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

  Indonesia: Banda + Raja Ampat - Oct-Nov 2015

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

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, nowadays little known by 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 Banda Sea, I'm just waiting for one thing: to set foot on these mythical islands, the famous Spice Islands, so coveted in the 16th century.e and XVIIe centuries! Magellan wasn't so lucky. He was killed (April 27, 1521) in the Philippines, when he was almost at the end of his career...

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 burning

Updated February 2018. The Waow???? Unfortunately, this magnificent diving cruise ship that used to sail the waters of the Indonesian archipelago, and on which I had the chance to embark in 2015, no longer exists... ???? Unfortunately, it burned and sank in the bay of Cenderawasih, Indonesia, during the night of January 31 to February 1, 2018. I refer you to the message published on their Facebook page and on their site.

Nutmeg

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

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 at the same time 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 almost half of the 14,000 inhabitants of the Banda archipelago live. It is here that we discover the bloody colonial history of the spice islands (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg), which were fought over by the Spanish, Portuguese, English and Dutch in the 16th century.e and XVIIe centuries. At that time, the Moluccan archipelago was the only place where the precious nutmeg grew. So precious, it was worth its weight in gold...

Banda Neira is today a large and peaceful town, where you can still see old Dutch colonial buildings, erected at the time of the almighty power of the Netherlands. la VOC, the Dutch East India Company.

There are several schools, administrative buildings, a mosque, small shops, a diving centre, a tiny airport, a few 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

Just in front of Fort Belgica, built in the 17th century.e century by the Dutch on the remains of a Portuguese fort, rises 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 It is a mountain of fire in Indonesian, it culminates at about 640m, dominating the whole 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 in Banda's 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 Banda archipelago.

Colonized first by the Portuguese around 1512, Pulau Run (pulau means "island" in Indonesian) was taken by the English around 1605 with the neighbouring island of Ai. The latter covet the precious nutmeg I was telling you about 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.

The Dutch, who at the time wanted to establish a monopoly in the Indian Ocean for 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'll make it short: the Dutch, who succeeded in ousting the Portuguese from the Banda archipelago, imposed their domination there by massacring 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's hard to imagine, at the time, how Manhattan would develop over the following centuries to become the New York City 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 eventful history of the Banda Islands (ancient and recent), I refer you to this fascinating and very complete story, written for the site "Bali Autrement" by the anthropologist Franck Michel, a great specialist of Asia:
→ The Banda Islands, a coveted archipelago

A lost archipelago

When our small 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, Moluccas, 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 27 October to 8 November 2015, for this diving cruise called "Secrets of Seram". All the opinions expressed here remain 100 % mine. 

  Indonesia: Banda + Raja Ampat - Oct-Nov 2015

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