A bit cracked… (Part 2)

Nutmeg then developed into the gold rush of East India in the 16th century, the first significant case of drug procurement-related crime. The Portuguese, British, Spanish and Dutch waged war over nutmeg and killed not only each other but also tens of thousands of locals on the side. Anyone who has so far thought drug cartels were exclusively in Latin America may now consider themselves first-degree know-it-alls. For they now know that Pablo Escobar, cocaine trafficking and the Medellin cartel are just cheap imitations of a 500 year-old “business model”.

Before we continue with the nutmeg myth, a brief excursion into the business side of modern drug trafficking. Even though there is fundamentally nothing good to be said about drug cartels, many of their members are not actually bad guys on principle, they just want to earn money, to survive in their predominantly poor countries. This works quite well with cocaine, among other things. Thanks to the clever use of extortion, murder and corruption, the value of cocaine increases 100 times over (producers in the Andean countries receive about 1 percent of the sales proceeds), while a coffee drinker in Germany pays a mere 5 times as much for the beans provided by his coffee dealer.

Be that as it may, from 1512 the Portuguese began to import nutmeg as a commodity from the Banda Islands to Europe. The small island of Run and some neighbouring islands were at that time the only place in the world where nutmeg and cloves grew.

Almost 100 years later the Dutch, or more precisely the Dutch East India Company (VOC), conquered the Spice Islands. For the locals, the Dutch were initially welcome allies against the Portuguese. However, once the VOC had driven the Portuguese out and established a base, they demanded exclusive rights from the Bandanese. Inconsiderately, the locals continued to sell to traders from Java, Makassar and even to English merchants.

As the desired trade monopoly could not be enforced in good faith with contracts, Jan Pieterszoon Coen resorted to a well-tried solution: corruption, extortion and mass murder. Of the original 15,000 inhabitants, an estimated one thousand survived the East India Company massacres. Largely unnoticed by the rest of the world, the Dutch thus secured the nutmeg monopoly for the next 150 years. Today this genocide is considered one of the darkest chapters in Dutch colonial history.

Even if these days a nutmeg only costs a few cents, the trade in nutmeg was then incredibly successful. To compare, drug cartels today use heroin to generate a profit of 15,000%, while cocaine increases its value by about 100 times. As late as the middle of the 16th century, local traders on the Banda Islands were still selling ten pounds of nutmeg for less than one English penny. In England, nutmeg was then sold for the weekly wage of a labourer, a price increase of 600 times. What a deal!

So far this may have been an almost unbelievable story about the modest nutmeg, a permanent competition between knowledge and belief. But even without the influence of drugs it is hard to imagine the last part of nutmeg history. In 1667, the Dutch wanted recognized possession of their beautiful but disputed Spice Island and therefore exchanged Manhattan Island on the American East Coast for the island of Run with its nutmeg trees. 350 years later, Run Island, like the other Banda Islands, can hardly be found on a sea map. The island is also only about 3000 metres long and 750 metres wide, but it was considered to be a place of fabulous riches because it was covered with nutmeg trees.

Manhattan, on the other hand, was until then the barren home of a few hundred Dutchmen around the little town of Nieuw Amsterdam. Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor still in office, was actually willing to defend the colony, but found no support among the population and reluctantly signed the transfer agreement. As a result, the commander of the English fleet was appointed governor and the city was renamed New York in honour of the Duke of York. Manhattan today has 1.6 million inhabitants, Wall Street but also a Stuyvesant Square.

The current value of the island is difficult to determine, but some years ago an American journalist once estimated the amount. He calculated an increase in value of 17 billion percent. This sounds astronomical, but, calculated over the centuries, it corresponds to an annual return of a modest 5.3 percent. So probably not a drug deal after all.

And what did all this have to do with Corona, Christmas, nuts and myths? It doesn’t matter, just look forward to Christmas, treat yourself to a gentle painkiller with plenty of nutmeg and maybe it will come back to you. Here is the recipe for a unique, absolutely convincing nutmeg long drink. Merry Christmas and Cheers!

1 part sweet coconut milk

1 part orange juice

4 parts pineapple juice

1-5 parts dark rum (depending on your form)

crushed ice, ice cubes

1 x nutmeg with grater

Preparation: Place all ingredients in a shaker with crushed ice and shake well. Pour into a cocktail glass with ice cubes and sprinkle with plenty of freshly grated nutmeg.

The birthplace of the nutmeg drink is the island of Jost van Dyke (in the British Virgin Islands).

Original text: UTO
English translation: BCO

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