For thousands of years Banda islanders conducted long distance trade throughout the region and perhaps farther afield. When Europeans first encountered the Spice Islands, they found Javanese, Arab, Indian, and Chinese merchants established in a thriving trade centre based on spice routes well known among eastern seafaring nations.
During the European Middle Ages, the value of three rare Asian spices that only grew on six tiny islands soared until nutmeg was valued on a par with gold; mace and cloves were not far behind. This inspired Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and English expeditions to locate the source of those spices.
"... reaching the shore, we fell upon our knees some kissing the earth ... whereupon our brave good captain did lead thankful prayer and songs of praise to God for our deliverance unto these islands where the richest of spice does grow. Brown men did look upon us, but none made to interfere." translated from early 16th century Portuguese
The first documented cargo of spice, loaded on ships led by António de Abreu in 1512, was obtained from established Asian traders. Without knowledgeable local pilots to guide them, that Portuguese expedition would never have found the Banda Islands.
The Portuguese were closely followed by the Dutch and English. The Dutch settled on Banda Neira and Banda Besar, while the English installed themselves on the islands of Run and Ai. Driven by monopolistic aspirations, the Dutch invaded Ai in 1616, slaughtering the British contingent and their local supporters.
In 1667, the British exchanged Run Island for a small Dutch island in North America called Manhattan. That trade included all of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island. Since these tiny islands were once considered the most valuable real estate in the world, that transaction was not as disproportionate as it seems.
Little wonder the Dutch were so adamant, and brutal, in their efforts to dominate these islands, eventually committing genocide against the native population in 1621.
After years of back and forth battles between Dutch and English, the islands became a Dutch colony and remained so until just after World War II, when Indonesia achieved independence.
Reminders of this vibrant past are seen everywhere. Take a leisurely stroll through town and explore the two old forts, mysterious paths that lead to interesting places, colonial-era mansions, ageless shop houses, an ancient Chinese temple, or rest on one of the 17th century cannon laying abandoned by the roadside. A museum occupies one of Banda's oldest colonial houses and is well worth visiting.