The Forgotten Founder of Singapore

I have always been surprised by the lack of recognition in Singapore for its co-founder William Farquhar. Please correct me if I am wrong but I cannot find a street or place named after him anywhere in the city.

William Farquhar Image 3

In 1818 the Governor-General of India authorized Stamford Raffles to establish a post at the southern end of the Strait of Malacca provided it did not cause a conflict with the Dutch and his orders stated:

The long experience and peculiar qualifications of Major Farquhar, the late resident of Malacca, and his late employment at Riau and Lingga, eminently fit him for the command of the post which it is desirable to establish, and the local superintendence of our interest and affairs.

While the British Resident in Malacca from 1803 to 1818, William Farquhar had established friendly relations with the Temenggong Abdu’r-Rahman of Johor. Knowing that the Dutch would soon be returning to the Strait of Malacca after the hand-over of Java and its dependencies by the British in 1816, he concluded an agreement with the Temenggong (A Malay Chief) allowing the British to establish a settlement in the Riau Islands. Subsequently the Dutch had installed their Resident in the Riau Islands and forced the Temenggong to annul the agreement with Farqhuar.
It was Raffles and Farquhar who landed together at the Singapore River on 29 January 1819. The Temenggong who lived nearby came out to welcome his old friend William Farquhar. Introduced to Raffles, he told them of the current dispute within the Johor-Riau Sultanate. In 1810 the Sultan of Johor had died, his eldest son Tengku Long was his successor; however, the powerful Bugis faction in the Johor-Riau court exploited Tengku Long’s absence at his own wedding to declare his more compliant younger brother as Sultan.

Raffles took advantage of this dispute to sign an agreement on 6 February 1819 with ‘the legitimate successor to the empire of Johor’ for the British to set up a trading settlement on part of Singapore Island and his official Proclamation reads:

The Honourable Sir T.S.Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen and its dependencies, Agent to the Governor-General is pleased to to certify the appointment by the Supreme Government of Major William Farqhuar of the Madras Engineers to be Resident and to command the troops of Singapore and its dependencies and all persons are hereby directed to obey Major Farquhar accordingly.

Farquhar with his long experience in Malacca was an effective Resident of Singapore for the next four years until churlishly dismissed by Raffles on 1 May 1823, just before his term was about to end.

William Farquhar Book

During his twenty years in Malacca and Singapore, William Farquhar amassed a unique collection of 477 paintings of native flora and fauna especially commissioned from local artists. The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings was presented to the Royal Asiatic Society London in 1827 where it remained until put up for auction in the 1990’s. Thanks to the generosity of Goh Geok Khim, founder of the brokerage firm GK Goh, the collection was purchased for S$3 million in 1995 and donated to the Singapore History Museum in honor of his father. The William Farquhar Natural History Collection is now listed as one of the National Treasures of Singapore.

William Farquhar.Collection

For those interested in knowing more about the founding of Singapore, the book or e-book of East Indies is available on order from your favourite bookstore, or the usual online retailers.

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The Ambon War Cemetery


They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them nor the years condemn, at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.


The Commonwealth Graves Cemetary in Ambon is green oasis in the busy town of Ambon, carefully maintained in honour of our fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen, a visit here is a deeply moving experience.

After the fall of Ambon in February 1942, a former Dutch army camp on the island was used to hold Australian, American and Dutch prisoners of war, captured during the invasion. The recently published book Ambon by Roger Maynard tells the story of the Australian 2/21 Battalion known as Gull Force sent to defend Ambon from the expected Japanese invasion. This Japanese prisoner of war camp had the highest death rate of any similar camp during the war. With food reduced to starvation levels combined with forced labour, the death toll soared in 1945. By the time of the Japanese capitulation only 123 of the 532 Australians left on Ambon in late 1942 remained alive. It was one of the highest death tolls that Australians experienced in captivity and many of these survivors would continue to suffer the effects of their long ordeal.

Private Leo Ayres

Private Leo Ayres

The Gull Force Associaton conducts a pilgrimage to Ambon every year to coincide with Anzac Day, where a service is held at the Tantui War Cemetery with full military support.

GullForcememorial Tantui

The War Cemetery was constructed on the site of this camp (known as Tantui) after the war. The cemetery contains Australian soldiers who died during the Japanese invasion of Ambon and Timor, plus those who died in captivity in one of the many camps constructed by the Japanese on the Moluccas Islands, including many British prisoners who were transferred from Java to the islands in April 1943. Soon after the war, the remains of prisoners of war from Haruku and other camps on the island were removed to Ambon and in 1961, at the request of the Indonesian Government, the remains of 503 graves in Makassar War Cemetery on the island of Celebes were added to the cemetery.

Ambongrave stone

The total number of graves in the cemetery is over 2,000. Of this total over half are Australians, of whom about 350 belonged to the 2/21st Australian Infantry Battalion. Most of the 800 British casualties belonged to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force; nearly all the naval dead were originally buried at Makassar. The cemetery is laid out in a series of terraces approached by short flights of steps on the central axis. The Ambon Memorial, which is in the form of a shelter, stands on the first terrace. It commemorates over 450 Australian soldiers and airmen who died in the region of Celebes and the Molucca Islands and have no known grave. The Cross of Sacrifice stands on the highest terrace in a wide expanse of lawn; the terrace below it contains most of the burials from Makassar. All the graves are marked with bronze plaques mounted on concrete pedestals and set in level turf. Tropical trees and shrubs are planted throughout the cemetery and around its boundaries. There are 1,956 Commonwealth burials of the 1939-1945 war here,357 of these are unidentified. There are 186 Dutch burials here, 15 being unidentified, and 1 American Airman. The American airman was killed with 7 Australian airmen in July 1945; all were buried in a collective grave in Plot 28.

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The Ambon War Cemetery – Damien Parer


They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them nor the years condemn, at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

The famous Australian war photographer, Damien Parer, was killed on the afternoon of 17 December 1944 by Japanese machine-gun fire, while walking backwards and filming the faces of advancing American marines on the small Pacific island of Peleliu. He was subsequently buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetary in Ambon where we found his gravestone. Parer’s short life was the stuff of legend. He was good looking, talented, fearless and deeply religious. With an infectious laugh, he was everybody’s friend.

Damien Parer 3

Parer was the first official Australian photographer of World War II. In January 1940 he sailed for the Middle East with elements of the Australian Imperial Force. From the gunboat, H.M.S. Ladybird, he filmed the bombardment of Bardia, Libya, on 2 January 1941. With Frank Hurley, he covered the Australian assault on Tobruk on 21-22 January. Three days later he accompanied ‘C’ Company, 2nd/11th Battalion, in its attack on the aerodrome at Derna, and shot his first film of infantry advancing under fire. His work was seen in war newsreels and his name became well known across Australia.

When Japan entered World War II Parer returned to Australia. After covering operations with Kanga Force around Wau and Salamaua, New Guinea, in 1942-43, he filmed the Australian withdrawal along the Kokoda Track in Papua. On 18 September Cinesound Productions Ltd released the newsreel, ‘Kokoda Front Line’, which used his footage. This film was one of four films that won the inaugural award for Best Documentary at the 1943 Academy Awards and an Oscar was presented to its producer, Ken Hall, ‘for distinctive achievement in documentary production’.

Damian Parer 1

In 1943 Parer’s footage was used in the Cinesound newsreels, Men of Timor, The Bismarck Convoy Smashed and—arguably his finest work—Assault on Salamaua. Disgruntled with his salary and allowances, and convinced that the Department of Information had victimized his colleagues George Silk and Alan Anderson, he resigned in August and joined Paramount News. Thereafter he covered American operations. On 17 September 1944, the second day of the invasion of Peleliu Island in the Palau group, Parer was killed by a Japanese machine-gunner and was subsequently buried in the Ambon war cemetery.

Lest we forget

Damien Parer

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Taking a Taste of the Archipelago

2015 logo

Archipelago Panel

By Phil Kimmins

“Get out there. Get on a boat, a plane, and go visit Indonesia, because you’ll find the most extraordinary food.”

This was the advice of Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) Founder & Director Janet de Neefe, hosting a fascinating panel session on Sunday 5 October. Visitors were treated to an informative and humorous look at the diverse range of foods and spices of the Indonesian archipelago, The Spice Islands.

Panellists Bondan Winarno, legendary East Javanese cook featured on Saturday’s Kitchen Program, and Ian Burnet, “a man who knows his nutmeg,” provided a highlight for foodies. Bondan enchanted the audience with anecdotes and his in-depth knowledge of the origins and histories of all things culinary within Indonesia.

Ian Burnet, who moved from Australia to Indonesia in 1968, delved into the history of the Spice Islands and fascinated guests with some bizarre recipes popular in the 17th century. Ian hosts sailing ventures that roam the archipelago on voyages of culinary discovery.

An entertaining session concluded with Janet reminding visitors of her dream of a food festival for next year and what the cuisine of Indonesia means to her.

“I never stop being curious about Indonesian food and I love these sorts of sessions, especially with Bondan Winarno, because he is so knowledgeable, and Ian Burnet’s great knowledge of spices. The little pearls of wisdom and wonderful anecdotes are a joy.”


About Global Indonesian Voices
Global Indonesian Voices (GIV) is Indonesia’s first independent online media, established for ‘Connecting Indonesia to the World‘ by publishing independent news and stories written by and for Indonesians and Indonesia-philes all around the world.

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Congratulations President Joko Widodo


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Operation Opossum — The Rescue of the Sultan of Ternate, 1945

The Sultan's Palace in Ternate

The Sultan’s Palace in Ternate

On our visit to the Sultan’s Palace in Ternate we learned of how the family was rescued from the Japanese at the end of the Second World War. Here are the details summarised from an article by Kevin Smith in Sabretache, Vol LIII No 4 — December 2012 (The Journal of the Military Historical Society of Australia) and provided by Kevin O’Donnell whose father, Signaller Walter O’Donnell, was the radio operator for Z Special Unit

Sultan Muzaffar Syah who was evacuated to Australia as a small boy

Sultan Muzaffar Syah who was evacuated to Australia as a small boy

An Australian Z Special Unit was formed in 1945 to extract the Sultan of Ternate with his immediate family and followers from Japanese detention on Ternate. Sultan Iskander Mohammed Jabir Shah under Japanese domination on Ternate since its capture in 1942 had become fearful for his personal safety and that of his family. He secretly sent several of his followers in a prahu to the AIF Headquarters on Morotai, about 200 kilometres to the north-east of Ternate to appeal for rescue.

Ten Australian Z Special Unit commandos were led by Captain Kroll of the Netherlands East Indies Army and joined by a Timorese Corporal from the NEIA.The raiding party left Morotai on two American fast PT boats and landed on Hiri island, just north of Ternate on 8 April 1945. A messanger was immediately sent to the Sultan who was detained in a house on the upper slopes of Mount Gammalama. On receiving the message written in Dutch by Captain Kroll, the Sultan replied that he would try to come out but was surrounded by traitors.
Z Special Unit sent five large native prahus with a loyal crew to a pre-arranged pick up point at the village of Kubala on Ternate. Sultan Iskander Shah and his family managed to elude his captors and walked six hours during the night to reach the village.

The Sultan’s landing on Hiri on April 10 was described by Major Hardwick as “One of the most dramatic scenes I have witnessed in these lands”. The Ternate Sultanate provided a line of Islamic rulers going back for eight centuries and there was great excitement on Hiri as word spread from one loyal kampong to the next that their Sultan was free. Elders came forward to kiss his feet and all his subjects squatted briefly on one knee with their hands pressed to their faces in a traditional gesture of loyal homage. Hardwick found the Sultan to be a man of considerable culture who could speak French, English and Dutch and he describes a local bodygard, dressed in white and armed with parangs, who protected the Sultan and his family while they rested overnight.

Having learnt of the Sultan’s escape a Japanese landing party crossed over from Ternate at dawn the following day, resulting in a firefight which caused Japanese deaths and their withdrawal, but at the cost of two of the lives of the Australian commando force — Lieutenant George Bosworth the Commando Leader and Private Robert Higginbotham.
That same day they all left on the PT boats for Morotai and the Sultan and his family were flown by Catalina flying boat to Brisbane in Australia where they found refuge for the remainder of the war.
Dutch plans for the Sultan to play a role in the post war Netherlands East Indies never eventuated after the declaration of Indonesia’s independence in August 1945 by President Sukarno and Vice-President Hatta, and the Indonesian resistance to the Dutch return to their former colony.

The Sultan's Family outside their Queensland home

The Sultan’s Family outside their Queensland home

The Sultan's young children in Queensland

The Sultan’s young children in Queensland

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Indonesia’s Spice Islands by Schooner

Here is an article written on our 2013 sailing adventure.

Reposted from Destinasian. Article by Johnny Langenheim and photos by Jack Wylie

The sun is already hot and high by the time Run comes into view. Perched on the prow of the Ombak Putih, I have to squint to make out the island, a tiny smudge on a languorous blue horizon that stretches otherwise unbroken in every direction. We’re a good six hours behind schedule, having sailed overnight from Ambon against un-seasonable currents. It’s a small enough delay considering the three days it took me to get here from London, flying via Singapore, Bali, Sulawesi, and finally Ambon, the capital of Indonesia’s Maluku Province. I’m also mindful of the fact that four centuries ago, a journey like this would have taken the better part of a year, and that was if you made it at all, what with storms and scurvy and skirmishes with locals, not to mention getting hopelessly lost because no one could measure longitude yet. But that didn’t stop Europe’s most powerful nations from trying: back then, the Moluccas Islands were arguably the hottest property on the planet.

The ships purser serves breakfast

The ships purser serves breakfast

Our quarters are decidedly more inviting than those of an East Indiaman. Built in a Kalimantan boatyard in the style of a traditional wooden phinisi schooner, the Ombak Putih is 35 meters long, a beamy 10 meters across amidships, and sprouts two masts rigged fore-and-aft with marine-blue sails. Run by a Bali-based outfit called Sea Trek, she has a dozen snug en-suite cabins, decks strewn with sunbeds, and thrice-daily buffets that mean we’re more likely to gain paunches than perish.

The Ombak Putih

The Ombak Putih

“It’s amazing to think that these tiny volcanic islands sparked the Age of Discovery,” says author Ian Burnet as he joins me at the bow, a mug of coffee in hand. “And the establishment of the world’s first true multinational companies for that matter—the Dutch and British East India Companies,” he adds, gesturing at the indistinct blob on the skyline. Burnet, a retired geologist who’s making the most of his retirement by traveling the archipelago and writing books on Indonesian history, is the guest lecturer on this two-week voyage around the fabled Spice Islands.

An hour later we weigh anchor off Run, board a speedboat, and putter across a shallow reef to the shore, where two shyly smiling kids peep out from a beached fishing boat. There’s no one else to be seen. Considering its storied history, Run really doesn’t look like much—white sand, coconut palms, lush vegetation clinging to steep slopes, the rusting corrugated roofs of a neatly kept fishing village. A typical tropical paradise. But then our guide, Ari, points up at a stand of nondescript trees on a hillside and says, “Nutmeg.” And that’s really where the story begins.


These days, nutmeg is an unexceptional spice for the English, grated into mulled wine or eggnog when the weather turns cold. In the middle ages, however, it was believed to be a panacea for everything from the common cold to the plague. But it was as hard to come by as it was desirable; in Elizabethan times, nutmeg was worth more than its weight in gold. This unassuming seed together with another spice-rack staple, clove, drove the likes of Ferdinand Magellan and Francis Drake to circumnavigate the globe. Because back then, nutmeg only grew in the fertile volcanic soils of the Banda Islands, and cloves on just a few islands to the north. Control of these far-flung specks meant control of the most lucrative trade in the world.

It turns out that Run is not quite as deserted as it first seemed; it’s Friday, and all the men are at the mosque. After prayers, they spill out wearing sarongs and peci caps and neatly pressed white shirts. Burhan, a jovial young man who runs the Nailaka Homestay, takes us under his wing, leading us through a marketplace smoky with barbecuing fish and clove cigarettes and up to his little nutmeg plantation. In the 17th century, Run was positively overgrown with nutmeg trees. It was also the only island controlled by the British at a time when the notorious VOC—the Dutch East India Company—had all but monopolized the East Indies spice trade. Novelist Giles Milton describes how this came about in his rip-roaring popular history Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, which tells the tale of Nathaniel Courthope, a merchant seaman from Kent who made Run his bolt-hole against the Dutch. Courthope built a fortified trading post here, defending it against all odds for more than four years until he was killed in an ambush. The British got the last laugh, though; in 1667, at the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch agreed to a land swap that gave them formal control over Run in exchange for a small island on the east coast of North America. That island’s name was Manhattan.

The island of Run

The island of Run

There’s little else to be seen on Run, save for the ruins of a fort Courthope built there. But Banda Neira, 20 kilometers or so to the east, is a different story. An 18th-century lithograph of the island and its surrounds depicts a volcano with smoke billowing theatrically from its crater, a fortress presiding over a shoulder of rock, and little houses huddled on the shoreline. The scene today is almost as dramatic. Gunung Api (literally, “fire mountain”) hasn’t erupted for hundreds of years, but its steep flanks are no less impressive for the absence of sulfurous smoke; and Fort Belgica, a massive stone pentagon with circular towers built by the Dutch in 1611, is still largely intact. Banda Neira and its larger neighbor Banda Besar protect a glassy lagoon dotted with fishing boats. From a distance, the waterfront of its only town, also called Banda Neira, has an oddly Mediterranean look, with squat palms and the whitewashed colonnades of the Hotel Maulana.

On closer inspection, the town is a little run- down. But everywhere there are reminders of the colonial past, for Banda Neira was, until the end of the 18th century, the administrative capital of the VOC’s global trade in nutmeg. Bronze cannons, broad avenues, an imposing 19th-century church, and the elegantly dilapidated governor’s residence all cast an air of forlorn and incongruous grandeur. You sense that even in its heyday, the place must have had a melancholy feel. This suspicion is confirmed when I venture inside the governor’s residence. On one of the windows, you can just make out the letters of a suicide note scratched there 200 years ago by a homesick colonist. Ari tells me he hanged himself from a chandelier.

Later, Abba Rizal, proprietor of the Mutiara Guesthouse, places a young coconut in front of me and sits down for a chat in the shade of his patio. As I sip the coconut’s water from a straw, it occurs to me that there’s a decidedly Arabic cast to my host’s features. “That’s because my ancestors came from Yemen,” he says with a laugh. “Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the first VOC governor, massacred most of the native Bandanese in 1621, so the population today is descended from Arabic and Chinese traders and indentured laborers from other islands.” His immaculate guesthouse is filled with whimsical treasures: rusting cannonballs, a ship in a bottle, a hand-cranked gramophone. There are only three rooms, but he says he’s building a bigger waterside property. “It’s going to have themed rooms showcasing Banda history and culture.”

The market in Banda Neira

The market in Banda Neira

Rizal sees himself as the spiritual heir of Des Alwi, one of the Banda Islands’ most famous sons. Alwi was something of a renaissance man—an independence fighter, historian, diplomat, filmmaker, and, in his later years, the driving force behind the preservation and restoration of the islands’ heritage. He built the Hotel Maulana in the 1970s, and though its charms have faded over the years, in its heyday it played host to the likes of Mick Jagger and Princess Diana. Until his death in 2010, Alwi was also the Bandas’ most ardent tourism booster.

“I’m an entrepreneur,” Rizal says simply. “And this place could be an amazing destination if we developed it properly.”


We leave the bandas and island-hop slowly northwest. On Pulau Ai, we visit a large nutmeg plantation, where a man called Igo shows us how to harvest the ripe fruits using a long bamboo pole with a basket on the end. He explains the various parts of the fruit—the skin, used to make sweets and jams; the scarlet-colored membrane, which yields mace, and the nut itself. Torres Strait pigeons coo from the treetops; they’re a delicacy here as their flesh is naturally infused with the nutmeg they feed on. In the village, nutmeg dries in the sun and an old man sits on his doorstep calmly cracking a big pile of shells with a rock.

The Bajau Laut people live off what they can harvest from the sea

The Bajau Laut people live off what they can harvest from the sea

We skirt the south coast of Seram and visit the island of Saparua, scene of an early rebellion against Dutch rule led by an Ambonese soldier known as Pattimura, who achieved a number of unlikely victories before being betrayed and executed in 1817, gaining folk-hero status for his troubles. The slopes of Saparua are thick with clove trees. Harvesting their fragrant flower buds is a surprisingly hazardous pursuit. Salim, a local farmer, agrees to demonstrate, leading us up to a little orchard where he lashes a long bough to the slender trunk of a clove tree as a makeshift scaffold. “It’s easy to fall and kill yourself. Two people have already died this year,” he tells me cheerfully.

A beauty aid of rice and tumeric

A beauty aid of rice and tumeric

As we sail northward into the watery province of North Maluku, clock time begins to lose its grip and I surrender to a diurnal cycle marked by sunrises and sunsets that are humbling in their beauty. Mornings are spent visiting little villages; in the afternoons we snorkel vibrant coral reefs. The most impressive lies off Kusu Island, in a stretch of water where the British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace was becalmed 150 years earlier, en route to the twin volcanoes of Tidore and Ternate, our final destination. The waters here are filled with big pelagic species like giant trevally and dogtooth tuna.

Wayatimu Island

Wayatimu Island

By the time the cloud-capped cone of Tidore appears, it feels as though we’ve entered the realm of myth. For nearly a thousand years, Ternate and Tidore were two of the most powerful sultanates in the Malay Archipelago and the sole global supplier of cloves. Mortal enemies, they vied for dominion of territory and trade in precolonial times, and used Machiavellian cunning to mitigate the control of the Europeans. And they still survive, albeit in a much diminished form.

Approaching Tidore Island

Approaching Tidore Island

Much smaller than its neighbor, Tidore today feels like it has lapsed into a gentle dotage. I take a becak motorcycle taxi round the island, passing through Christian and Muslim villages with barely a division between the two. Cloves dry in the sun, their scent hanging heavy in the air. Built in 2010, the Sultan’s Palace is a replica of the original structure, which was erected 200 years earlier. I’m greeted not by the sultan, but by his personal secretary, who shows me around. There isn’t much to see, save for a beautiful hand-painted Koran dating to 1657, a collection of brass spittoons, and some old maps. “Sultan Djafar Sjah, the 36th Sultan of Tidore, died last year and we haven’t named his successor yet,” he announces, before slipping into childhood reminiscences of the old palace, where his father served before him.

Ternate, by contrast, is a bustling center of industry and commerce. The market is a happy mayhem of stalls selling batik textiles, great piles of fruits and vegetables, and every kind of fish, while the food stalls along the harbor hawk such regional specialties as gohu, a sort of tuna sashimi. The island is dominated by—or, more accurately, it is—the highly active Gamalama volcano, which had its last major eruption in 2012, when it showered the city in ash.

It was in Ternate that Alfred Russel Wallace wrote his famous letter to Charles Darwin, outlining his independently conceived theory of natural selection and prompting the latter to hastily publish his own work, On the Origin of Species. I visit the house Wallace was said to have lived in for a year, an airy but rundown bungalow now occupied by relations of the sultan. It offers no outward signs of its famous tenant.

Finally, there is the spice warehouse. An unassuming storefront behind the marketplace gives way to an enormous depot, where men empty sacks onto clove mountains and women sort through endless baskets of nutmeg. “We buy spices and copra from all the nearby islands—Halmahera, Tidore, Jailolo, Obi, and the Bandas,” says Ineke, daughter of the Chinese-Indonesian owner.

Ternate at dusk

Ternate at dusk

Back on board the Ombak Putih, Burnet tells me, “Nutmeg and clove have been traded here for at least 3,500 years. And the Chinese were trading with the Moluccas centuries before the Portuguese arrived.” There is a tendency to think of the spice trade as moving from East to West. But its arteries stretched from this remote seascape all over the world, affecting geopolitics in ways that can still be felt to this day. It occurs to me that, in a way, the quest for these islands was a key moment in the advent of our globalized world.

In 1750, a Frenchman improbably named Pierre Poivre smuggled 3,000 clove, nutmeg, and fruit trees from the Moluccas to Mauritius, marking the end of the VOC’s monopoly over the trade. And so the Spice Islands began their slow but inexorable decline on the world stage, eventually settling into somnolent obscurity. I’m glad for it in a way; it’s allowed for my own little voyage of discovery.

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