Banda Api, the island-volcano of the archipelago. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Banda Api, the island-volcano of the archipelago. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

Banda, the fabulous spice islands

#Indonesia

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:

  Indonesia: Banda + Raja Ampat - October 2015

Wake up at the foot of a volcano and live the dream of Magellan ... what's more exhilarating? Welcome to the archipelago of Banda, the mythical spice islands, in Indonesia.

Magellan's dream

End of October 2015. I am on board of Waow. First step of this fabulous diving cruise: the archipelago of Banda, handful of volcanic islands in the Maluku, Indonesia, southeast of Ambon. It's here :

They are islands far from everything, today little known to tourists coming to discover Indonesia ... Yet it is for them that Magellan Started the first world tour by boat in history! I'm crazy about the idea of discovering this archipelago at the end of the world.

Between two dives full of hammerhead sharks in the sea of Banda, I expect only one thing: to set foot on these mythical islands, the famous spice islands, so coveted in the 16th and 17th centuries! Magellan did not get that chance. He was killed (April 27, 1521) in the Philippines, when he was nearing the goal ...

The Waow anchored in Banda Bay. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
The Waow anchored in Banda Bay. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Banda Api, the island-volcano of the archipelago. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Banda Api, the island-volcano of the archipelago. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

Waow burningUpdated 2018. The Waow, this magnificent dive-cruise boat aboard which I had the chance to embark on in 2015, no longer exists ... 😢 He unfortunately burned and sank, in Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia, at night January 31 to February 1, 2018. I refer you to the message posted on their Facebook page and on their site.

Nutmeg

My fellow divers and I finally land on October 30, 2015 in Banda Neira, for a tourist excursion. On the program: visit of the small museum, nutmeg plantations and Fort Belgica ...

View of the volcano from the port of Banda Neira. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
View of the volcano from the port of Banda Neira. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

Banda Neira is both the name of the island, the port and the administrative capital of the archipelago which has ten islands in all (only six-seven are inhabited). This is where nearly half of the 14,000 inhabitants of the Banda archipelago live. It is here that we discover the bloody colonial history of spice islands (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg), disputed by Spanish, Portuguese, English and Dutch, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the time, the Maluku archipelago was the only place where the precious nutmeg grew. So precious, that she was worth her weight in gold ...

Banda Neira is today a large peaceful village, where we can still see old Dutch colonial buildings, built at the time of the omnipotence of la VOC, the Dutch East India Company.

There are several schools, administrative buildings, a mosque, small shops, a diving center, a tiny airport, some guesthouses and hotels ...

The port street of Banda Neira. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
The port street of Banda Neira. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
In Banda Neira, there are still some cyclos! Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
In Banda Neira, there are still some cyclos! Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Quiet streets and flowers. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Quiet streets and flowers. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Strange fruits on the stalls. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Strange fruits on the stalls. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
A classroom of Banda Neira's big primary school. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
A classroom of Banda Neira's big primary school. Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Waow divers brought school supplies for the children, which meant we were allowed to go to classrooms. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Waow divers brought school supplies for the children, which meant we were allowed to go to classrooms. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
As everywhere in Indonesia, kids love to pose for the photo-souvenir. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
As everywhere in Indonesia, kids love to pose for the photo-souvenir. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
The little ones came to play on the waterfront after school. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
The little ones came to play on the waterfront after school. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
Colonial building of the Dutch era. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Colonial building of the Dutch era. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Nuts, bark, mace, leaves: in the nutmeg, everything is good! Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Nuts, bark, mace, leaves: in the nutmeg, everything is good! Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
The guide introduces us to nutmeg. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
The guide introduces us to nutmeg. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

Nutmeg. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

The thin red bark that covers the nut, inside the shell, is the mace, considered a spice even finer than the walnut itself. Of a beautiful red color when it is fresh, the mace becomes orange while drying. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
The thin red bark that covers the nut, inside the shell, is the mace, considered a spice even finer than the walnut itself. Of a beautiful red color when it is fresh, the mace becomes orange while drying. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)

The fort and the volcano

Right in front of Fort Belgica, built in the 17th century by the Dutch on the remains of a Portuguese fort, stands the volcanic cone of the island of Banda Api.

The most motivated of our small group climb to the top of the towers of the fort. Ladder scrap not reassuring and very narrow passage. But it's worth it. The view is spectacular. Steffan, the videographer of Waow, enjoy the excursion to get out of the drone!

For several days, during the navigation of the Waow, which takes us from one dive site to another around the archipelago, we could admire the volcano from different angles. called gunung api , ie "mountain of fire" in Indonesian, it culminates at about 640m, dominating all the archipelago.

The last eruption of the Banda volcano goes back to 1988. The guide who makes us visit the tiny museum of Banda Neira, remembers it. "But everyone was evacuated before the main eruption, He explains. There were only one or two deaths, elderly people who could not or did not want to leave their homes. "

The lava has frozen since. Two huge black casts dash across the flanks of the volcanic cone to the sea. The day we arrived in the archipelago, we plunged into a site called ... Lava Flow. At the foot of one of the lava flows!

Gunung Api's two black lava flows, oriented north-south, are clearly visible on Google Earth's satellite imagery.
Gunung Api's two black lava flows, oriented north-south, are clearly visible on Google Earth's satellite imagery.
Underwater, where the lava flowed, imposing coral coral hard developed. (Banda Api, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
Underwater, where the lava flowed, imposing coral coral hard developed. (Banda Api, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
View of Banda Api from the entrance of Fort Belgica. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
View of Banda Api from the entrance of Fort Belgica. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
The cone of the volcano, the "gunung api", dominates the archipelago. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
The cone of the volcano, the "gunung api", dominates the archipelago. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
Fort Belgica was built by the Dutch in the 17th century. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Fort Belgica was built by the Dutch in the 17th century. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
From the top of the towers, we can see our boat, the Waow, in the distance in the bay. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
From the top of the towers, we can see our boat, the Waow, in the distance in the bay. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)

Pulau Run and New York

All the children of Banda schools know this story ... The fate of New York is intimately linked to that of the tiny island of Run (pronounced "roune"), the westernmost island of the Indonesian archipelago of Banda.

Colonized first by the Portuguese around 1512, Pulau Run (pulau means "island" in Indonesian) is taken by the English around 1605 with the neighboring island of Ai. They covet the precious nutmeg of which I spoke to you above, for their British East India Company.

The museum of Banda Neira presents some paintings evoking the trade of the nutmeg by the Dutchmen, precious spice which pushed at the time only in the archipelago of Banda.
The museum of Banda Neira presents some paintings evoking the trade of the nutmeg by the Dutchmen, precious spice which pushed at the time only in the archipelago of Banda.

It obviously does not please the Dutch who, at the time, want to establish in the Indian Ocean the monopoly of their own company, the Dutch East India Company (VOC), on the lucrative trade in spices and nutmeg in particular.

It's a long and bloody story ... I make it short: the Dutch, who managed to evict the Portuguese from the archipelago of Banda, impose their domination by slaughtering the islanders in 1621. But the English resist and still hold Run and Ai.

Finally, the English will retreat, but not without negotiation. The spell of Run is sealed by the Treaty of Breda, signed in 1667. Pulau Run is ceded to Holland, and in exchange England receives a distant islet, located in the Americas, in what was then the New Amsterdam: Manhattan!

Yes ... It was difficult to imagine, at the time, the development that Manhattan would experience in the following centuries, to become the city of New York that we know today.

The monument commemorating the massacre of 1621, with period cannons. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
The monument commemorating the massacre of 1621. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
Exhibited at the small museum of Banda Neira, this painting depicts a milestone in the history of the Banda Islands: the execution, in 1621, of 44 indigenous chiefs, in Fort Nassau in 1621, under the command of the cruel governor of the VOC, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who appealed to the Japanese and their swords for beheadings ...
Also exhibited at the small museum of Banda Neira, this painting depicts a milestone episode in the history of the Banda Islands: the execution of 44 indigenous leaders in Fort Nassau, under the command of the cruel Dutch governor of the VOC Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who appealed to the Japanese and their swords for beheadings ...
An engraving of 1724, representing Banda Neira and Gunung Api. (Illustration: Wikimedia)
An engraving of 1724, representing Banda Neira and Gunung Api. (Source: Wikimedia)

To learn more about the turbulent history of the Banda Islands (old and recent), I refer you to this fascinating and very complete story, written for the site "Bali Autrement" by the anthropologist Franck Michel, great specialist of Asia :
The Banda Islands, a rudely coveted archipelago

A lost archipelago

When our little group is about to leave Banda Neira to return to the WaowWet in the bay, the rusty ship of the Pelni, the Indonesian ferry company, has just arrived. Suddenly, it is the crowd of great days in the village, still asleep and almost desert an hour earlier.

The street vendors have set up their stalls in the street leading to the pier - fish, spices, fruits and vegetables ... Quantity of goods are loaded and unloaded from the huge ferry, in a rush more organized than it is the air. It screams, it's jostling, there's a constant back and forth of carriers, motorcycles, people ...

The arrival of the ferry is an event. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
The arrival of the ferry is an event. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
It is the crowd of great days in the streets of the port. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
It is the crowd of great days in the streets of the port. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

It's the hustle and bustle in the streets of the harbor. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
It's the hustle and bustle in the streets of the harbor. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

On the bridge of the ferry, an endless stream of goods and passengers. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
On the bridge of the ferry, an endless stream of goods and passengers. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

On the bridge of the ferry, an endless stream of goods and passengers. Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.

This huge rusty ferry will he hold the sea for a long time? Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
This huge rusty ferry will he hold the sea for a long time? Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Bye ! Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Bye ! Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.
Back on board the Waow, anchored in front of the Gunung Api. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)
The Waow, anchored at the foot of Gunung Api. (Banda Neira, Maluku, Indonesia, October 2015.)

As in all the isolated islands, the arrival of the boat which ensures regular connections with the rest of the world is an event. A real "life line" for islanders. As our appendix moves away, I contemplate, dreamily, all this agitation on the platform, thinking of Magellan, the great navigators of yesteryear and the countless Anglo-Dutch wars for the control of commercial shipping routes.

The spice route once made the Moluccas and Banda Islands famous. Westerners have forgotten them a little today. They attract only a few travelers, curious to get off the beaten track, and some privileged divers ...

 

I was the guest of Waow from October 27 to November 8, 2015, for this diving cruise called "Secrets of Seram". All opinions expressed here remain 100% mine. 

  Indonesia: Banda + Raja Ampat - October 2015

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