The Spice Islands

Fresh Cinnamon on the Banda Islands with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia

The tiny insignificant Banda Islands in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago were once the world’s only supplier of nutmeg. Also known as the Spice Islands, these remote islands played a large part in history that not many people know about. The Banda Islands are isolated in the Banda Sea off the island of Seram. At the beginning of the 17th century they were at the centre of fierce and bloody battles between the English and the Dutch .

Nutmeg from the Spice Islands

Nutmeg was the seventeenth century wonder drug. People used it as a medicine for rheumatism and digestion, as well as an aphrodisiac. But its significance grew when Elizabethan doctors claimed that it was the only cure for the plague. Suddenly this little nut became more expensive than silver and more sought after than gold. During these times it was fashionable to carry a small nutmeg grinder about your person. Due to its strong aroma even small amounts of the spice, people also used it to disguise nasty smells.

At this time the maps of this side of the world were blank. No one could know for sure where exactly to find nutmeg. The merchants in London bought their spices in Venice and these merchants had bought them in Constantinople. This did not deter the adventurers. The search for the fabled Spice Islands prompted some of the great ocean journeys. We know these today as the Age of Discovery. While searching for a route west to the East Indies Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.

Fresh nutmeg on the Spice Islands with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia
Fresh nutmeg on the Spice Islands in Indonesia – Coralia Liveaboard

Battle for the Banda Islands

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the Banda Islands in 1511 in what we now know as the ‘spice race’. In the struggle for control of the nutmeg trade, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English we fighting.

Run, is one of the smallest and richest of all the islands in the East Indies. The English colonised it in 1616. In 1667, after many battles for control of the Banda Islands, the Dutch swapped the small island of Manhattan (now New York) for Run! This gave the Dutch full control over the islands and the valuable nutmeg.

After the Spice Islands were captured in 1817 by the British, nutmeg trees were taken to Ceylon, Grenada, Singapore and other British colonies. Thus leading to the decline of the Dutch control of the spice trade.

Dutch fort on Banda Neira in the Banda Islands with the volcano in the background with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia
Dutch fort on Banda Neira in the Banda Islands with the volcano in the background – Coralia Liveaboard

Visit the Spice Islands in the Banda Sea

During a visit to the Banda Islands you can step back into history and take a stroll around the town on Banda Neira. This quiet little town sits in the shadow of Banda Api, a volcano that last erupted in 1988. You can visit the old Dutch fort which sits on top of a hill overlooking the town and the volcano. There is also a museum full of interesting artifacts and paintings.

Nutmeg still grows in the Banda Islands and there is a chance to walk around a real life nutmeg plantation. The Spice Islands are also known for cloves that grow here too. While walking around the plantation you will see cinnamon trees and afterwards enjoy some cinnamon tea in the shade of some cocoa trees.

Dutch fort on Banda Neira in the Spice Islands with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia
Dutch fort on Banda Neira in the Spice Islands – Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia

And just so you know you can dive around the Banda Islands too!!! Join Coralia on a Forgotten Islands cruise from Saumlaki to Ambon. You can also experience the Banda Islands on a Raja Ampat, Banda Islands & Ambon or vice versa. See our cruise schedule with dates here.