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The Historic and Marine Landscape of the Banda Islands

Date of Submission: 30/01/2015
Criteria: (iv)(vi)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: S40 28 - 40 39 E129 39 - 130 04
Ref.: 6065

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The Banda Islands are also known under the name 'Spice Islands’, as this island group was the original and sole location of the production of the spices nutmeg and mace during the most prosperous years of Dutch, English and Portuguese colonization. The Banda Islands are situated in the eastern part of the Indo-Malayan archipelago. It consists of eleven small volcanic islands, called Neira, Gunung Api, Banda Besar, Rhun, Ai, Hatta, Syahrir, Karaka, Manukan, Nailaka and Batu Kapal, with an approximate land area of 8,150 hectares in total. These islands were the scene of the earliest European ventures in Asia. In order to obtain a monopoly on the production and trade of nutmeg, the Dutch constructed a comprehensive nutmeg plantation system on the islands during the 17th century. It included the nutmeg plantations for spice production, several forts for the defense of the spices, and a colonial town for trading and governance. This system lasted until Indonesia’s independence in 1945, however these first commercial plantations remain the basis of today’s modern international trading system of nutmeg produce. The Dutch were not the only occupants of this region, however. The British skillfully negotiated with the village leaders on the island Rhun to protect them from the Dutch in exchange for a monopoly on their nutmeg. The village leader of Rhun accepted King James I of England as their sovereign, and it became the first overseas English colony. Control of the Banda Islands continued to be contested until 1667 when, in the treaty of Breda, the British ceded Rhun to the Dutch in exchange for the island of Manhattan (later New York City).

Besides the nutmeg production on land, the sea played an important role in trade during the history of the Banda Islands. Not only was the sea the only access route to the islands, it also provided food for the locals and colonizers. Nowadays, most people still work as fishermen and therefore interact daily with the surrounding coastal environment. In terms of livelihoods, the fishermen rely heavily on the coral reefs for baitfish to catch the larger pelagics that are sold commercially. Despite these commercial enterprises, and fitful volcanic eruptions, the coral reef has proven to possess high resilience. The increasingly high degree of biodiversity is probably due to the buffering effect of the surrounding Banda Sea, which, with its depth of 8000 meters, protects the islands from extreme equatorial temperatures (circa 29°C/84°F throughout the year) and the effects of climate change. This sea also plays an important role in the production quality of the nutmeg, as the sea winds and salty rains influence the taste and quality of the nutmeg, which is still claimed to be the best in the world.

The island's geological and climatic history, addition to its resilience to climate change and volcanic activity, has facilitated speciation and high species diversity. However, the coral reefs in the Coral Triangle, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines, are among the most threatened globally. Therefore the Banda Islands are important for researchers to discover what causes this high resilience of the reefs, in order to protect other locations. Moreover, several conservation efforts in the Banda Islands have been successfully made, in which the biodiversity of the coral reef has not only been maintained but even increased. In addition to its scientific importance, the Banda Islands play a strategic connective role in migration patterns of several species, one of which is a critical stage in the sea-turtle life cycle. It also gives refuge to highly endangered oceanic cetaceans, including the blue whales.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Banda Islands are an outstanding example of a cultural landscape, in which natural and cultural elements are intertwined. These two elements are inseparable, as the geography and climate (the natural parts) made the cultivation of the nutmeg possible, which resulted in the cultural development of the islands as a significant center of colonial trade and history. Adding this cultural marine landscape as a mixed site to the World Heritage List will diversify the List, as this category is now heavily under-represented (1,007 properties listed with only 31 mixed sites).

The Spice Islands are indeed an outstanding example of the earliest conquests in colonial history, exhibiting not only remnants of the European occupation, but also the unique natural marine environment that attracted the exploitation of the land. The past colonial conquests of the Europeans have completely changed our world today, and not only did this history start here in the Banda Islands, but also much of the required capital to explore the rest of the world was earned here. Therefore, the historic remnants on the Banda islands represent the very threshold of colonial domination in world history.

Lastly, the marine environment of the Banda islands is not only unique because it provided the special circumstances for the growth of nutmeg, but also because it supports underwater marine life of exceptional biodiversity as well. The Banda Islands marine environment is an outstanding and thriving example of a coral reef environment that creates a unique habitat for marine biota to live, grow and reproduce. Moreover, after part of the Banda coral reef was completely destroyed after Mt. Gurung Api’s eruption in 1988, in a few years the coral rapidly grew back and currently thrives, a unique happening since in other reef locations around the world, the coral does not grow back at after the eruption of a volcano all.

Criterion (iv): The Banda Islands contain outstanding examples of remains of forts, ports and features of a comprehensive plantation system that are illustrative of the Western colonial era and its quest for a monopoly of nutmeg production. In addition, Banda Neira, which functioned as the main center of the Banda Islands during the Dutch reign, later became the location to which several independence fighters, including Mohammed Hatta and Sutan Syahrir, were exiled during the struggle for the independence of Indonesia. The history of the Banda Islands thus encompasses both the start of colonial rule and Indonesia's struggle for independence.

Criterion (vi): Two living traditions are closely associated with the history as is described under criteria iv. The first is the Cakalele dance, which is a symbolic dance that is still performed on special occasions on the Banda Islands. The dance illustrates the massacre of the orang kaya; the village heads who resisted Dutch rule. This dance is accompanied by the sound of the gong and tifa percussion instruments, and is encouraged by the cheering of the audience, in a spirit of resilience and love for the motherland. Secondly, every year there is a major Bandanese traditional event called the Kora-Kora boat races. For this event, every village constructs a traditional war boat according to ancient Bandanese practices and rituals. These boats, rowed by up to 30 men each with a drummer in front to set the pace, are raced against war boats from other villages. Old documentation reveals that a group of these war boats welcomed the first explorers, the Portuguese.

Criterion (x): The reefs in the Coral Triangle, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines, are among the most threatened globally. The Banda Islands have some of the most spectacular and resilient reefs in this particular area— a coral wonderland with over 397 species of coral, 683 species of fish, and abundant with turtles, making it the Amazon of the sea. The Banda Islands contain a high diversity of habitats and coral reef species, and has one of the highest marine conservation priorities. Conservation efforts have been successful, as the biodiversity of the coral reef was not only maintained but has even increased. The Banda Islands have a strategic role in connectivity in migration patterns of several species, one of which is a critical stage in the sea turtle life cycle. Furthermore it also gives refuge to highly endangered oceanic cetaceans, including the blue whales. Besides the marine life, the Banda Islands are an important sanctuary and waypoint for migratory birds, as well as the endemic source of the high-quality Bandanese nutmeg tree, which prospers only at this location due to the geographical circumstances, the unique climate and temperature, volcanic soil, and rainfall. Although the islands are not any longer the sole producer of nutmeg and mace, the best quality nutmeg still originates from these islands due to its unique milieu.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Banda Sea (including the Banda Islands) was identified as one of the highest marine conservation priorities in Indonesia in the USAID-CTSP Assessment 2009. One of the reasons for this is that they are in the heart of the Coral Triangle - the geographic epicenter of marine biodiversity. Accordingly, the Coral Triangle Center aims to facilitate the design of a resilient marine protected area (MPA) network for the Banda Islands, in order to maximize the ecological, social and economic benefits of the network by informing, engaging and strengthening the capacity of stakeholders at all levels through a series of consultations with local communities, NGOs and the national, provincial and local authorities, trainings and surveys to support the Banda MPA zoning plan and network design. In 2013 – 2015, CTC will continue working with partners to develop the Banda Islands’ MPA network with support from the Cargill Foundation, aimed to be integrated with the Central Maluku District Spatial Plan in order to conserve both the marine biodiversity and to sustain local community livelihoods.

The authenticity and integrity of the colonial remnants may be disputable in some cases, as many buildings have been restored and even partly reconstructed after the bombing in World War II. However, many buildings are still in their original material state, which in many cases means that they continue to exist as ruins. Moreover, the town planning is still the same as during the colonial times, therefore the feel of the islands is very much authentic. Some of the historic buildings have been restored and are being used as museums or tourist attractions. Furthermore, plans are being made to prevent the remnants of the existing unreconstructed historic buildings from further degradation. More importantly, the Banda Islands should not be considered on the basis of particular examples of specific historic buildings, but rather as a comprehensive system. The entire cultural landscape comprises integrated Perkeniers houses, plantations, fortifications to protect the colonial claims, the ongoing production of nutmeg and mace, and the ways in which the history is still part of living traditions such as the Cakalele Dance and the Kora-Kora race.

These living traditions are kept in honor in Rumah adat Patalima, which are ritual homes for the objects, while not in use for either the Cakalele Dance or the Kora-Kora race. This house is regularly attended and incense is burned in front of the cabinets filled with ritual clothing, helmets, spears and such. Besides these continuing traditions, another tradition is currently being revived. The Sasi-system is a traditional sustainable way of fishing, which decrees that in certain years, fishermen are not permitted to fish for particular species of seafood. This system prevents overfishing and provides the marine population time to breed and maintain their numbers.

Comparison with other similar properties

Firstly, the Banda Islands can be compared on the basis of its cultural criteria. On the World Heritage list, there are several other properties listed that describe part of the colonial history and its influence on world history. For example, the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison (Barbados) focuses on militaristic aspects and urban grid plan that represents British colonial architecture. Secondly, the Levuka Historical Port Town (Fiji) demonstrates an integration of the indigenous community with the European settlers as a centre of commercial activity. Lastly, the Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour (Curacao) tells the story of a Dutch colonial settlement but, in contrast to the Banda Islands, this site developed into a rich and lively urban area. In comparison to these other sites, the Banda Islands are unique, because the remnants are still located within the same idyllic environment as that of the colonial times of the Dutch occupation. Therefore an unspoiled experience of the Banda Islands’ history is still possible in this low-populated area. Moreover, many of these sites focus only on part of the story, either the fortifications or the trade, while the Banda Islands encompasses all of these elements and more.

Secondly, this property can be compared on the basis of the natural criteria. The first example for comparison are the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), which also consists of volcanic islands and it is renowned for its coral reefs. Secondly, the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France) and The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park (Philippines) are also renowned for their coral reefs. The latter one is even located within the Coral Triangle as the Banda Islands are, and the difference between these two marine environments is that they provide a habitat for different species. This is also true for the other two coral reef sites; moreover, Banda has a unique degree go resilience as is proven in the case of rapid reef regrowth after the Mt. Gunung Api eruption.