Banda Islands – Living History

One of the interesting things about Indonesia is the long history of the country. From ancient Buddhist and Hindu empires to the scene of bloody battles in WWII, Indonesia has a rich tale to tell. Most visitors to the country are unaware of the history of the country and how it came to be. Although many physical reminders of the past have long since been destroyed, Indonesia is home to many beautiful artifacts from times gone by. One area of Indonesia played a very important role in shaping world history, the Banda Islands.

Banda Islands Fort Belgica
Fort Belgica

One of the most interesting periods in history is “The Age of Discovery”. This is the period from the 1200s until the late 1800s when European countries were sailing around the world, looking for new territory. At the beginning, this was driven by countries such as Spain and Portugal who were looking for an alternative route to the famed “East Indies”. The Venetians had a monopoly on the “Spice Route” from the East and sold their products for massive profits. The spices they were selling included nutmeg, cloves, pepper, and cinnamon. These were used as food preservatives and medicine. In order to break the Venetian monopoly, the Spanish and Portugese sent expeditions out into the “seven seas” to find the source of the spices. The British, French, and Dutch were not far behind and soon there were European ships sailing to Indonesia.

Banda Islands – The Source of the Spice Trade

From the 1400s until the 1700s the “East Indies” were one of the most important locations in the world. In fact, the tiny archipelago of Banda became the most valuable real estate anywhere. This was due to the presence of Nutmeg, a small fruit endemic to these islands. This fruit was only found here and the trees were jealously guarded. Due to its perceived medicinal qualities, nutmeg was worth a lot more than gold. Battles were fought between the Spanish, the Dutch, and the English throughout the world in order to gain possession of this valuable land much to the detriment of the locals.

Spices from Banda Islands
Left to Right – Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Mace

Today, visitors have a hard time believing tales of the importance of Banda Neira. Sailing into the harbor is a special experience with the ancient Dutch Fort of Belgica commanding a view into the bay. It’s easy to envision how the colonists would have fired their canons at any approaching enemy ship. The fort was refurbished in the 1990s and is open for tourism.

Living History in the Banda Islands

One of the highlights of a journey to the Banda Islands is the chance to tour the islands. Banda Neira is the main town and is easy to walk around. No tour is complete without a visit to the museum. It’s filled with artifacts including coins, cannons, helmets, swords, and more. The guide is an integral part of the tour as he or she will explain the history of the Banda Islands. From the museum, it’s only a few minutes walk to Fort Belgica which is surrounded by beautiful gardens. It’s an easy to climb to the top of the walls where there is a wonderful view of the harbor. Be sure to walk through the nutmeg tree orchard on the way back to the harbour.

Plants Fort Belgica Banda Islands
Fort Belgica

There are other activities in the Banda Islands as well. Hiking the 800 meter volcano offers an amazing view of the archipelago, best done early in the morning. The diving is world class with vertical walls and plenty of fish. There is also an incredible coral garden that has grown in the remains of the lava from the volcanic eruption of 1988. The shallow corals are incredibly healthy and offer some of the best snorkeling in Indonesia.

Lava Flow Corals Banda Islands
Snorkeling the Lava Flow

With it’s idyllic and laid back vibes, the Banda Islands are the perfect island get away. Visiting this special place is a way to learn about a common history between East and West. It truly is a magical place that everyone should have on their bucket list of destinations. If you have interest in learning more about Indonesian history be sure to read “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg”. This book recounts the struggle between Britain and the Netherlands for control of the Spice Trade.

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