That’s what they say. Sometimes, though, blood is shed:
I was watching an episode [of Good Eats] about pickles this evening and this blurb comes up on the screen about how back in the 1300s the Europeans wiped out half of southeast Asia in their quest for nutmeg. That seems a little extreme and a heck of long time ago, is there any truth here? Well, the Dutch did pretty much wipe out the population on one small island in the 1600s.
That sounds fierce, and apparently it was:
The Banda Islands became the scene of the earliest European ventures in Asia, in order to get a grip on the spice trade. In August 1511, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Malacca, which at the time was the hub of Asian trade, on behalf of the king of Portugal. In November of the same year, after having secured Malacca and learning of Banda’s location, Albuquerque sent an expedition of three ships led by his friend António de Abreu to find it. Malay pilots, either recruited or forcibly conscripted, guided them via Java, the Lesser Sundas, and Ambon to the Banda Islands, arriving in early 1512. The first Europeans to reach the Banda Islands, the expedition remained for about a month, buying and filling their ships with Banda’s nutmeg and mace, and with cloves in which Banda had a thriving entrepôt trade. An early account of Banda is in Suma Oriental, a book written by the Portuguese apothecary Tomé Pires, based in Malacca from 1512 to 1515. Full control of this trade by the Portuguese was not possible, and they remained participants without a foothold in the islands.
And then things got fiercer:
In order to obtain a monopoly, on the production and trade of nutmeg, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) waged a bloody battle with the Bandanese in 1621. Historian Willard Hanna estimated that before this struggle the islands were populated by approximately 15,000 people, and only 1,000 were left (the Bandanese were killed, starved while fleeing, exiled or sold as slaves). The Company 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. 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, but the English presence on Rhun only lasted until 1624. 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 and its city New Amsterdam (later New York) in North America.
Which leaves one question: how did Connecticut, rather than New York, end up as the Nutmeg State? Skulduggery, of course:
Connecticut received its nickname from the claim that some unscrupulous Connecticut traders would whittle “nutmeg” out of wood, creating a “wooden nutmeg,” a term which later came to mean any type of fraud.
Sorry about that, New Jersey.