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Nathaniel's Nutmeg

Nathaniel's Nutmeg

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If not for the treaty, the metropolitan area of New York City today would have a significant Dutch-speaking population, just like the people of Louisiana today have a significant French (Cajun)-speaking population. The book deals with the competition between England and Holland for possession of the spice- producing islands of South-East Asia throughout the 17th century. tables, platter in hand and spoon in mouth; others opening a locker, and others in various postures, like statues, as if they had been adjusted and placed in those attitudes. Other authorities, turning Borde's misfortune to good effect, began to claim that far from dampening sexual desire, nutmeg was actually a powerful aphrodisiac. The very first mention of his name is found on page 78, and even then it is just in passing, as if he is some minor character in the whole story.

Having previously read Mike Dash's extraordinary book Batavia's Graveyard, I was intrigued to learn more about the development of the Dutch East India Company and the subsequent link to the British East India Company. As an Indonesian, I find the exotic portrayal of the natives as something akin to lost history, particularly since much has not been written at that age about the islands in the eastern part of Indonesia (as opposed to Java and Sumatra with many historical accounts both from locals and trading merchants from Asia and Arabia).

Giles Milton leaves many of his primary sources verbatim, quoted in 17th century English like what Shakespeare used. With such a long history during the years of the colonization, everything was decided in the negotiation rooms in London and The Hague and who knows where else.

The author Milton also refers to obscure Dutch chronicles which had been translated into fluent English. There were quite lengthy accounts of various fighting between the English and the Dutch over controls of these islands (and some other places including a very long tale about a riot in Java.In short, Milton seems too ready to paint this lame, hero narrative to try strengthen what is already weak writing. Tourism is rising but mostly for divers and less for history buffs (except for the laudable Sahabat Museum community who does regular trips there). Milton's cause-effect historical ironies, coming only in the final chapter, made sticking with this account unusually rewarding. The book’s description of forgotten and obscure events during the colonization of the world was astonishing, I’d never read about any of this in my previous readings of History.

The treaty worked well on both sides: The Dutch was able to secure their worldwide monopoly on nutmeg.Consistently, throughout his narrative, he paints the British as the good guys and the Dutch as their treacherous adversaries, even when the two sides are acting more or less equally reprehensibly. I'd like to think of other adjectives for it, but it was such an overwhelming collection of information. Milton did a good job depicting the chaotic, winner-take-all quality of the times, and made it all seem as fun to read as a nineteenth-century adventure story. After lengthy negotiations, Ivan sent the English commander back to England with a letter conferring trading privileges upon a group of merchants in London.

There is a dearth of English language history on Indonesia (at least what is available outside the academic presses). The way it is unthinkable for people to die for nutmeg trade back then is akin to our desire for oil trade today. Ignorant of the existence of the narwhal - that strange member of the whale family that has a single tusk protruding from its head - the rough English mariners confidently declared that this odd piece of flotsam had once belonged to a unicorn, a highly significant find, for 'knowing that unicorns are bred in the lands of Cathay, China and other Oriental Regions, [the sailors:] fell into consideration that the same head was brought thither by the course of the sea, and that there must of necessity be a passage out of the said Oriental Ocean into our Septentrionall seas. I know this isn't the most important point in the book, but is that actually true, or does it just kind of "feel" true?

There is a lot to savour in this book once you look beyond the author's jingoistic spin but as an Irishman it was rather difficult to stomach Milton's portrayal of the English merchants as heroic and honourable opposites of the lawless, villainous Dutch, when he must be fully aware that fellow countrymen of these same 'honourable' merchants were simultaneously laying waste to an island closer to their own shores - but then that island had no valuable spice to offer. Surprisingly not very optimistic either, with a history of the failures of the English to develop a stronghold in the Spice Islands, and of the Dutch to learn to love. In short, the British gave up their claim to the spice trading on the island of Run in exchange for the right to keep their colony in Manhattan. Interesting read about something I had little real knowledge of--the exploration and battles for control of the East Indies Spice Islands (present day Indonesia) in the 16-17th centuries. It shows a lot of how we have changed in the past 400 years in our civilisation and the author could make it sounds “recent”.



  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
  • Sold by: Fruugo

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