Posts Tagged ‘Spice Islands’

Spice IslandsSo here we are in the first half of the 1500’s and our story centers around the Spice Islands.  We have the Portuguese, the Spanish and the French on stage, with the British and the Dutch soon to make their entrance.  Not far to the south, still shrouded in mystery, is the Great Southern Land hidden by what we know today as Papua New Guinea.

So what draws these European’s to this far away group of islands?

Spices of course. Spices such as cloves, nutmeg and mace among others. All of these grew on a number of volcanic islands of the Moluccas; now the known as the Maluku Province – a part of the modern day nation of Indonesia.  Highly valued and highly priced, they have been traded with distant Europe since Roman times.

Archaeology points to these Islands having contact with such far away lands as the Indian subcontinent since at least 200BC. By the time Europe reaches the islands directly, trade involves a web of Chinese and Muslim interests – all keenly aware of the profits to be made.  And profits there were. Spices reaching Europe would be marked up by around 1000%.

Not bad business, despite the distance and risks!

In  1511 Afonso de Albuquerque defeats the last Sultan of Malacca and drives him from the city thus ending around 100 years of Sultinate rule and providing a base for Portuguese (and Christian) expansion across the island group.  Soon the Banda Islands are located and sailed for with profits clearly in mind (the only known source of nutmeg and mace).

Nutmed & ClovesSo commences the Portuguese establishment of forts and trading stations throughout the islands and the European battle for “spicery”.

So why not add just a dash of Spanish, Dutch and English to this “spicy” dish of history…

But one thing is clear, it is not the spirit of adventure that is driving this story forward. It is  the naked quest for profit, driven by greed and avarice…. so disappointing really…


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The Victoria

With their East African and Indian positions established the Portuguese continue to the east, past India reaching Sumatra, Borneo, the Celebes, Java and then the Spice Islands (Moluccas). It is 1511 in our voyage of discovery.

However, the Spanish are not idle. Following the discovery of America by Columbus, they are pushing their explorations westward at the same time.

Enter Magellan, who presents his plan to the Spanish King Charles V of a westerly trip to reach Asia and the Spice Islands (a voyage previously rejected by the Portuguese King). It is accepted and he sets off with five ships in 1519. This trip results in the first circumnavigation of the globe (albeit at the cost of three of the ships, Magellan himself and the majority of his crew).

Magellan’s expedition reaches the vicinity of the Spice Islands (with well established Portuguese trade and trading establishments) and commences a dispute over their respective “spheres of influence”. Some years prior Pope Alexander VI.  had arbitrated an agreement between each party generously bestowing one-half of the undiscovered world upon the Spanish, and the other half upon the Portuguese (Treaty of Tordesillas). As luck would have it however, the claims overlap at the valuable Spice Islands.

This come to a head when the surviving ships of Magellan’s fleet reach the Moluccas in 1521. The Spanish claim that these islands are within its own hemisphere. The Portuguese disagree.  Inevitable conflict begins between the two.

Nova GuineaThen in 1527, Fernand Cortez, the conqueror of Mexico, sends an armed fleet from New Spain led by Alvaro de Saavedra. On leaving the Spice Islands, well laden with goods, he runs many leagues along the Northern Coast of New Guinea.

Around the same time, Jorge de Menezes from Portugal pulls his ship to the shore of New Guinea to wait out a fierce storm. He names where he stops Ilhas dos Papuas .

By 1530 both Spain and Portugal  were as close as Papua New Guinea…and the British and Dutch were still yet to come…

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