Education |

The Spice Route: Glorifying the Past, Planning for Future Prosperity

Education | 3 September 2021

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology (Kemdikbud) is inviting the people of Indonesia to look back at the history of the route of the spice trade from one point to another, reviving a wonderful medley of stories, and connecting its numerous traces through its programme Jalur Rempah (Spice Route). By Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology.

Nusantara, the Indonesian Achipelagois a blessed land. It was chosen by God as the first place on earth to grow spices, so claims Tome Pires in his book Summa Oriental quetrata do Mar Roxo ate aos Chins (Overview of the Eastern Region: from the Red Sea to China) as he  recounts his experiences while in the archipelago in the early 16th century. He writes:

“Malay traders say that God has created Timor for sandalwood, Banda for nutmeg, and Maluku for cloves. Thees commodities cannot be found anywhere else in the world except in these three places. I have asked many people, very carefully and patiently, whether these three commodities can be found elsewhere, and everyone has said no.”

The archipelago is the home of the world's greatest range of biodiversity. About 11 percent of the world's plant species are in the tropical forests of the archipelago. There are more than 30,000 species, some of which are used and are known as spices. So it is undeniable that the Nusantara is the mother of spices which, among other things, gave birth to types of King's Spices, such as cloves, nutmeg, and sandalwood, the main commodities of the world's spices, which in their heyday were worth more than gold. Even Run Island in Maluku, which is rich in nutmeg spices, was once exchanged for Manhattan Island, which is now known as New York, in a post war deal between Netherlands and Britain which gave the richest island in the world Run in exchange for what was then a barren rocky outcrop in the Atlantic , but which ironically became the richest island in the world !

The clove tree (Syzygiumaromaticum) is native (endemic) to Ternate, Tidore, Moti, Makian, and Bacan, while the nutmeg tree (Myristicafragrans) is endemic to Banda Island. Equally important, the types of aromatic spices from the sap of trees endemic to Sumatra, namely frankincense (Styraxbenzoin) and camphor/lime (Cinnamomumcamphora and Dryobalanopsaromaticum). Several other important commodities, such as cinnamon (Cinnamomumburmanii), pepper (Piper nigrum) are widely produced in Sumatra. Likewise sandalwood (Santalum album) which grows a lot in the eastern islands of the archipelago.

History records that spices are not just commodities, but bring value and lifestyle for global civilization. The importance of spices in human life is so important that they become drivers of economic, socio-cultural, and political development on a local and global scale. Merchants risk their lives and wealth to market them; cooks concoct them to make their dishes delicious; physicians and health experts concoct them for treatments; kings sent expeditions across the oceans to get them; diplomacy after diplomacy ensued to secure supplies; human relations through trade became global and the history of human civilization was built.

Long before Europeans came to the archipelago, thousands of years ago, the Spice Route was the route of our ancestors to establish relations between islands, tribes and nations, by bringing spices as things of value to build friendships that form cultural bonds then assimilation, and then diplomacy after every stopover. This path ultimately connected the archipelago and the world.

The spice trade in the archipelago left traces of civilization in the form of relics of historical sites and cultural rites, and gave birth to a variety of cultural products inspired by the rich nature of the archipelago. It is very clear that in the past people from various nations flocked to the archipelago not only to trade, but rather to build civilization. Starting from the Barus Port in North Sumatra, which experts estimate is more than 5000 years old, to the era of the kingdoms in the archipelago with cities, such as in Lamuri, Padang, Bengkulu, Lampung, Banten, Jepara, Tuban, Gresik, Banjarmasin, Makassar, Bali. , and Ternate-Tidore in Maluku–all formed by the spice trade.

The Spice Route has led to the development of a variety of knowledge and culture which is not only a heritage for Indonesia, but also a heritage for the world. Because its geo-political and geo-economic position is very strategic, located between two continents and two oceans, Indonesia is a “global meeting point” as well as a “global melting point”. Thanks to spices, the archipelago became a meeting place for humans from various parts of the world and became a nursery and cross-cultural area that brought together various ideas, concepts, science, religion, language, aesthetics, and customs. This spice trade route through the sea became a means of intercultural exchange that contributed significantly to shaping world civilization.

Since 2017, Indonesia through the Ministry of Education and Culture has initiated efforts to propose The Spice Route or Trail as a World Heritage to UNESCO. The submission of The Spice Route as a world cultural heritage to UNESCO is based on the understanding that The Spice Route is a route of intercultural exchange and knowledge exchange that transcends the context of space and time. The Spice Route can be seen as a Cultural Route, which at the same time makes it have a great opportunity to be submitted as a cultural heritage to UNESCO by Indonesia together with other countries (joint nominations) touched in this trade route.

Thus, reviving The Spice Route is a Cultural Reconstruction and Revitalization Movement in a broad dimension so that it is able to mobilize the awareness of all elements to care for the heritage of diversity, realize people's welfare, and also strengthen the Indonesian nation's cultural diplomacy among the nations of the world.

The Directorate General of Culture of Kemdibud in collaboration with the Indonesian National Armed Forces-Navy (TNI AL) held the MuhibahBudayadan Festival JalurRempah 2021 (Cultural goods program and the spice route festival). It is scheduled that the KRI Dewaruci TNI AL cruise will cross oceans along 13 points in the archipelago for about three months, starting with the Banda route, 17 August and will  dockin Surabaya on 28 October.

A total of 13 spice points will include Banda Neira, Ternate, Makassar, Banjarmasin, Bintan, Medan, Lhouksemawe, Padang, Banten, Jakarta, Semarang, Benoa, and Surabaya by involving the wider public through specific communities and the younger generation with activities ranging from performances, music , culinary events, various local wisdom and traditional medicine, seminars, workshops, film screenings, to cultural residencies, collaborate, synergize, move together in advancing culture.

Cultural connectivity across regions in Indonesia is the essence of this program, whose aimto is unite through the warmth of spices, to develop and strengthen cultural resilience and cultural diplomacy, maximizing the use of Cultural Conservation and Intangible Cultural Heritage. Giving The Spice Route World Heritage Status and a reference to the strength of cultural diplomacy to strengthen Indonesia as the world's maritime axis is something to be proud of.

However that's not enough! Another goal of reviving The Spice Route is to remind the younger generation of how The Spice Route shaped the nation, state, and civilization of Indonesia. We don't want to get caught up in historical romanticism, we mean reviving The Spice Route at this time as a revitalization of the cultural values ​​of spices and how to use them in the present and in the future. Through spices, various creativity and innovations are born which will eventually bring back the glory of olden times

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