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Sunday, August 23, 2020

Banda, The Dark Forgotten Trail


This documentary premiered on July 31 2017, to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Breda, as part of which a coconut-fringed speck on the map, the island of Run, was swapped for the swampy island of Manhattan.

Today, Run, population of about 2050, is almost as inaccessible and isolated as it was 350 years ago. The islanders who appear in this documentary can't watch it. There is no movie theatre on Run nor is there Wi-Fi. Even the phone connection is bad. Electricity is only available between 6pm and 11.30pm, none of it provided by the government. Three years ago a Run native – now a successful Jakartan businessman – provided a diesel generator to supply the homes for five hours every night. By contrast, Manhattan today is, well, New York!

So what made the Dutch swap Manhattan for this less-than-one-square-mile-sized speck among the Banda Islands in Indonesia? In one word: nutmeg. It could be bought for a pittance in the Banda Islands but when sold in Europe its value went up about 32,000 per cent. And the Dutch thought they'd done the real estate deal of the millennium!

Strangely, none of this is mentioned in the book "The Island at the Center of the World" which I was about to buy on ebay when I found a copy on www.archive.org. The twenty dollars saved may go towards the long-wished-for trip to Pulau Run.



In the meantime, I will have to make do with these video clips.

Googlemap Riverbend

P.S. If you want to read more about the spice trade, read "Nathaniel's Nutmeg". BORROW it for free by JOINing UP and then LOGging IN. It mentions the 'swap' of Manhattan for Run on pages 363 to 365.


P.P.S. Reading and writing about the island of Run, I'm reminded of when my old mate Noel Butler came down to Sydney in late 1972 and asked me to join him on an island-hopping adventure through the Indonesian archipelago. I had just accepted a big "promotion" to Group Financial Controller and yet, having spent a very difficult six months kicking off the company's Bougainville contract, I was due for a break and could easily have asked for a couple of months' leave but put my career first. Noel left without me, and I left Sydney anyway early the following year. Fifty years later, my career no longer counts for anything whereas two months hopping from island to island would still be a treasured memory. Regrets, I've had a few ...