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The Historical Relation Between Colonialism in Indonesia and the Spice’s Trade

Last updated: 2 Oct 2023  | 

The history of colonialism in Indonesia is intricately linked to the lucrative spice trade that played a significant role in shaping the Indonesian destiny. This article explores the profound connection between colonialism and the spice trade in Indonesia, highlighting the impact it had on the country's history, culture, economy, and long-lasting implications for the present.

The discovery and development of spice plants discovered by ancient people is unstoppable. After trying to study the various types of plants and natural resources available, it turns out that herbal ingredients that can cure illnesses and reduce physical conditions (a type of doping, but made from natural ingredients) can be consumed if mixed with several types of food.

Since 3500 BC the Ancient Egyptians have been using various spices to flavor food and cosmetics and treat the dead. The use of spices extends from the Middle East to the eastern Mediterranean and Europe. Spices from China, Indonesia, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) were originally transported overland by donkey and camel caravans.


Arab traders managed the spice trade for nearly 5,000 years before European explorers discovered routes to India and other spice-producing countries in the east.

Before learning the seasoning technique, ancient people ate their food simply by burning it, without going through any additional processing stages.

Of course, the resulting taste is the simple and pure taste of the ingredients they burn, often the trigger for disease caused by the food they consume. Not only that, the food they hunt is also very easy to prepare and you have to go looking for food every day, so you can't store it for too long. From hunting to the day after returning, they wrapped the game in spice leaves, this inadvertently changes the taste and smell of the prey.

Since the discovery of this technology, ancient people have researched new plants that would help enhance the delicious taste of their food. In addition, they are looking for ways to increase food resistance and resistance to pathogens by using certain spices. Today, spices are still an important addition to the delicious taste of food.

Finding cheaper ways to get spices from the East ushered in a glorious New World era of exploration and discovery. European explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias have traveled long distances to find routes to the sources of spices. Christopher Columbus traveled west from Europe in 1492, finding the route to the spice lands, but discovered the United States of America.

In 1497, the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama found a route around the southern tip of Africa and arrived in Calicut on the southwestern coast of India in 1498. Dagama returned from the journey with lots of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and pepper. It started thousands of years before Christ. The world's greatest spice hunt didn't occur until the 15th century. The trip was initiated by Europeans such as Spain, Portugal, Great Britain and the Netherlands who fought for spice production centers.

Competition is fierce to spend years fighting for spices more valuable than gold. Its efficacy is sought not only as a perfume, but also for preservatives, drugs, and air freshener. European spice exploration was first pioneered by Christopher Columbus, but only the Portuguese Vasco da Gama, who became a successful sailor, recorded gold ink in the 15th century.

This spice route passes through various parts of the world and ports, especially Asia, Africa and Europe. Indonesia is also known as a paradise for various kinds of spices because of its strategic location. Like cloves which grow in Ternate and Tidore, nutmeg which grows naturally in Banda and Sumatra is known as a producer of frankincense, cinnamon and pepper. It used to be a pioneer in the spice trade, and various tribes were involved in forming the archipelago.

Spices have long been a valuable ingredient. Not all regions can produce the spices that meet their needs, so groups of people and even countries that can explore remote areas often travel to conserve the natural resources they need. Historically, it is not uncommon for wars to arise from power struggles over an area to preserve natural resources wherever someone wants to control them. The reason for the war here is how they want to take control of this spice trading market.

Why did Europeans come to Indonesia?

By 1390 cloves reaching Europe would be around 6 tonnes annually, and nutmeg would be around 1.5 tonnes. The first Europeans to enter the archipelago, the Portuguese. Then the Spanish and Dutch came to Indonesia as traders. Later, even the Netherlands established the Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) or the Dutch Trade Alliance. After that, the VOC dominated Indonesia for a long time. It started when the Portuguese headed for the spice production center of the Maluku Islands under the guidance of Francisco Serrau after the conquest of the city of Malacca in 1511.

The arrival of the Portuguese seems to have attracted the attention of Abu Beras, sultan of the Kingdom of Ternate. He then offered to build a fort on Ternate Island in exchange for selling all the carnation products to the Portuguese. With this offer, the Portuguese cooperated. This was the beginning of the Indonesian colonial era. Based on the ambition to dominate the archipelago's rich spice trade through European countries. The kingdoms of Ternate and Tidore, quoted from the official website of the Ministry of Education and Culture (Kemendikbud), developed rapidly thanks to spices, especially cloves.

Initially, Ternate and Tidore lived peacefully side by side. Their arrival had the ambition to hunt and control spices by colonizing the archipelago. Indonesia is rich in spices so it has different regions. At times, it even becomes an item that has high selling value or is expensive. Spices also have medicinal and health benefits. Around 1390, cloves reached Europe reaching about 6 tons annually, and nutmeg up to about 1.5 tons.

The first Europeans to enter the archipelago, the Portuguese. Then the Spanish and Dutch came to Indonesia as traders. The Netherlands also later established the Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) or Dutch trade association. After that, the VOC dominated Indonesia for a long time. The initial entry of the mainland into Indonesia Quoting from the website www.indonesia.go.id, it began after the city of Malacca was conquered in 1511. Under the guidance of Francisco Serau, the Portuguese headed for the spice-producing center of the Marc archipelago.

The arrival of the Portuguese seems to have attracted the attention of Abu Beras, sultan of the Kingdom of Ternate. He then offered to build a fort on the island of Ternate in exchange for selling all the carnation products to the Portuguese. With this offer, the Portuguese agreed to cooperate. This was the beginning of the Indonesian colonial era. Then, after the defeat of the Portuguese in 1641, Dutch merchants came and founded the VOC. During this time, a monopoly on nutmeg was established in 1621, and clove was also monopolized in 1650.

Based on the ambition to dominate the archipelago's rich spice trade by European countries. The kingdoms of Ternate and Tidore, quoted from the official website of the Ministry of Education and Culture (Kemendikbud), thrived thanks to spices, especially cloves. Initially, Ternate and Tidore lived peacefully side by side. But peace did not last long, especially after the arrival of the Portuguese and Spanish. They started playing against each other, and as a result, the two empires disbanded and competed against each other.

The Portuguese came to Marc by making Ternate an ally. Meanwhile the Spanish came to Marc in 1521 by making Tidore their ally. Their arrival not only imposed a trade monopoly, but also disrupted domestic governance. The competition between Portugal and Spain for control of the Maluku Islands ultimately led the two countries to resolve the conflict. Then in 1529 they signed the Treaty of Zaragoza.

As a result of the Agreement, Spain had to leave the Maluku Islands and finally control the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Portuguese continued to trade in the Maluku Islands. In implementing monopoly policies, the VOC has become the richest private company in history. Even forced planting that changed the color of world trade.

The Spice Trade and Indonesia:

Centuries before the arrival of European colonial powers, Indonesia was renowned as the "Spice Islands" or the "East Indies" due to its abundant production of valuable spices. These spices, including cloves, nutmeg, mace, and pepper, were highly sought after in Europe and Asia for their flavoring, preserving, and medicinal properties. The spice trade, therefore, became a major catalyst for European expansion into the region.

European powers, most notably the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Spanish, were lured to Indonesia by the potential profits of the spice trade. The Portuguese were the first to arrive in the early 16th century, establishing a foothold in the region. However, the Dutch quickly emerged as the dominant colonial power due to their establishment of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602.

The VOC, granted a monopoly on spice trading by the Dutch government, established a vast colonial empire in Indonesia. They gained control over key spice-producing regions such as the Moluccas, Banda Islands, and Aceh, employing a combination of trade, alliances, and military force. The Dutch aimed to secure a virtual monopoly on the spice trade, ensuring high profits for themselves.

Impact of Colonialism on Indonesia:

1. Exploitation and Economic Control: The Dutch exploited Indonesia's spice resources, enforcing a system of forced cultivation and trade restrictions, which left the local population impoverished and subservient. This economic control laid the foundation for the Dutch colonial empire and contributed to the underdevelopment of Indonesia. The spice plantations were often managed through the "culture system," which forced farmers to grow export crops instead of subsistence crops, further exacerbating poverty and food shortages.

2. Cultural Exchange: The arrival of European colonial powers brought cultural exchanges between Indonesia and the West. European influences blended with local traditions, resulting in a unique blend of cultures that can still be observed in Indonesia today. The introduction of Christianity, the adoption of European architectural styles, and the spread of Western education left indelible marks on Indonesian society.

 

3. Infrastructure Development: Despite the exploitative nature of colonial rule, the Dutch did bring some positive changes, including the establishment of infrastructure such as roads, ports, and buildings. However, these developments primarily served the interests of the colonial administration rather than benefiting the local population. The infrastructure projects aimed at facilitating the spice trade and enabling efficient extraction and transportation of the spices.

4. Nationalism and Independence Struggles: The period of colonial rule sparked a sense of nationalism among Indonesians, who sought to regain their independence and rid themselves of foreign domination. The struggle for independence eventually led to the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945. Leaders like Sukarno and Hatta emerged during this period, galvanizing the Indonesian people in their fight for self-determination and national identity.

The connection between colonialism in Indonesia and the spice trade left a lasting impact on the country's history. The exploitation of spices by European colonial powers, particularly the Dutch, shaped the social, economic, and cultural landscape of Indonesia. While the spice trade brought wealth and prosperity to the colonizers, it left a legacy of underdevelopment, social inequality, and struggles for the indigenous population.

Today, Indonesia stands as a sovereign nation, rich in culture and resources, yet still grappling with the legacies of its colonial past. The history of colonialism and the spice trade serve as a reminder of the importance of acknowledging and learning from the past, fostering understanding, and promoting equitable development in the present and future. It is crucial to recognize the contributions of the indigenous population, reclaim cultural heritage, and promote fair economic practices that empower all Indonesians. By doing so, the nation can move forward while embracing its history and diversity.

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