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Home » Indonesia History

The Discovery of The Spice Islands

Submitted by Henry Lowis on November 20, 2009 – 2:26 pm Comments

Have you ever thought about spicing up your life? How would your life change if it had a pinch of the right spice?

Let me explain… The year was 1512 and great sailing ships carrying European seamen on behalf of the powerful European trading companies would brave the wild oceans of the world in search of is one of the most precious trading goods of the time…Spice! 1512 was an important dates in the history of the illustrious spice trade because a Portuguese trading expedition led by António de Abreu became the first Europeans in the Banda Islands. As part of the Maluku Islands or the renowned “Spice Islands”, the Banda Islands were the world’s only source of a rare and precious spice….nutmeg.

In Medieval Europe, spices were considered to be luxury products & were highly sought after for more reasons than you’d think. Today many of us are not particularly familiar with many of those spices except for the occasional dusting received in a fancy restaurant or maybe, if you’re lucky in some of grandma’s baking. However back then outside of the primary applications of these spices for flavoring food & drink, Nutmeg, Mace and Cloves had a range of other weird and wonderful applications ranging from: Preserving food, relieving sickness symptoms and curing common illness. In fact back in Medieval Europe if a gentleman was having problems getting his equipment to work the local doctor would prescribe the Viagra of the day; Nutmeg, which was even thought to cure plague.

Exciting isn’t it!

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However, the exorbitant prices of spice due to the Arab & Venetian monopoly eventually pushed the European nations to purchase them directly from the source. It was estimated that the selling rate of nutmeg in Europe was approximately 300 times the purchase price!

The Dutch traders soon followed the Portuguese and reached the Spice Islands in 1599. To ensure the profitability of their ventures, the various Dutch companies merged & formed the infamous Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC). More commonly known in the English world as the Dutch East Indies Company, VOC was the world’s first multinational corporation & the first one to issue shares.

Banda Islands
Image Credit

After defeating the Portuguese, the Dutch monopolized the spice trade by concentrating the spice production in a small number of islands & destroying trees on the other islands. Soon after, the English came into the picture and built trading posts on the islands of Ai & Run in the Bandas which resulted in numerous bloody encounters with the Dutch.

In the end, the British & the Dutch traded the island of Run with the swampy Manhattan Island under the Treaty of Breda, a very interesting trade considering the present state of the two islands. With this full control, the Dutch was set to rule the Spice Islands for the subsequent 280 years.

Image Credit

NOTE: Both nutmeg and mace are derived from the nutmeg fruit. Nutmeg is the actual seed of the tree while mace is the dried reddish covering of the seed. Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree.

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  • Angie Lowis

    woww...interesting article!!just know that they have "viagra" too back then...

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