While scuba diving may be the main attraction for coming to the Banda Islands, the fascinating – and often bloody – history of these famed Spice Islands makes for a fascinating morning land tour – and some excellent food too
Banda Naira is the only habitation of any size amongst the five Banda Islands, and it’s here the colonial remnants of the Dutch and English presence can still be found. The two countries fought bitterly over the right to colonise the Banda Islands as they were the only known place in the world where the spice nutmeg could be found. The demand for nutmeg – erroneously believed to be a cure for the plague – became so great that at one point it was worth more than gold pound for pound.
The local Bandanese population was decimated by the fighting between the Dutch and English, and the paintings hanging in the museum depict some of the most gruesome episodes of Banda’s history. The story of the Banda Islands is brilliantly told in the book Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, which also documents the stranger-than-fiction events of how the Banda island of Run was accepted by the Dutch from the British in exchange for the inconsequential island half a world away called Manhattan. (Find Nathaniel’s Nutmeg on Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com).
The serenity of the island on walking up to Fort Belgica is a world away from this historical turmoil and gives some excellent views out over the bay. Even in the early morning, the humidity is pretty ferocious.
After touring the museum and fort, it’s time for breakfast and seeing an array of the spices still grown on the island. Nutmeg and cinnamon prevail, along with taro and numerous others. The nutmeg are hooked off the tree using ingenious basket catchers that let the harvester collect a whole branch’s worth easily.
As a breakfast, it’s hard to beat – lightly fried banana and freshly made nutmeg jam and cinnamon tea straight off the tree, along with some taro too
We were back on board the boat by around 10 am, and ready to go diving around the Banda Islands.