tourists behind. And Run and its Manhattan connection too. A boat awaits me, we shall see where it brings me.
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