Tidore - why the Portugese lost the spice wars, Clitoria's and Cloves


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Asia » Indonesia » North Maluku » Tidore
October 21st 2014
Published: October 22nd 2014
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Is that the Duyfken I can seeIs that the Duyfken I can seeIs that the Duyfken I can see

Guide book pic showing a battle between Tidore and Ternate during the spice wars.
I know why the Portugese lost the spice trade to the Dutch.

Because they built their forts entirely in the wrong spot and had to climb 161 stairs then a ladder to get to the bloody top so they were too exhausted to put any real effort into fighting. Ok granted they only had a very steep volcano to work with, unlike on Ternate where they grabbed one of the few bits of flat land, and strategically a good spot to see your enemy approaching from, but what are you going to do from up there?

By the time you have put on your pants and climbed down the ladder, run down the stairs and the mile to the coast your spices have been stolen. Assuming they were caught with their pants down that is...all of them, at the same time, which is improbable but I sail on a dutch ship so I have to take sides.

Tidore is actually a gorgeous island, thickly carpeted with cloves. There are so many clove trees we drove as far as cars could go up the side of the volcano and stopped where the few houses not on the coast road are to find infront of us an entire hill of cloves. The clove harvest here means importing workers from Halmahera who spend the harvest living at various stages on the hill as it is too steep and dense to go up and down every day. Sacks of cloves are hauled down to the next workers by ropes.

After visiting the two Portuguese forts - I picked the one with the ladder and 161 steps which was only just beginning to be restored to explore while Simon, Sofie and Linda did both - the second the easier to get to and better restored fort. Serves me right for being lazy..or was i forted out, the spice island equivalent of templed out?. While they were up at the second fort I wandered around the cemetery. A curious thing about Tidore, there are graves everywhere. I guess it stands to reason that you can only bury your dead where you can find a bit of flat land so the few houses are all surrounded by graves everywhere. In Ternate I had noticed children playing soccer on graves so I can only assume that the ''graveyard'' as a scary or sacred concept doesn't exist with the Bandanese.

The graves were quite lovely, telling tales of Tidore in their age and size. There has never been a big population here, the Volcano that is the Island is just too steep. Infant and child mortality rates must have been and probably still are extremely high as there is a disproportionate number of tiny graves. Linda asked our guide who said they were indeed childrens graves. So you bury your dead next to the breadfruit tree and tie up the goat on top of uncle leaving room for the kids to play ball on top of the old cousins. Space is at a premium on Tidore.



The sultan of Tidore was not home, his gates were locked and his black flag was flying. He works on Ternate as a civil servant. Our driver jumped out and checked the padlock on the gates just in case the sultan was actually home and was in the mood for a bunch of strangers to wander around his palace. I cant imagine trying to do that at Buckingham Palace or the White House or Parliament house here in Aus. The sultans of past are all displayed
View from the fortView from the fortView from the fort

The sultans palace has the blue roof.
in a mausoleum in graves arranged by age. The most recently departed sultans grave was on the verandah of the mausoleum but we were not allowed entry as the area was protected by gates.

The ''ring'' road around the island doesn't go all the way around the island anymore so we couldn't get to the houses on stilts out over the bay - only accessible by motorcycle. Simon had read about the traditional houses in a guide book, next time I guess, although the road has been pretty much destroyed for a lot of years from what I could gather. We drove as close to it as we could after visiting the two Portugese palaces and the Tidore market.

Everything you could ever need in Tidore is here at the market. And it best be because there is no Starbucks or Hardy's or Bunnings or Supermarkets here - Tidore is not very developed at all, which I think makes it so lovely. When Simon signed the guest book at the dock when we were picked up by our drivers he noted that we were the 32nd visitors to Tidore for the last month and all the others were Indonesians. Sorry Hilton Hotels there is no room for the Inn.

The Tidore market had pottery and some awesomely cool traditional woven backpacks in an almost conical shape which I knew would never get through customs. Sofie bought one and I jealously eyed it off every time I saw it - cursing Australian customs department.

Entering into the market was hot and dark but wow what an experience. The spices here included lemongrass, ginger, tumeric, galangal, garlic and a lot of things we could not identify. A lovely lady offered me a nut to try, and I do admit to some trepidation as I put it in my mouth - only to get a really pleasant surprise. We walked deep into the market and admired the selection of Bras but Linda and I decided that given there was nowhere to try bra's on it would probably be unnecessary to buy bras as souvenirs. Later that night we googled them and found they were called Kenari or Kacang Kenari and could be made into a caramel or put in your coffee thanks to Pak Hasrun our font of local knowledge. Both Linda and I bought a bag for a
Where the Portugese took aim from. Where the Portugese took aim from. Where the Portugese took aim from.

If I was defending territory id have picked a place in better cannon fire range.
tiny amount of rupiah that lasted me through the entire trip to the plane ride home to Australia.

Russ forged ahead and thankfully reported back that the Fish market was about over for the day and quite fragrant so Linda and I posed with a lovely lady and baby who wanted our photographs with her and lots of hugs - I found the warmth of the people on Tidore really genuine. Its obvious you are off the beaten track wandering around the market in Tidore. The locals are hugely curious about westerners and those smiles come from deep down within.

We stopped for lunch at a lovely little Beachfront restaurant. The mangroves had been cut down to afford the rare diner a better view, with the coconut tree stumps making wierd coral like shadows in the afternoon sun. This restaurant more fitted the definition of a restaurant, still outdoors but with a proper menu and suprisingly good food. And watermelon shakes!.

Ternate and Tidore have a past and present forever intertwined. The twin volcanos have seen so much history what ever happens on Ternate in years to come will find its way to Tidore, just like the spice wars did. I hope that is not too much, there should be some parts of the world left alone, they are doing quite fine without anyone's help, just as they have done for centuries.

Our last stop was at the hot springs, which did not have much more than about ankle deep very hot water in there and a memorial to the Portuguese seafarers which was in need of a bit of repair but was in both English and Indonesian. But not Portuguese!.

Now the clitoria in the title? - in 1678 a botanist Rumpf working for the Dutch East Indies company named a flower Clitoria Ternate, which I had found a few years earlier around Mt Tangkoko in Sulawesi Utara. In Wallace s later work he compared it to the butterfly pea flowers of Australia. Interestingly the flower is regarded as native to Asia and Madagascar. Later in our trip further into the Papuan waters we found historical mention of traders rowing giant boats to Madagascar way before anyone European showed up on the scene. I can only speculate that perhaps that is how the clitoria got to Madagascar and evolved into a form more suited to the lighting and climate there. I may be entirely wrong, but I like to think that's possible. I think Simon and Russ thought I was insane making the drivers crawl along so I could spot the flowers again and run up the hill to take pictures. Of course Linda just stepped out of our car and whipped out her super camera to find clitoria's everywhere infront of her. Some photographers have all the luck 😉

Leaving on the speedboat back across to Ternate Sofie and I talked about how clear the water was even though we were in the tiny harbour and oil was floating on the surface. You could see straight through to the coral below. Wallace must have been incredibly frustrated at this world at his fingertips but beyond his grasp.


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Restaurant on Tidore Beach..no goats.Restaurant on Tidore Beach..no goats.
Restaurant on Tidore Beach..no goats.

But they did have a deer out the front.
Local jettyLocal jetty
Local jetty

Wonky, but works.
As high as you can go on TidoreAs high as you can go on Tidore
As high as you can go on Tidore

Betel nut trees, coconut trees and a mountain of cloves.
Hot Springs..tide was outHot Springs..tide was out
Hot Springs..tide was out

VERY hot hot springs!


22nd October 2014

Good one
Good one, I enjoyed reading it.
22nd October 2014
Clitoria Ternate

Exotic islands and flowers
How wonderful and refreshing to be on such a relatively untouched island! Curious of the clitoria flower, I looked it up and found that it was indeed named in Latin for its resemblance to a woman's clitoris and vagina by that Dutch East India botanist, and that in the vernacular of various languages, it also has the same meaning. It's quite beautiful!
23rd October 2014

Ternate & Tidore
Thank you for your reports on these exotic volcanic islands that are so important in the history of the spice trade. To think the clove plantations I saw in Zanzibar were from seed from Ternate...records of ancient trade with Madagascar. There is so much history we can only speculate.
24th October 2014

Speculation & Mysteries are all we have
Quite awesome isnt it Dave...and now I have another quest, to get to Zanzibar to see the offspring of Afo - we think we know so much when we really know so little.

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