Tracing the Spice Trade Sites: Maluku Islands

A nautical journey tracing historical spice trade sites in North Maluku will plow ahead despite increasing tension in the province. North Maluku provincial assistant Hartoyo Kaliman said the trip, which is part of Visit Indonesia Year 2008, would contribute to peace building in the area. Hartoyo said the six-day expedition, which kicked off Sunday, would serve as a promotional gimmick for the province, which is currently facing mounting tension over the October 2007 gubernatorial election.

“This tour will be at just the right moment to send positive images about North Maluku to all people out there, that the province is safe and attractive,” Hartoyo told a press conference here recently according to the article in The Jakarta Post.

In the North Maluku capital of Ternate, several civilians were injured during clashes between supporters of governor hopeful Abdul Gafur and his opponent, incumbent Thaib Armayn, on Monday. The central government has asked the provincial legislature to settle the election dispute, which has evolved as both candidates have claimed victory.

Director of geography and history at the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Endjat Djaenuderadjat, said most demonstrations in Ternate had taken place in front of the governor’s office.

“Our programs will be far away from there, so hopefully everything will run well,” Endjat said.

One hundred people from all over Indonesia, including 75 university students with high academic ranking in various disciplines, will take part in the journey. The group will fly from Jakarta to Ternate and then sail through Maluku waters to several islands which were important spices trade sites, like Bacan, Tidore and Jailolo.

Committee head Triana Wulandari said the tour would serve as a model to develop and promote maritime tourism in the country.

“Indonesia is a maritime country rich in potential, including in the tourism sector. This program can promote our maritime sector by emphasizing its history,” she said.

“In the case of North Maluku, young participants from various
cultural backgrounds will be encouraged to get to know about its history and beauty and tell other people about it.”

Maluku, formerly known as the Molluccas, has long been internationally famous for its spices. In the early seventh century, sailors from mainland China sailed off to seek spices in the area, followed by Arabian traders two centuries later. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Maluku lured major seafaring nations from Europe to come and trade, establishing their power and influence in the eastern part of what is now Indonesia.

Spices growing in Maluku, like cloves and nutmeg, were very valuable. A handful of cloves, for example, was equal in value to a handful of silver. The popularity of spices was due to their ability to preserve and flavor food, as well as their use in potions claimed to cure many ailments such as love sickness, baldness and even the plague.

The program will include several activities, such as tours to historical sites, discussions on maritime matters, an introduction to ships and sea life, as well as arts and cultural performances. After the program, the team will launch a book, a maritime tourism guide of North Maluku.

This year’s journey is the third program to be held jointly by the Culture and Tourism Ministry and the National Education Ministry. Previous trips were conducted in East Java and Papua.