Spice Islands Sailing Adventure 2012 – The Lease (lay-ar-say) Islands


We said farewell the beautiful Banda islands this afternoon in spectacular style, accompanied by a traditional war canoe, a kora-kora, rowed by 20 bare-chested men to the rhythm of gong and drum,  as we sailed out through the Sonnegat, called the ‘sun gap’ as you always see the sun setting between these two islands.


From Banda we sailed overnight to the Lease (pronounced  lay ar say) Islands of Haruku, Saparua, and Nusa Laut, which lie between Ambon and Ceram. These islands are significant because it was on Ambon and these surrounding islands that the Dutch East Indies Company controlled and monopolised the growing of cloves. Each villager had a specified number of cloves trees that he was obliged to grow and harvest, with the cloves to be sold to the VOC at a fixed cost. These cloves could be sold for much more to traders from Java or Macassar , who were often offering twice as much as the Dutch.  The VOC punishment for this ‘illegal trade’ was the cutting down of all the clove trees belonging to the individuals or communities involved.


017Saparua is the largest and most populous of the Lease islands, here we landed on a nice sandy beach next to Fort Duursted and were greeted by a Swiss lady who was staying in one of the beachside cabins.  Fort Duursted has been almost completely restored but has a tragic history. Built to protect the VOC clove monopoly in 1676 by Arnold de Vlaming, it was attacked after a local uprising led by Kapitan Pattimura in 1817, and nearly all the Dutch inside the fort were killed including the Resident, Van de Berg, and only his young son was spared.

020After its seizure, Pattimura defended the fort against a Dutch counter attack and later led an unsuccessful attack on Fort Zeelandia on the adjoining island of Haruku.. Betrayed to the VOC, Pattimura was arrested while in Siri Sori, and he and his comrades were later executed at Fort Victoria in Ambon.


From the Fort we could look across the bay to the town of Siri Sori and its churches. Saparua  had the same inter-communal strife here in 1999 and 2000 as in Ambon. A huge amount of damage was done to homes and religious buildings, and the central government and the respective religious organisations have provided a lot of the funds for rebuilding . There are two separate villages. One is Siri Sori  Serani   with a brand new church (Serani  is an Indonesian term for Christian, the residents of  the Palestinian town of Nazareth were called Nazranis and this became shortened to zerani,  so serani is the Indonesian word used to describe the followers of Jesus of Nazareth), and the other is Siri Sori Islam with its huge mosque,  and there are separate schools for the two religions.

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After visiting the fort and its adjacent museum, we squeezed into in a fleet of colourful red and blue mini mini-vans to tour the island.


The village roads were lined with groves of clove trees laden with their aromatic flower buds, it was harvest time and the clove buds were drying on mats laid out on the side of the road.


We stopped to look at the clove trees and to enjoy the fragrant smell of the drying cloves. Our spice expert and fellow voyager, Ian Hemphill, explained that as the cloves dry in the sun their oil is converted to eugenol , which is what gives off such a strong and characteristic aroma.

Our next stop was the house of the local Raja, where he and his wife welcomed us.  They live in a grand old house full of traditional Dutch style furniture and ornaments, and its walls are lined with family portraits and photographs. The Raja is a hereditary leader of Saparua, going back eight generations and he showed us a tattered  document  written by the King of Holland in 1812, to prove it. Someone decided we should take a group portrait on his front step (thank you Cathy)


The staple diet in the Moluccas is sago and we were anxious to see how sago is produced from the pith inside the trunk of the sago palm. We found the processing plant by a creek and in the middle of a grove of sago palms. The only mechanised part of the process is a motorised cylinder of nails that shreds the trunk into fibres which are then washed by hauling bucket after bucket from the creek and pouring it over the fibres in a cloth sieve. 048 - CopyThe white water flows into a long channel, where the starch sinks and solidifies at the bottom.  Later, in a village kitchen we saw how the starch is sieved into a fine powder, pressed inside clay moulds and then dried in the sun to form wafers or biscuits of sago. Nobody expected sago to be very tasty,  but later we tried some filled with a palm sugar syrup, they were delicious (and we were also hungry).

Ouw is the only village in the Lease Islands that produces kitchen  pottery and the pots are sold as far away as in the markets of Ambon. Visiting a little family pottery, we watched an old lady making a bowl on a hand turned wheel as she sat on the ground. Then she coloured another bowl, already dried, with red oxide and fired it in a small fire of sago palm fronds for 20 minutes, she then glazed the hot bowl with a gob of sizzling resin on a stick.

Our last stop was to see Saparua’s finest surviving example of a baileo or traditional village meeting place, the Baileo Nolloth. It has been constructed entirely without nails, with all the beams and joists notched or tied together, exactly as Najib our fellow voyager and Malaysian architect had described in his talk on traditional Malay architecture.

059For more information visit



and about the Ombak Putih visit http://www.seatrekbali.com

About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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2 Responses to Spice Islands Sailing Adventure 2012 – The Lease (lay-ar-say) Islands

  1. Thank you, Ian; This is a wonderful record of our adventures together around the Moluccas. By the way the Raja on Saparua that you mentioned we met is of the Pattisahusewa royal family. And what sheer coincidence: his wife Ibu Ida is of the Jogjakarta Sultan’s family of which my father is also a descendant. Thus we’re related! What a small world where a Malaysian architect goes to Saparua and discovers an extended relative living there.

    • sia arnason says:

      Najib and Ian! What fun to get Ian’s blog and Najib’s comments. Perhaps we should all get together again and learn more – there are wonderful things to be discovered still!

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