Want to swap Manhattan for a tiny desert island in the Banda Sea? That’s what the Dutch did in 1667, exactly 350 years ago. They traded the small island of Run, which is less than 3 km long and 1 km wide, for Manhattan, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Really? Central Park alone is larger than Banda Run.
So what was in it for the Dutch? Spices, of course! At the time, the Banda Islands were the only place in the world where nutmeg could be found. The Dutch, keen to monopolise the spice trade, had colonised all the Banda islands except Run, which belonged to the British. So the deal was done at Breda, in the form of a treaty, and marked the end of the second Anglo-Dutch war. It’s hard to believe this was a good deal for the Dutch but at the time nutmeg was worth its weight in gold, or even more. The rare and precious nutmegs were not only used as herbs for cooking but also believed to be an aphrodisiac and hallucinogen and, most importantly, it was used to ward off the Black plague.
And there is more to this tale. Years later, during the Napoleonic wars, the British stormed Fort Belgica on Banda Naira at dawn. Without a single gunfire shot they overpowered the Dutch and occupied the Banda Islands. The control of the Spice Islands was eventually returned to the Dutch in 1814 with the Treaty of Paris which marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars. But before leaving, the British took nutmeg seedlings from the Bandas and planted them in other tropical places under British colonial control. Nutmeg plantations sprang up in Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and later they brought the plants to Zanzibar and Grenada.
We’re very lucky to be here today as the islands celebrate their remarkable history with a month long festival filled with traditional dances, music, theatre, culinary shows, photographic exhibitions, rare displays of antique drawings, etc.
Rumour has it that the New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio, will also be attending the festivities. This morning we were woken up by the arrival of a big super yacht in the tiny harbour at Banda Naira. Could that be him?