Member: Banda Heritage Foundation
The VOC in Banda
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Banda in 1511. In the early 17th Century the Dutch arrived in Banda and pushed out the Portuguese. Meanwhile the British controlled Rhun and Ay, two of the outer islands of the Banda Isles. In 1621 Jan Pieterzoon Coen massacred almost the entire Bandanese population, taking about fourteen thousand lives, in order to monopolize the world nutmeg trade. Nutmeg at that time was the most valuable commodity after gold and silver and only grew in Banda.
With the Treaty of Breda in 1667, the British ceded Rhun and Ay to the Dutch. New York (then New Amsterdam) was handed to the British in exchange, which was a very profitable deal for the Dutch at the time.
However, in 1810 the British captured the Banda Islands briefly from the Dutch. Seedling of nutmeg, endemic to the Banda Islands, were planted in Granada, Sri Lanka, Singapore and other areas in Indonesia. Thus, Banda lost its monopoly on the production of nutmeg.
The crucial role nutmeg played in early colonial history is hard to reconcile. At a certain point nutmeg was the most valuable commodity in the world after gold and silver. In the 17th century ten pounds of nutmeg cost less than a penny in Banda and was sold in Europe with a mark up of 60,000%. A house that smelled of nutmeg smelled like money.
The Dutch designed a system in the 17th century to manage the nutmeg. The plantations were places on the big Island, Lonthor and on the other islands; the trading of nutmeg was only conducted in the port town of Naira and the six forts that are still standing in the Banda Islands was to safeguard this precious commodity. The Banda Islands traded their nutmeg for cotton cloth, velvet from Europe and silk and porcelain from China.
The pentagon shaped Fort Belgica, located on a hill, and Fort Nassau at the bottom were used to guard the nutmeg trading in Naira.
Fort Nassau was built in 1607 on the foundation of an old Portuguese fort. After it was renovated by Pieter Both in 1609, it became worldwide famous since 1617. In 1622 a massacre occurred in the fort. It is square and complemented by a heart shape bastion in each of it’s corners.
Fort Belgica was built in 1611 and completely finished in 1673, to defend against the attack of Banda people who opposed the nutmeg trade monopoly of the VOC. Fort Belgica was a strong pentagonal defense building to be proud of at that time. It was equipped with five round towers at the inner part and five bastions on the encircling wall.
Beside these, Fort Concordia and Fort Hollandia on Banda Besar and Fort Revenge on the island of Ay still exist. There are also smaller enforcements, such as redoubt Kijk in de Pot.
The first church with a registry in Asia was in Banda. The old church which still stands and functions, has its floors lined by the tombs of the Dutch Governor Generals and VOC Directors. The first VOC Headquarters still stand with the handsome governor’s palace next to it.
The nutmeg plantations are still in function as are a few old plantation smoke houses. The huge mansions of the ever so rich Perkeniers that wanted to out do one another are museums for the founding fathers of the Republic of Indonesia. There is also a Cultural Museum and a nutmeg museum is just setting up.