This fine map shows the central islands of the Maluku Archipelago (Moluccas), the famed Spice Islands of Indonesia, including: Seram, Buru, Ambon and the Banda Islands. The map is the authoritative geographical view of the islands made during the 18th Century and was drafted by the Dutch adventurer François Valentijn, who lived on Ambon for many years.
The main island of Seram (called here ‘Ceram’) was long overshadowed in history by the tiny island of Ambon (here ‘Amboina’), which during the 16th and 17th Centuries was the world capital of clove production. It also lay in close proximity to the Banda Islands, the only native source of nutmeg, which during the 17th Century was the world’s most valuable spice.
Portugal was the first European power to establish itself in the region, during the early 16th Century. While it endeavored to exploit the region’s riches, it largely left the islands under the political control of their traditional rulers. During the early 17th Century the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) and the English East Indian Company (the EIC) and expelled the Portuguese presence.
The Dutch and English soon turned on each other, as both sides were driven almost mad with greed over the islands’ phenomenal wealth in spices. The decisive event in the struggle was the ‘Amboyna Massacre’ of 1623, during which the Dutch tortured and killed twenty Englishmen in cold blood. While the event tarred the reputation of the VOC and poisoned Anglo-Dutch relations for decades, the VOC managed to expel the EIC from the region, resulting in great commercial gain. The Dutch would dominate the area until Indonesian independence in 1949.
The map was printed within Francois Valentyn’s Oud en Nieuw Oost Indien, part V: Beschryving van Coromandel, Pegu, Arrakan, Bengale, Mocha, Persien, Malakka, Sumatra, Ceylon (Amsterdam, 1724).
François Valentijn: Flamboyant Dutch Adventurer
Francois Valentijn (1666 – 1727) was an adventurer, minister, naturalist and writer.
He was born in 1666 in Dordrecht, Holland, but spent significant time in the tropics, notably in Ambon. In total, he lived in the East Indies for 16 years. Valentijn was first employed by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) at the age of 19, where he served as Minister to the East Indies. He returned to Holland for about ten years, before returning to the Indies in 1705 where he was to serve as Army Chaplain on an expedition in eastern Java. He again returned to Dordrecht where wrote his Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien (Amsterdam, 1724–26), a massive work of five parts published in eight volumes and containing over one thousand illustrations and including some of the most accurate maps of the Indies of the time. He died in The Hague in 1727.
Valentijn probably had access to the V.O.C.’s archive of maps and geographic secrets that they had always guarded jealously. Johannes Van Keulen II became Hydrographer to the V.O.C. in the same year Valentijn’s book was published. It was in Van Keulen’s time that many of the VOC charts were published, one signal of the decline of Dutch dominance in Spice Trade. Valentijn was fortunate to have seen his work published, as the VOC (Dutch East India Company) strictly enforced a policy prohibiting former employees from publishing anything about the region or their colonial administration. And while, as Suárez notes, by the mid-18th Century the Dutch no longer feared sharing geographic secrets, the execution of this policy was still erratic and based on personal motives.
While Valentijn’s maps and diagrams were prized possessions, his scholarship, judging by contemporary standards was not of the highest integrity. While current standards of referencing and plagiarism were not in effect during the 18th Century, Valentijn’s borrowed liberally from other scientists’ and writers. E.M. Beekman referred to Valentijn as an “exasperating Dutch braggart,” but nevertheless cites him as an important figure and, given his writing style, diction and penchant for story, one of the greatest Dutch prose writers of the time—going so far as to suggest comparison between one of the various stories in his work and a Chaucerian tale.
References: J. Landwehr, A Bibliography of publications relating to the Dutch East India Company. 1602-1800, no. 467.