Imagine a spice so valuable that people were willing to kill for it. This may seem like an exaggeration, but the history of nutmeg and its connection to colonialism proves otherwise. In the 16th century, nutmeg was believed to ward off the plague, making it highly sought after.
The spice grew only in a tiny group of islands in Indonesia, called the Banda Islands, which made controlling the nutmeg trade a highly lucrative business. Enter Jan Pieterszoon Coen, a Dutch spice trader who would stop at nothing to gain control of the nutmeg trade.
His ruthless tactics included a scorched earth policy, wiping out entire populations of Banda Islanders to gain a monopoly on nutmeg. But the Dutch were not alone in their quest for nutmeg. The British also had their eye on the spice and the two nations went to war over a tiny island called Run, which ultimately led to the Dutch gaining control of the nutmeg trade.
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Top image: Nutmeg’s spurious properties led to all-out warfare. Source: National Museum of Singapore / Public Domain.