A large crowd gathered at the Festival Club at Bar Luna on Thursday evening for an island-hopping adventure across Indonesia with voyager and historian Ian Burnet. The moderator, Toni Pollard, interviewed Ian about his three books on Indonesia – Spice Islands (2011), East Indies (2013) and Archipelago (2015).
Some of the questions from Toni Pollard were:
‘What are your memories of those first days in Jakarta back in 1968? Was it way back then that you felt Indonesia had grabbed hold of your soul and would not let go?’
‘In Spice Islands you tell how for centuries, even millennia before the Europeans were involved, spices were being traded across the world. Tell us about this pre-European spice trade.’
‘Why were spices such as nutmeg and cloves so highly sought after and so valuable in Europe, five hundred years ago, that men risked their lives and countries like Portugal, Spain, Holland and England invested vast sums to mount expeditions to find them at their source?’
‘Many of the chapters of East Indies open with you standing right on the very spot where major events in the history of the great trading companies occured. Tell us about some of these moments, on these historic spots’.
‘In the book Archipelago you branch out into a much more personal approach to writing history. You undertake a journey from Malacca – like the centuries of explorers and traders before you – and travel all the way across Indonesia’s vast emerald girdle of islands ending in East Timor, telling the reader the highlights of the history of each place as you go. What modes of transport did you use to travel the vast distances?’
‘After Bali your journey takes you into what was once Portuguese territory. Although the Portuguese domination in trade only lasted a century – the 16th century – they have had a lasting impact on the eastern islands, through the Catholicism that came with them.One notorious band of traders, the Larantuqeiros lasted unchallenged well into the Dutch VOC era. Tell us about them?’
‘Those of us who have travelled throughout the archipelago over decades have experienced some real highs and some ghastly lows in the accomodation available in various places. What were the zenith and nadir of your accomodation experiences on this journey?’
‘You end your journey in East Timor (Timor Leste) and write very movingly about its history, especially in its recent past. What does East Timor mean to you?
Thanks to Bar Luna and the UWRF for hosting this event. It was a very spontaneous and interesting session with a lot of audience involvement, especially from those with an intimate knowledge of Indonesia, and those wishing to learn more about the history and culture of this fascinating archipelago nation.
Ian Burnet and Toni Pollard at Bar Luna before the UWRF interview (Cathy Morrison)