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violence and depopulation on and around Banda - Tristan Mostert, in cooperation with Wim Manuhutu

The way in which the VOC depopulated the last major island of the Banda Islands in 1621 is understandably often cited as a powerful symbol of what was wrong with Dutch colonialism. But it remains important to look closely at what took place in 1621 and at the period as a whole. This brings into focus that the events of 1621 were not isolated, and that 1621 was not an end point either. Not all Bandanese were killed. From the surrounding region, those who managed to escape attempted to recapture their homes. In the period that followed, the VOC, in turn, subsequently applied its methods used in Banda elsewhere in its attempts to obtain a monopoly on cloves as well.
Dutch ships first visited the Banda Islands in 1599, even before the VOC was founded. They encountered a thriving trading community there. During that first encounter, they behaved much likethe many other traders who visited the islands. They paid their port fees, set up a lodge and bought the mace and nutmeg from the islands in exchange for cotton fabrics but also, for example, weapons.


first contact

Soon, however, the relationship took on a more political dimension. In 1602, when another Dutch fleet visited the islands, the Dutch found some of the Bandanese orang kaya prepared to enter into an alliance. As part of this alliance, the Dutch were given first right to buy the nutmeg and mace.
For the Dutch, such treaties would soon become the core of their policy throughout the Moluccas. Although at first the VOC’s military and political ambitions were limited, it soon got a taste for treaties that allowed it to simply exclude its European rivals from the trade there. Similar treaties were concluded, for example, in 1605 with Hitu on the island of Ambon, where the VOC, at the invitation of the Hituese, expelled the Portuguese and took possession of their fort and territories – also the VOC’s first territorial possession. An agreement was reached with the Hituese that the cloves they produced would henceforth be sold exclusively to the VOC, and shortly afterwards a fixed price was set for the cloves. Two years later the VOC built a fort on the island of Ternate to protect the Sultan against the Spanish, who were trying to gain control of the area from the Philippines. There, too, the VOC was promised that, in exchange for military support, all cloves from the Sultan’s territories were to be sold exclusively to the VOC. Thus, the VOC soon turned into a political and military organisation, with forts, soldiers, and local allies.

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Map of Banda. From: De tweede schipvaart der Nederlanders naar Oost-Indie onder Jacob Cornelisz. van Neck en Wybrant Warwijck, 1598-1600 (coll. Rijksmuseum)

The Hituese and Ternatans were engaged in a fierce struggle with the Portuguese and Spanish. It therefore makes sense that they would want to enter into an alliance on those terms. At first glance, however, it is less clear what the Bandanese had to gain from such a treaty. ‘They probably they did not know, what they were actually doing,’ was all Van der Chijs could say about it in 1886, in the first archival study ever written on the Dutch conquest and depopulation of the islands. Many later authors came to similar assessments. However, it is highly doubtful that the Bandanese were really that naive. Alliances were a perfectly conventional part of Southeast Asian politics, and the Dutch, with their large and well-armed ships, were initially seen as very valuable potential allies in Banda and beyond. The Bandanese, although not at war with the Spanish or Portuguese, knew all about conflict and threats – not only with outsiders outside, but also within their small archipelago.
The Dutch had already witnessed this with their own eyes during their first visit to the islands in 1599. As they were anchored off Neira, this trading post was attacked by Labataka, located a little further north. A few days later, the inhabitants of Neira retaliated by launching a counterattack on Labataka with the help of their allies. Specifically Labataka and its allies formed an alliance with the Dutch in 1602. It is a reasonable assumption that both sides saw advantages to this first treaty. In 1605, the Dutch subsequently managed to get almost every community on Banda to sign a similar treaty. The only community that ultimately did not commit to this treaty was Lontor.

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Meeting of the Bandanese and their allies. From: De tweede schipvaart der Nederlanders naar Oost-Indie onder Jacob Cornelisz.van Neck en Wybrant Warwijck, 1598-1600 (coll. Rijksmuseum)

frustrated ambitions

The 1605 treaty came right at the time when the VOC was becoming increasingly political and military in nature. As a result of the conquests and treaties, the VOC acquired, at least on paper, the exclusive right to buy cloves, nutmeg and mace in ever larger parts of the Moluccas. This soon gave the VOC directors in the Netherlands, and several senior VOC officials who advised them, the impression that a total monopoly on these spices was within reach. The pursuit of such a monopoly became the core of their policy.
To their frustration, however, they soon discovered that on the ground, this monopoly turned out to be very much intractable. In Banda, for instance, several communities continued to trade with the many visitors to the islands – including the English, who also started appearing in the Moluccas at this time. Even though nearly all of the Bandanese communities had signed the treaty of 1605, the political landscape remained fragmented and frustratingly unclear to the Dutch. In practice, therefore, little came of the monopoly that the directors in the Netherlands had envisaged.
As a result the VOC was soon ardently imagining how the situation in the Banda Islands could be changed to its advantage. In 1607, for example, Cornelis Matelieff advocated cooperating with the Sultan of Makassar, with whom the VOC was still on good terms at that time, to conquer the Banda Islands. The orang kaya could then be replaced by Makasar nobles, and the entire population of the islands could be concentrated in one place. This would make the nutmeg trade very easy to control and monitor, without the VOC having to resort to an expensive military occupation itself. Although in hindsight the plan seems rather unrealistic and no attempt was ever made to carry it out, it does provide an insight into the mentality that was developing within the VOC.

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Merchants. From:  De tweede schipvaart der Nederlanders naar Oost-Indie onder Jacob Cornelisz.van Neck en Wybrant Warwijck, 1598-1600 (coll. Rijksmuseum)


Things came to a head in 1609, as a result of the European peace negotiations between Spain and the Netherlands which eventually lead to the Twelve Years’ Truce. At the time, Portugal was also under the authority of Spanish king and the VOC directors therefore tried to strengthen their claims to as many territories as possible before any potential peace would take effect. For example, by ‘binding the Banda Islands to the Company by treaty or by force’ (‘met tractaet ofte met gewelt aen de Comp. te verbinden’.)
With orders to that effect, VOC Admiral Verhoeff anchored off Banda Neira in April 1609. Whereas Van der Hagen had travelled to the islands with a single ship four years earlier, Verhoeff appeared with a large and well-armed fleet. They were met with suspicion by the Bandanese, whose women and children retreated to the highlands as a precaution. In a meeting with the orang kaya, Verhoeff had a resounding letter read out from Maurice, Prince of Orange: the Dutch were eager to enter into an official alliance. As part of that alliance, the VOC wanted to build a fort on the island. The orang kaya, who saw this as an unacceptable infringement on their independence, stalled for time while they considered their response. By the 25th of April, Verhoeff’s patience had run out and ordered his men ashore to start building the fort, even though he had not obtained permission.
The inhabitants of Neira then invited Verhoeff to come and negotiate an agreement. When he arrived at the agreed location, it turned out that the Bandanese had prepared an ambush. Verhoeff and his companions were surrounded and killed; in the ensuing skirmish more than 30 Dutchmen died. In the months that followed the VOC fleet retaliated along the coasts of both Neira and Lontor; settlements were reduced to rubble and ships were burned. It was August before some of the Bandanese orang kaya agreed to a new treaty. The Dutch fort, which was named Nassau, had by then been completed, and the VOC now considered Neira its property.

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Portrait of Pieter Willemsz Verhoeff (c. 1573-1609), anonymous, after c. 1607 (coll. Rijksmuseum)

This did not bring the VOC any closer to the desired monopoly, however. Nutmeg was easily transported unnoticed within the small archipelago, and during this period the English took up position on Ay and Run, two smaller islands further away. The Bandanese naturally preferred to sell their nutmeg to them, and to the Asian traders who still managed to come and trade without any problems, rather than to the VOC fortress. Not only had the VOC’s actions not greatly added to its popularity, it also paid relatively low prices for the nutmeg and could not supply all the goods needed in the islands. The VOC, in turn, committed fully to its monopoly, having it reaffirmed in new treaties after each conflict in the islands. Thus, the conquest of Neira ushered in a period of twelve years of intermittent war on the islands.

from idea to policy

As a result of the military escalation, ideas within the VOC about what to do with the islands also became more grim. In 1612, Jacques L’Hermite, back in the Netherlands after several years of service in Asia, proposed to simply cut down the clove and nutmeg trees in areas where the Dutch did not have control. And to go one step further in the Banda Islands specifically, by: ‘not pursuing any peace… before and until they were totally conquered and brought to reason or completely eradicated … Conquered or completely eradicated – the latter being the surest, as it will never be possible to control this villainous monstrosity as well as one would like – one will have to find ways to repopulate these islands and to provide them with inhabitants, as without those the fruits will not and cannot be harvested, harboured, nor the islands themselves applied to the benefit of [the VOC].’)

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The attack on Labatacka. From: Eylffter Schiffart ander Theil, oder Kurtzer Verfolg vnd Continuirung der Reyse (…), 1613

Here we can already see a blueprint of the events as they were to unfold in 1621. L’Hermite was not the only one to have such ideas and gradually the directors in the Netherlands seem to have taken them to heart. By 1615 they wrote to Batavia that they ‘would now find it advisable… to subjugate the Bandanese, to eradicate and drive off the principals and to rather repopulate the land with heathens’. The plan to depopulate the islands thus evolved from idea to policy.
During that period, the depopulation and repopulation of the islands had actually already begun – initially not as a deliberate strategy but rather as a side effect of the war already underway. After the conquest of Neira, most of the population of the island appears to to have moved away, forcing the VOC to consider repopulation schemes. When the VOC conquered the island of Ay in 1616, the population fled before the VOC troops. Dutch sources vividly describe the frantic exodus that ensued. At night large groups of people tried to flee to the other islands on overcrowded boats, and many drowned. When the VOC troops eventually neared the last of the indigenous fortresses, the inhabitants entrenched there fled down the high cliffs to where their boats were waiting. In the chaos and panic many fell to their deaths; the rest managed to escape by sea. What remained was an almost empty island, which the VOC repopulated with a mixture of Mardijkers, Gujaratis, Solorese, Spanish prisoners of war and, most notably, 450 people from the island of Siau, almost a thousand kilometres to the northwest, including their raja. The latter had been lured aboard a VOC ship by trickery, deception and coercion, and then transported to Banda for the specific purpose of replacing the population that had fled. The strategy was not very successful, however: the Siau people were very unhappy with the forced relocation and subsequent poor treatment – there was a severe shortage of drinking water on Ay, among other things – and most of them managed to flee the island very quickly.

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Banda Neira (Coll. Rijksmuseum)

Coen and the year 1621

After twelve years of fighting and negotiating on the islands, the VOC was no nearer to its professed monopoly on buying nutmeg. Two of the five main islands were under its direct control. The English had established themselves on the island of Run. The VOC had no say on the largest island, Lontor, nor on the smaller and more remote Rosengain. In fact, many of the inhabitants of the latter islands had entered into treaties with the English. In the fragmented and tense political landscape there was little chance of buying nutmeg, let alone establishing a monopoly.
That is when governor-general Jan Pieterszoon Coen decided to put an end to the resistance of the Bandanese once and for all. In late February 1621 he arrived with a fleet of 15 ships carrying 1,655 men. After a last failed attempt at negotiation on the initiative of kapitan Hitu, a representative of the state of Hitu with which the VOC had an alliance, he launched an attack on Lontor, the largest island. The Bandanese put up fierce resistance: their towns were well-fortified, and they had English artillery at their disposal. The first Dutch attacks failed as a result. Eventually, however, the VOC managed to take the town of Lontor by secretly landing troops elsewhere on the island. These unexpectedly attacked the town from the less well-defended land side. The population fled and most of the other communities on the island surrendered to the Dutch.


This, however, turned out to be only the beginning of the trouble. Soon, Coen discovered that many inhabitants had fled into the interior, were building new fortifications in the hills and were not prepared to submit to the Dutch. Thereupon, he decided to depopulate the entire island. He did so in two stages. First, on the 20th of April, he tried to mobilise those who had surrendered to the Dutch, especially the inhabitants of Selama. They had to try to get the Lontorese to come down from their fortifications in the hills, to be deported elsewhere by ship. Nothing came of the plan. The Lontorese resisted, the Selamers were not very enthusiastic, in part because, in addition to the Lontorese, many of their allies from the other islands had withdrawn into the interior of Lontor. On the 24th of April Coen and his council decided to, in that case, completely depopulate the island, and VOC soldiers surrounded Selama. The inhabitants were taken prisoner and the town was plundered and partly burned. Almost three decades later the sense of betrayal and deceit experienced by the inhabitants of Selama as a result of this unexpected action was still vividly expressed in the text of the Hikayat Tanah Hitu. Some 1,200 people were taken away from the Banda Islands at the end of April.

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Portrait of Jan Pietersz Coen by Jacob Waben (coll. Westfries Museum)

‘Hadde liever gehadt dat weygerich bleven…’ (‘Would have preferred they continue their opposition…’)

Had it been Coen’s intention from the start to depopulate the island? Most writers believe that he did not – in earlier writings such as his Discoers, Coen had taken a far less extreme stance than, for example, L’Hermite, and had only advocated the ‘subjugation’ of the islands. Even the very critical Van der Chijs concluded that, when things reached a deadlock on the islands after the conquest, Coen lost his ‘bedaardheid, en daarbij alle bezadigdheid’ (composure, and thus all level-headedness), and ‘in his ongeduld (in his impatience) turned to ever more extreme measures.
However, not all sources point in that direction. Whereas around 1615 the directors were the ones to openly propagate the depopulation of the Banda Islands and Coen only wanted to subjugate them, on the eve of 1621 the situation appears to have been different. The letters the directors wrote in 1620 and 1621 no longer mention depopulation and mainly address settling the situation with the English, with whom an alliance had meanwhile been formed. However, Coen himself wrote to the directors in October 1620 that it would be better if Banda was ‘vermeestert ende met ander volck gepeupleert werde.’ (‘conquered and repopulated with other people’). He added that the same would later have to be done on Ambon and complained that the directors were not enthusiastic about his proposals to ‘colonise’ not only Batavia but also Ambon. In his letters to Herman van Speult, governor of Ambon, in March and early April 1621, he wrote several times that it would be best if ‘alle de Bandanesen t’eenenmael van’t landt verdreven’. (‘all the Bandanese were driven off the land once and for all’). When, in the first weeks of April, it seemed that all the inhabitants of Lontor were prepared to surrender, he expressed mixed feelings about this: He said: ‘Hadde liever gehadt dat weygerich bleven, om de Lontorezen met recht uyt het landt te mogen dryven ende verseeckerder staet te becomen’ (‘I would have preferred them to continue their opposition, so I would be justified to drive the Lontorese out of the country and to gain a more secure position’.) Overall, a picture emerges from these letters that Coen was more than willing to depopulate the islands, but was afraid that doing so for no apparent reason would not go down well with the directors. Later that month, when the Bandanese really did turn out to ‘continue their opposition, it must have been relatively easy for him to decide to go ahead with it.

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Bandanese warriors. From: De tweede schipvaart der Nederlanders naar Oost-Indie onder Jacob Cornelisz.van Neck en Wybrant Warwijck, 1598-1600 (coll. Rijksmuseum)

Mijn heeren, en isser dan geen genaede?’ (‘My Lords, is there no mercy?’)

Even before Coen’s departure, the orang kaya of Lontor who had been captured by then, 47 in all, were accused of treason because they had not given up their resistance and were rumoured to have been plotting an attack on Coen’s person. Martinus Sonck, the new governor of Banda, presided over the investigation and the trial. The 44 orang kaya who survived the interrogation were all found guilty and were executed by the Japanese mercenaries used by the VOC during the campaign, on the 8th of May 1621, outside the walls of Fort Nassau on Neira. An anonymous eyewitness account of the execution notes how one of the orang kaya asked in Dutch: ‘Mijn heeren, en isser dan geen genaede?’ (My Lords, is there no mercy?) before the Japanese executioner cut off his head.

Those entrenched in the interior seem to have suffered the greatest number of casualties. Their two main fortifications were strategically located in the hills and virtually impregnable. When the rainy season started in May, Governor Sonck saw little point in trying to take these forts by force of arms. He switched to a strategy of starvation. When the remaining inhabitants had been deported and the low-lying areas were entirely under VOC control, he was able to cut the island off from the outside world completely. It was not until July that the weather improved, and by that time, the escaped Bandanese organised their first campaigns to Banda from Seram. This prompted Sonck to take swift action against the hill forts.
When the VOC troops reached the first fort in the hills near Selama, it was fiercely defended by the starving Bandanese; nevertheless, the troops eventually managed to capture the fortification. Resistance was negligible when the strongholds at Waijer were taken two days later. Hundreds upon hundreds of fresh graves were found in the fortified settlements; a contemporary estimate suggests that perhaps 2,500 Bandanese died of starvation and deprivation. The hundreds of Bandanese who fled into the surrounding forests during the attacks were chased by Dutch patrols. By mid-July, 476 Bandanese had been taken prisoner. Some preferred to fight to the death or throw themselves off the steep rocks. On the almost completely depopulated islands the VOC introduced the so-called perkenier system.

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Pulu Ai, with on the north side of the island a VOC-fort with the disturbing name of ‘Revengie’ (coll. National Library of Austria)

Further persecution and diaspora

The events of 1621 cannot be separated from the two preceding decades, nor can they be considered an end point. Not only did the persecution of the Bandanese continue unabatedly afterwards, but a large number of Bandanese had also managed to flee the islands. Their role was far from finished.
Further persecution took place, for example, in Batavia, to which almost 800 of the captured Bandanese had been deported. The survivors of the journey, during which dysentery and other infectious diseases were rampant on the overcrowded ship, were allocated a piece of land near the newly founded city of Batavia. Coen noted later that year that they seemed unwilling to settle there permanently, and all they really wanted was to return to Banda. When eight of their orang kaya subsequently fled, the Dutch again started suspecting that the Bandanese were up to something. At the end of January 1622, Coen summoned the more than 500 surviving Bandanese to Batavia Castle and took them into custody. The men were separated and interrogated. The orang kaya were tortured; their confessions convinced the VOC that the Bandanese had hatched a huge and complex plot to overrun and burn Batavia in collaboration with other enemies of the VOC. The notion that the ragged Bandanese actually were the spider in the web of such a sprawling conspiracy seems very far-fetched. It is much more likely that the Bandanese, tortured by waterboarding, burning and other methods, confessed what they thought the Dutch wanted to hear. The eight orang kaya were bloodily executed, the rest of the population was enslaved. The men were shackled and remained in Batavia. The women and children were sent back to Banda, to work the perken there as slaves. By then, their know-how had proved indispensable for the cultivation and processing of the nutmeg.

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The massacre by the Dutch on Banda in 1621. Painting from the museum on Banda, Rumah Budaya

Spectres and rumours

In July 1622, a strikingly similar scenario unfolded on the Banda Islands themselves. The inhabitants of Run Island had surrendered to the Dutch in 1621 and had therefore been spared war and depopulation. Now, however, a runaway resident of the island came forward and told the Dutch of a plan to flee the island and to kill the Dutch guards in the process. Governor Sonck, who had also presided over the trial of the orang kaya in 1621, had all the orang kaya of Run arrested and interrogated. Again, the interrogations and confessions made the conspiracy larger and larger; the inhabitants of Run were allegedly planning to recapture the Banda islands from the Dutch with the help of fleet lying ready at Seram. Sonck himself apparently actually believed in the spectre raised by the interrogations, and put the defence forces on standby. The attack failed to materialise, but Sonck considered the plot to be sufficiently proven just the same. This time, the punishment was even more extreme; all 160 free adult men of Run were executed on the 12th of September.
On the other hand, however, a substantial number of Bandanese had managed to escape the reach of the VOC before or in 1621. Coen’s impression may have been that ‘seer weinich… op de omliggende landen ontkomen’ (‘very few … had escaped into the surrounding lands’), but later VOC sources show that this assessment was incorrect. Possibly thousands of Bandanese had managed to get away, as various VOC officials began to notice from 1624 onwards. In that year it became apparent on Ambon, for example, that at least 1,500 Bandanese had ended up on the south coast of the large island of Seram, and had been picked up there by Makassar ships to find a new home in Makassar. Reports soon followed that the Bandanese there were negotiating with the sultan of Makassar, who was by now at war with the VOC by now and maintained good relations with the Portuguese and the English, plotting to recapture Ay from the Dutch. In the following years a stream of similar rumours continued to reach the Dutch. Incidentally, not all Bandanese who had landed on and around Seram seem to have left for Makassar. Many appear to have remained there. VOC sources from this period note that they played an important role in spreading Islam and strengthening anti-Dutch sentiment in the area. In the years that followed the villages on Seram’s south coast would become an important springboard for amphibious assaults on the Banda Islands. Other Bandanese who had fled ended up on and around the Kei Islands. When VOC ships came to this region in 1630, they found 600 Bandanese men there, not counting their women and children. The Bandanese community on Kei still exists today. The Bandanese diaspora built up its own networks and political contacts, was bent on reclaiming the islands, and remained actively involved in the struggle against the VOC.

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Kora-kora, merchant- and warschip of the Bandanese. From:De tweede schipvaart der Nederlanders naar Oost-Indie onder Jacob Cornelisz.van Neck en Wybrant Warwijck, 1598-1600 (coll. Rijksmuseum)

‘Dit Moorse gebroetsel moster t’eenemael uyt gheroyt’ (‘This Moorish vermin must be completely eradicated’)

In another respect too, the depopulation of Banda in 1621 was not an end. Less well known than the events on Banda are the subsequent wars over cloves. These dragged on into the 1660s throughout the eastern part of the East Indian archipelago, but were concentrated around Ambon and Seram. Here the VOC developed similar ambitions, concluded similar treaties, and a similar atmosphere of mutual lack of understanding and distrust developed. Here, too, the best solution was often thought to be to rid entire regions of their clove trees, or their populations. Although some VOC officials appeared to have been genuinely appalled by the events of 1621, for others they seem to have been a source of inspiration instead.

The bloody conquest and depopulation of Banda in 1621 appear to have further strained the already deteriorating relations around Ambon, driving the opponents of the VOC’s policies, from Seram to Makassar, into each other’s arms. This in turn contributed to the VOC officials, whose job it was to secure the monopoly, sinking deeper and deeper into a frustrated and paranoid mentality. From 1625 onwards this led to open wars, during which the VOC proceeded to cut down clove trees in those areas they could not control. Relations with former allies also became increasingly strained. Hitu, for example, an ally of the Dutch but originally also of communities on the Banda Islands, found itself in an impossible position. As a result, it was increasingly looked upon with suspicion by the various Islamic communities as well as by the Dutch. Some VOC officials started thinking that relations might become more manageable if Hitu ceased to exist. In 1627, for example, Gillis Seys advised:

‘Het ware te wenschen dat het geheele Eylant van Amboyna onder de ghehoorsaemheydt van de generale Comapgnie conde gebracht werden […] ’t soude een overtreffelijck werck zijn, men soude jaerlijckx omtrent de 5 a 600 bhaar nagelen van daer connen trecken; maer dit Moorse gebroetsel moster t’eenemael uyt gheroyt ende nieuwe Christenen inghevoert werden, als dan soude men die van Ceram beter connen breydelen, de vreemde handelaers van daer weeren, ende het eyndelijcke daer toe connen brengen dat dan alle de nagelen in onse handel vallen ende dat lant van Amboyna in vreede besitten souden.’

(‘It would be desirable that the whole island of Amboyna (Ambon) could be brought under the control of the general Company … it would be outstanding, one could take about 5 to 600 bahar of cloves from there every year; But this Moorish vermin must be eradicated completely, and new Christians brought in, as then one would be better able to control those from Seram, keep out the foreign traders, and finally be able to bring about that the entire clove trade would fall to us and we would own the land of Amboyna in peace’)

According to Seys, keeping possession of the island would be the most difficult, because the Hituese, ‘gelijck die van Banda haer oude woonplaetsen niet souden connen vergeten’ (‘like the Bandanese, would not be able to forget their old homes’). Nevertheless, he apparently thought Banda an inspiring rather than a terrifying example. From the 1630s onwards, the VOC increasingly started to destroy not only the clove trees in the areas they had conflicts with, but also every type of tree that could serve as a food source for people. All in the hope of bringing the population of the islands, which they had such difficulty controlling and fighting in this world of capricious mountainous islands covered by jungle. The relationship with Hitu collapsed in mutual discontent and distrust in the 1630s, and war continued until the VOC captured the last Hituese stronghold in 1646. Existing state structures were dismantled and Hitu was brought under the direct control of the VOC.

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 The conquering of Loki, an episode from the Hoamal War. In the end the whole peninsula was depopulated by the VOC. (coll. National Library of Austria)

an eternal wasteland

The most violent and large-scale conflict over the clove monopoly took place in the 1650s, when the inhabitants of the large peninsula of Hoamoal in West Seram joined forces with Makassar and some dissidents from Ternate, in an ultimate attempt to drive the VOC from their territory. The ensuing violent five-year conflict, known as the Great Hoamoal War (1651-1656), was fought with the hatchet as much as with cannon, sword and musket. The VOC’s objective was to turn entire islands and territories into ‘an eternal wasteland’, rendering them permanently unsuitable for human habitation. At the end of the conflict all the inhabitants of Hoamoal and some of the surrounding islands were forced to move to where the VOC could better control them. The Hoamoal peninsula was to remain uninhabited until the end of the VOC era. Thus. the clove monopoly was also ultimately through terror, coercion, ecological destruction and deportation.

With thanks to Adam Clulow, who gave us access to an unpublished article on the court cases in Batavia and Banda in 1622.

further reading

Accessible histories of the Banda Islands and the conquest and depopulation of 1621 are:

Willem Oosterbeek, Nootmuskaat: de geschiedenis van een wonderlijk nootje (2017); and Giles Milton, Nathaniel’s nutmeg: the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History (1999, many reprints). The latter tells the events mainly from the English perspective and slightly exaggerates several things, such as the notion that the island of Run was eventually exchanged for Manhattan, for the sake of the story.

The local expertise of Des Alwi on Banda was used by, among others, Willard Hanna, Indonesian Banda: colonialism and its aftermath in the nutmeg islands (1978), and Charles Corn, The Scent of Eden (1999. The latter book places events on Banda in the context of the Moluccas as a whole, as does Ian Burnet’s Spice Islands (2013).

As a journalist, Tjitske Lingsma reported on the violence in the Moluccas from 1999 to 2003 and she incorporated her experiences in Het verdriet van Ambon (2008). She looks into the history of the area – paying ample attention to the spice wars.

Older and less accessible are Van der Chijs, De Vestiging van het Nederlandsche gezag over de Bandaeilanden (1886), the oldest archival study on the subject that was exceptionally critical of the actions of the Dutch. More than half a century later, Lucas Kiers attempted to legitimise Coen’s actions in Coen op Banda: de conqueste getoetst aan het recht van zijn tijd (1943).

The Coen biography by Jur van Goor, Jan Pieterszoon Coen: koopman-koning in Azië (2015), contains an extensive account of the events of 1621.

The work of Martine van Ittersum focusses on the way in which treaties were used by both the Dutch and the English to increasingly control the Bandanese. See, among others, Empire by Treaty? the role of written documents in European overseas expansion in: Tristan Mostert and Adam Clulow eds., The Dutch and English East India Companies (2019), pp.153-178.

Several works by Adam Clulow focus on the atmosphere of paranoia and frustration in which the Dutch operated in the Moluccas, see in particular: Amboina 1623: fear and conspiracy at the edge of empire (2019).

There is as yet less literature on the clove wars around Ambon, but they are briefly described in the work of Gerrit Knaap, for example in Knaap and Den Heijer, Oorlogen Overzee: militaire optreden door Compagnie en Staat buiten Europa, 1595-1814. (2015). See also Piet Hagen, Koloniale oorlogen in Indonesië: Vijf eeuwen verzet tegen vreemde overheersing (2018).  


The quotation of Jacques L’Hermite from 1612 is taken from C. Busken Huet, Literarische Fantasieën en kritieken (1884), vol. 16, 108. The subsequent quote from the Bewindhebbers is taken from Van der Chijs, De vestiging van het Nederlandsche gezag op de Banda Islands (1886), 75.

The various quotations from the letters to and from Coen written between 1620 and 1621 are taken from H.T. Colenbrander and W. Ph. Coolhaas (eds.), Jan Pietersz. Coen: bescheiden omtrent zijn bedrijf in Indië (1919-1953).

The quotation by Gillis Seys from 1627 comes from Gillis Seys, Verhael van den tegenwoordigen staet inde quartieren van Amboyna ende omleggende plaetsen, in: Commelin, Begin ende Voortgangh, II, reis 15, 130-150.

In addition, primary source material was used from the source publications of P.A. Tiele and J.E. Heeres, Bouwstoffen voor de geschiedenis der Nederlanders in den Maleischen Archipel [  (1886-1895) , vols. 1 and 2, and J.E. Heeres, and F.W. Stapel, Corpus diplomaticum Neerlando-Indicum (1907-1955).