The History of Run Island, Maluku Indonesia

Approaching the picturesque landscape of the Banda Islands is an unforgettable moment for anyone fortunate enough to travel far enough to reach it. As the islands come into view and you can recognise the impressive structure of Mount Agung Api.

The small island of Run, also known as Rhun, is the most remote of all the islands and remains largely undeveloped, though is clearly visible by comparison next to Ai island.

 This tiny island is often forgotten but it is rich in colonial history and in this article we will learn of the importance of Run and the role it played in the Spice Trade and its connection to the city of New York. 

The Banda Islands

The Banda Archipelago comprises eleven islands located in the vastly-remote Maluku Region or the Moluccas in Indonesia’s east. 

Run Island neighbours Ai Island on the west, Manukang to the northwest, Pisang to the east, Hatta to the southeast, Banda Besar to the south and Banda Neira Island is central. The volcano of Gunung Api shelters both Batu Kapal and Keraka at the entrance. 

Nailaka is just a short distance from Run. The islands nearest port are 180 kilometres across the ocean to Ambon. The archipelago has Sulawesi to the west, West Papua to the east and Alor to the south.  

The Forgotten Side of Banda

Nutmeg was a blessing and a curse for the people of Banda. The mace or nutmeg tree, once discovered, changed everything. Dutch soldiers, backed by Japanese mercenaries, massacred, enslaved and banished most of the islands’ population. The battle for the power and rights to the trade of nutmeg destroyed the beauty of the Banda Islands for many years.

 From 1602 the Dutch company formed a base for controlling the nutmeg spice trade. In 1621 the newly appointed Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company ordered the genocide on the people of Banda. 

The population on Banda was estimated at the time of the genocide to be between 13,000 – 15,000 and research suggests that only 1000 people remained on the islands and ended up as slaves in the trade.

Those who fled to other islands eventually returned in small numbers and in 2010 the population was reported at 18,500. 

The Spice Trade

The value of nutmeg was prized as one of the highest commodities in the world at the time of the spice trade; second only to gold. The Spice Islands of Banda is where nutmeg was grown, almost exclusively, making this location in the Banda Seas a very important place.

Nutmeg was used for medicinal purposes, for treating illness and healing stomach conditions. The spice could be used as a meat preserver which was highly sought after and many people felt that nutmeg, similar to clove and cardamom, was an essence of luxury for flavouring food.  

The main reason behind much of Europe’s exploration of Asia was to find the Spice Islands and whilst the Dutch were successful in doing so, the British also had a claim on the remote island of Run. 

BBC Diana Selkirk, 2017, states “When the Dutch finally found the islands, they protected their investment by forming the Dutch East India Company (VOC). With horrific brutality that included slaying much of the local Bandanese population, they gained control of the plantations of evergreen nutmeg trees; the spice they produced not only flavoured food but was thought to cure illness including the bubonic plague.” The tiny island the British traded for Manhattan

The Historic Landscape of Run Island

The British negotiated with the people on Run and encouraged the leaders of the village to allow them to provide protection from the Dutch. This was a deal that would essentially exchange protection with a larger monopoly of the nutmeg trade on the island. 

This agreement once accepted, made Run Island the first overseas English Colony. The nutmeg tree was grown almost exclusively on Run and the plantations had the perfect conditions for harvesting. 

Swapped for Manhattan

A significant moment in history, the agreement where the British gave up all claims of Run Island in exchange for Manhattan (now New York) from the Dutch. A decision that ended the conflict over the spice trade between the Dutch and the British. This agreement was titled the Treaty of Breda in 1667. 

Whilst much of the world knows of the modern metropolis that is New York City, you may find that few know about the beauty of Run. It can be said that the two destinations are somewhat connected by this event and the

history that preceded them. Evidentially, once nutmeg lost its value the Spice Islands were slowly forgotten.

The People of Run Island

Most of the inhabitants of the Banda region are descendants from migrants and labourers who arrived from different parts of Indonesia. There is only a small population living on the island today, approximately 2000 people. 

Run Island Today

Run Island is a tiny drop in the ocean, around 3 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide. Farmers are still cultivating nutmeg today and live a life surrounded by fishermen and minimal tourism. 

Run has one medical clinic with no doctor and insufficient medicine with basic infrastructure and development in comparison to the main island of Banda Neira. Islanders turn to traditional medicine, using leaves, roots from their garden and herbs. 

The island does not have Government provided electricity or water and is powered each night between 6 pm – 11:30 pm by a generator that was provided by a successful businessman from Jakarta. Water is collected by the local people from the rain in a large storage container and is shared by the local families. 

There are a handful of local homestays and guesthouses on the island, but Run is still considered to be one of the most traditional less developed of the islands. 

Why visit?

For those who travel to Banda Neira, the nearby islands such as Run, Ai and Hatta are much loved for scuba diving due to the pristine conditions that make the marine life in this area something to be seen. Diving enthusiasts travel from all over the world to visit Banda to dive as many of the sights as possible.

The history of the islands is also fascinating, and the islands today offer visitors a peaceful journey. Not many signs of the Dutch or English remain here, other than the ruins from the historical forts, the traditional style of the homes and the shape of the Phinisi Schooners used today as liveaboards. The nutmeg spice is still widely used and can be bought in the local market and food stalls. 

If you are sailing to the Banda Islands, the dense tropical greenery surrounded by wildlife and birds will make for a dreamy sunset background from the sailboat. Friendly and kind local people will show you their much-loved community and share a meal with you. For those who are fascinated by the history of Banda and the Island of Run; a trip to this part of the world is a must

Yachting Experience

Yachting Experience offers guests charters to the Banda Islands. Sailing out on the magical wooden Phinisi yachts is an incredible travel experience in Indonesia. There is a wide variety of vessels and charter types available for travelers who wish to explore the Banda Seas. 

Yachting Experience will ensure you can cruise in luxury onboard the best yachts available in the region.

Resources: 

Lonely Planet, https://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/banda-islands/background/history/a/nar/5e243c1c-25bf-4127-80f9-f0aadf16d16b/1322574

Now Jakarta, https://nowjakarta.co.id/art-and-culture/hidden-heritage/haunting-tales-from-banda-a-dark-history

SMH, https://www.smh.com.au/world/the-real-estate-deal-of-the-millenium-the-forgotten-indonesian-island-that-was-swapped-for-manhattan-20170721-gxfo22.html

The Jakarta Post, https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2017/09/29/banda-islands-a-hidden-treasure-in-indonesia.htm

UNESCO, https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/6065/

National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2015/06/22/the-spice-trades-forgotten-island/

BBC, http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171010-the-tiny-island-the-british-traded-for-manhattan

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