SOAS University of London

Jalur Rempah (Spice Trail) at Jakarta’s Museum Nasional Indonesia

17 November 2015
Jalur Rempah (Spice Trail) at Jakarta's Museum Nasional Indonesia

News from the region: Indonesia

Jakarta’s Museum Nasional Indonesia mounted a Jalur Rempah (Spice Trail) exhibition in late October to show how spices had changed the entire history of the Indonesian archipelago. A video first qualified the use of ‘Silk Road’, pointing out that many commodities were traded and spices were as precious as silk and more voluminous.

The exhibition took us on a journey from the island of Barus in modern day Sumatra, to the Hindu kingdom of Tarumanegara. The Sriwijayan confederation of maritime states controlled the trade through the Malacca Straits from the 7th to 11th centuries until the Majapahit kingdom of East Java dominated the shipping lanes. With the arrival Dutch colonisation, the nutmeg island of Banda became a new focus of the spice trade, followed by the famous Maluku islands of Ternate and Tidore, the great clove and nutmeg producers, said to be as valuable as gold.

A ‘Dark Gallery’, with dimmed lighting, then represented the colonisation under the Dutch, the British and the Japanese before opening into an ‘Enlightenment Gallery’ symbolising the independence of Indonesia today. Yet even today, the curators reflected, the spice trade of the southern seas remains underestimated as a source of prosperity for the peoples it engages.

The museum said the public response to the 15-30 October exhibition was so strong that it was planned to open it in a second run.

Correspondent: Liliek Suhardjono

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