So 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).
So 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…