Indonesia’s Run island : Manhattan’s tropical borough

This picture taken in Banda Aceh on July 15, 2017 shows Acehnese fishermen cleaning their nets after a fishing trip. (AFP Photo/Chaideer Mayhyuddin)

Glamorous Manhattan was once a swampy pit that was traded for a tiny island in the vast Banda Sea of Indonesia.

350 years ago, the Banda Islands were once at the heart of the world’s biggest trade – spices. Historically known as the Spice Islands, they comprise of 10 smaller specks and have a population of just 15,000 people.

During this time in history, the Banda Islands had a monopoly of the prized nutmeg that was valued more than gold where they saw an increase of 32,000% in price. The Dutch who were the European pioneers in the business of colonization wanted unmitigated control over the Islands for this sole reason.

Location of Run Island on the map.

The “Breda Treaty”

Therefore, the 1667 Breda Treaty was signed between the British and the Dutch which ended the second Anglo-Dutch war. Through this agreement, the British kept New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) while the Dutch gained Run, a three-kilometre-long and one-kilometre wide coconut-fringed island which had been the only English outpost in the Spice Islands.

Over the next 70 years the Dutch East India Company would become the most powerful trading company the world had ever seen because of their position as a global spice monopoly.

However, once the British recaptured the Banda Islands during the Napoleonic Wars in the beginning of the 19th century, they transplanted nutmeg seedlings to places such as Sumatra and Penang. This caused the price of nutmeg to plummet and the value of Run to diminish.

As for the traded land of Manhattan, as they say, is history.

Run vs. Manhattan – 350 years later

Today, Run island has a population of about 2000 islanders. Most of them still farm spices such as nutmeg and cloves as well as fish for a living. Despite this simple living, Run is in dire need of infrastructure.

Electricity on the island only runs between 6pm-11.30pm daily. This makes it difficult for the islanders to expand their day-to-day routines. Apart from that, the island is lacking in schools and basic healthcare. The nearest doctor is a 2.5 hour boat trip away in Banda Neira, a distance too far for an emergency rescue.

The comparison between Run and Manhattan today.

What is even more unfortunate for the tiny island is that it is not even shown on any modern-day maps, making this desolate island a polar opposite of the city of Manhattan today, with beaming lights as one of the world’s major commercial, financial and cultural hubs, with iconic sites and skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building, neon-lit Times Square and the theaters of Broadway.

The Mayor’s visit

In commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the island exchange under the Breda Treaty, the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia released a statement that New York’s Mayor Bill De Blasio will be attending the Banda Festival 2017 this month.

This cultural festival is aimed to bring back the world attention to the forgotten Banda and its historical significance to the trade world.

“This festival should echo the glories of Banda Islands. The world’s historical narratives and the Indonesian people who have been engraved in this area are almost forgotten by the younger generation,” he said.


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