In a few weeks time the Raja Laut will be setting sail for the Maluku Islands. If you have not heard of the Maluku islands before you’re not alone. Today they are an isolated group of islands which lie off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The islands do however have another name, a much older name, which recalls a very different time for the islands, they are the “Spice Islands”.
There are in fact, a few places in the world that lay claim to be the “spice islands” but the Maluku Islands were certainly the original and the most important. For centuries the trade of spices from east to west made people incredible wealthy. Almost no one had an overall picture of the trade and people in Europe had no idea of where the spice were coming from.
At one time the Maluku islands were the only source for spices, such as nutmeg and cloves, on the face of the planet. The extraordinary profitability of the spice trade had created power struggles thought history. The ancient Egyptians traded in spices, as did the Greeks and the Romans, but with the fall of the Roman Empire, Spices were hardly seen in Europe for 500 years until the Crusaders reopened the trade route. The return of spices to Europe made some areas very rich, such as Venice which rose and fell with the spice trade.
Some of the great explorers of the world – Marco Polo, Columbus, Magellen and Drake – were driven to find the source of the Spices and therefore “cut out” the middle men, and make massive profits. When Columbus set out to west he was not looking for the Americas he was looking for a new route to the Spice islands.
It was Magellan who in the early 16th century opened up the way to the Spice islands and the rest of Europe where not far behind: the Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and the British all left their footprints on the islands. But it was the Portuguese and the Dutch that fought each other for control of the island group, building forts and ruling the area with an iron fist.
The British took control of the islands for a very short period of time, after their victory in the Napoleonic wars. It had been impossible to get live seeds off the islands for hundreds of years, now the British had open access to them. They quickly went about cultivating spices in their other colonies. This ended the monopoly on spices that the Maluku islands had held for over a millennium and their importance quickly diminished.
Today the islands offer a magnificent experience to any visitor. With over a thousand islands in the group, being on a yacht is a great way to explore the area. Each island has it own story, traditions, and geography: from towering volcanic slopes to idyllic coral islands.