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Pulau Run the Garden of Eden for Nutmeg

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Run Island and Manhattan

28 Aug , 2015  

What is the relation between Run Island and Manhattan? Run Island, or Pulau Run in Bahasa (Run as in “Rooney”) is the name of a small island, part of Banda Islands. This tiny island once hold a very strategic role in human history. I kid you not. Read on to know why.

So strategic the role of this tiny, tiny island, (it’s less than 3 km in radius), the Dutch was willing to give up an island that would be known as Manhattan, to the British.

And the rest is history…

A short history about nutmeg, clove, and spices of Indonesia

Until the 17th century, Dutch VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie)  had been the king of the Asia-Pacific. It had secured the old spice trade pioneered by the Portuguese in what is now eastern part of Indonesia.

Almost all of known spices in the world can trace back their roots here. Clove originated in Ternate and Tidore Islands in Maluku (Mollucas), the Spices Island. Banda, in this case, was the center of nutmeg trade. And…here’s the thing…the reason why Banda was the epicenter of nutmeg trade was because at that time, the only place in this worldwide world where nutmeg grew was in, you guess right, Pulau Run.

Google it if you don’t believe me.

Let’s backtrack for a while. Pliny the Elder mentioned about clove somewhere in his works, so did Valmiki in his epic Ramayana, the same went for the author of Song of Solomon… Archaeological findings found traces of burnt clove dated back to 1700 BCE in what now is war-torn Syria. Sinbad The Sailor, the fictional badass Iraqi privateer from 1001 Arabian Nights story is told to have bought and sold cloves in one of his seven voyages.

Boom!

There you go. How on earth this product of an Indonesian island traveled half way around the world in every direction, and that early…I really have no idea.

Ok. Let’s go back to the topic shall we?

Those snob British marines couldn’t stand any other vessels not paying them respects when they saw their sails.

And when some Dutch sailors refused to do so, the Anglo-Dutch War began

The first….

The second…

And the third and final ones…

Some time along these wars, the British managed to captured Banda and Pulau Run. Unwilling to let go its source of lucrative income, the Dutch ceded New Amsterdam, big island on the east coast of the New World, the future Manhattan, to the British in the Treaty of Breda (1667). In return, they once again controlled Banda and nutmeg trade in Europe.

The Dutch had been cruel in protecting “its” commodity. They launched several campaigns just to exterminate nutmeg plants (and cloves too) that were located beyond their control…and with those plants, the population too…

By the time they relocated nutmeg plantations from Run to Ambon for easier control, the population of Banda had been reduced to mere 600 people, from 15,000 people prior to their visit.

Afo

There’s a silent witness to all that spice-craving madness: a clove tree, the oldest one in the world, so old, its direct progenitor probably had been there when Sir Francis Drake visited the harem of Sultan of Ternate in 1579. People gave name to it. Afo. It still stands, on the slope of Mount Gamalama in Ternate, where it has always been, these past 400 years.

Afo’s existence is a tale of bravery. The VOC extensively destroyed all clove plants it could find in an effort to control its price. Much like oil in modern world if you ask me. Whoever saved and planted Afo seed risked his or her life doing it.

Rumor has it that a French guy named Poivre (Poivre means pepper. What a coincidence!) then stole Afo’s seeds, took them to Zanzibar and Sri Lanka,  started clove plantations there (both are two biggest clove exporters now) and thus, ending Dutch’s monopoly on clove, which later proved detrimental to VOC.

It’s safe to say that the story of spices has been one of the darkest part of human history. We now know, to what extent human would go just to make his food tastes better. Sailing halfway across the world, conquering places and killing off the population are just a few.

I can’t help but to contemplate as I write this. For all of the lost souls, the destruction and greed involved in the history of spices, while the smoke rises from my clove cigarette… like a prayer.

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