The rivers of East Borneo, such as the Kapuas, Seruyan, Barito (Banjar), Mahakam, Berau, Kayan and Sesayap were the geographic highways that provided the only means to transport people and goods through the dense forests and mountains of Borneo and provide a connection between the coastal Malays and the Dyaks of the interior.
This early version of a map of Borneo by Herman Moll from 1732 shows Banjarmasin on the south coast of Borneo, at the mouth of what is here called the Banjar River and surrounded by the Pepper Country.
The Pepper Country which according to Joseph Conrad was where:
The seventeenth-century traders went there for pepper, because the passion
for pepper seemed to burn like a flame of love in the breast of Dutch and
English adventurers about the time of James the First. Where wouldn’t they
go for pepper! For a bag of pepper they would cut each other’s throats without
hesitation … the bizarre obstinacy of that desire made them defy death in
a thousand shapes; the unknown seas, the loathsome and strange diseases;
wounds, captivity, hunger, pestilence and despair.
– Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
The Dutch East India Company were mainly interested in the pepper trade but Banjarmasin was also the outlet for all the natural forest products which came down the river as well as gold, tin and diamonds.
In 1837 coal was also discovered in the interior and now the Dutch took an interest in coal mines, thus increasing Banjarmasin’s economic and strategic importance. The Dutch managed to involve themselves in a quarrel over the choice of a new Sultan by providing military support to the candidate of their choice and when he did became Sultan he served as their vassal. The main problem was that, according to traditional law, the new puppet Sultan was never recognised as legitimate. During a people’s revolt in 1859, Dutch troops were required to put down the rebellion and the struggle caused considerable loss of life and immense damage to property in parts of southern Borneo. By 1862 Dutch troops had won the upper hand, the Sultanate was disbanded and the Dutch gained direct control.
As part of their war booty the Dutch seized the Banjarmasin Diamond. Once owned by the Sultan of Banjarmasin, the stone was a state heirlooms and a symbol of the Sultan’s sovereignty. After the Sultanate was abolished the rough diamond was sent to the Netherlands, where it was cut into a multifaceted rectangle of 36 carats and is now displayed in the Rijksmuseum.
Rough, this diamond was assumedly around 70 carats. When the diamond workers turned the gem into a 36-carat polished stone, it lost almost half its size. They cut the diamond into a rectangular(ish) shape. A cutting loss of almost 50% is a lot, but not unusual for a diamond this shape and size. The Rijksmuseum describes it as: “A white, slightly square cut diamond of thirty-six carats from Banjarmasin.” Other characteristics are:
- Size: l 2.1 cm × w 1.7 cm × h 1.4 cm
- Weight: 7.65 gr
The Rijksmueum Museum caption reads, “This diamond is the spoil of war. This diamond was once owned by Panembahan Adam, Sultan of Banjarmasin (Kalimantan).”
The Banjarmasin Sultanate was restored in 2010 and the Sultan would like the diamond back. Let’s see what happens.