Saturday, October 26, 2013

Touring Banda

Today we were guided around Banda Naira (Indonesia) by Maga who also filled us in on the history of the Banda islands and the spice trade. Up till now, we knew very little about this subject, let alone this interesting spot that became a world focal point that lasted for centuries.

In the 1600s, the Europeans discovered it as the only world source of nutmeg. Up till then, for centuries the Orientals had protected this valuable source, and kept it a secret. Once discovered though, the Europeans fought with one another for control of it and the Dutch won out and in that, many injustices and atrocities were committed. (Kind of what they do today, but now it's for oil.) Nutmeg was so valuable then, it exceeded the price of gold, weight for weight.

Interested in nutmeg? Here's a few facts from Maga as we toured the nutmeg farm on his family's government leased land. The trees of nutmeg and almond have a symbiotic relationship, so where you see nutmeg, there also you will find almond trees. But an odd and somewhat gross fact is that pigeons eat almond nuts whole for the benefit of the outer coating and later poop out the undigested nut which is still covered in a hard shell. The women go around with a long-handled "picker-upper" (so they don't have to use their hands) to pick up these nuts. They are laid in the sun to dry and after removing the hard shell, they are eaten. Think about that the next time you eat much desired and tasty almonds!

Pooped almonds

Back to nutmegs: these are picked by reaching high up into the tree with a long-handled nutmeg picker which consists of 2 downward facing pegs at the top of a basket that grasps the round nutmeg fruit and drops it into an open slot in the basket...

Nutmeg picker

Nutmeg is the only tropical fruit that is the source of 2 spices - nutmeg and mace. After picking the nutmeg fruit, they must be released from their coverings. These shells (husks) are then dried and used to repel mosquitoes when lit. The interior nut has a red lacy cover (mace) which is next removed and is a distinct tasting spice used in soups, sauces, baked goods, etc. The actual nutmeg (from the dark innermost part) has multiple uses, such as above, and also for essential oils, jam, fragrant candy, cough syrup, medicines, drinks, and even cosmetics.

Handful of nutmegs

The dark black nutmeg in the centre is considered to be a first class product. The 1 on the far right, much lighter in colour, is considered to be 2nd grade. If you scrunch a leaf of the tree, you can smell the pungent aroma of nutmeg. It takes 7 to 9 years before attaining the 1st harvest of these trees and 20 years before reaching full production!

At the museum of Banda Naira, we got a rudimentary insight into the colonial history as Maga our tour guide explained the portraits and painted scenes depicting events of good bad and ugly. Interesting artifacts were displayed like the wicker nutmeg picker, over-the-shoulder basket to collect picked nutmeg, the long-handled "pooped" almond picker-upper, and a large bell that each nutmeg plantation had. Paraphernalia of defense displayed included various cannons, flint lock handguns, swords and shields, and weird shaped helmets.

There were items that gave us a glimpse of everyday life like currency of the Dutch and Chinese, and even a pellet shaped currency issued for wages by the plantations. There was also a working gramophone player which Jordan started up and we listened to an old classical record. Care for a dance?

Old record player

We popped in at the well preserved fort built in 1611 by a Dutchman, Pieter Bot, to secure the Dutch interests here. It is very similar to the pentagonal fort that we saw at Acapulco.

Judy way down there

It's said that at times ghosts of soldiers past still man the site...


Residents while digging in gardens, etc. are still finding artifacts of old pottery, coins, utensils, and even cannons. Next to where Sea Turtle was tied, we saw an old rusty cannon that the gardeners just dug up the previous day while doing landscape maintenance. Jordan pulled back the tarp to take a peek at this newly unearthed authentic cannon.

Just discovered

Consider how low tech they were in comparison to today's unmanned drones with laser GPS guided missiles.

After an informative and very hot tour day, we proceeded to the beautiful and spotless Mutiara Guest House for a spicy but delish homemade dinner prepared by Abba's wife. "Mutiara" is Indonesian for "pearl" which Abba also sells from his Guest House and a shop in town (www.banda-mutiara.com). We shared our table with an interesting and friendly man and woman, Joel and his friend Anna. Joel from the USA and Anna from the Netherlands each reside most the time in Bali. Joel in particular has visited many of the interesting and out of the way places in Indonesia and was full of information on the best places to see and we agreed to meet again for more discussion.

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