By: Nicolas Sanson
Date: 1683 (Published) Utrecht
Dimensions: 7.5 x 9.75 inches (19 cm x 24.77 cm)
This map by Nicolas Sanson depicts the Indonesian archipelago of the Moluccas (or Maluku Islands), commonly referred to as the Spice Islands. The archipelago lies on the equator north of Australia and west of New Guinea. Though there are hundreds of islands in the group, most of which are very small, only a handful figure prominently in the history of the European spice trade, including today’s Ternate, Tidore, Moti, Makian, and Bacan.
Until the 1700s, these rain-forested, luxuriant, volcanic islands were the only or best sources of such spices as cloves, nutmeg, and mace. Arab traders introduced cloves to Europeans around the fourth century but shrouded the source of their valuable goods in mystery, maintaining a monopoly on them for some time. Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India in 1497 finally broke the monopoly and the Portuguese became the world’s premier traders in spice commerce. During the sixteenth century they strengthened their stranglehold on the spice trade when they found the primary source of the spices to be these islands.
One of the native traditions was to plant a clove tree when a child was born, linking the child symbolically to the life of the tree. When the Dutch took over control of the Moluccas in the seventeenth century, they undertook a program of deforestation of the clove trees from all the islands except Amboina and a few adjacent islands in order to enforce the spice’s scarcity, keeping prices high. As a result, cloves were worth more than their weight in gold. Not surprisingly the Dutch tactic instilled hatred and fomented rebellion among the islanders.
Gradually, the spice was cultivated in other places of the world, like Brazil, the West Indies, and Zanzibar, reducing prices and making the commodity more available. However, the historical significance of these islands cannot be overstated. Largely because of the irresistible lure of spices, European ships risked sailing into unknown waters with Portuguese ventures down and around Africa, “found” a New World with Columbus’s crossing of the Atlantic, and first circled the globe with Magellan’s crossing of the Pacific.
Condition: This map is in A condition with light even toning slightly darker at the edges. Centerfold and other minor separations have been repaired with archival material on the verso. Original and later color.
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