13 June, 2017

Author: Ian Burnet

This year on 31 July 2017 we will record the 350-year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Breda in 1667 which ended the second Anglo-Dutch war. In one of the clauses in this document, the Dutch exchanged the island of Manhattan for the nutmeg growing island of Rhun in what was to become the Dutch East Indies and therefore gained a complete monopoly over the nutmeg trade, known as The Manhattan Transfer.

This was not just the real estate deal of the century but probably of the millenium. Who would have believed that Manhattan would become the ‘capital of the world’ and the valuable nutmeg island of Rhun would sink into obscurity?

The United Dutch East India Company (VOC) had captured the fort on the main Banda island from the Portuguese in 1605, which meant that when English East India Company ships arrived, they could only trade for nutmegs on the outer islands of Run and Ai.
Nathaniel Courthope anchored the English East India Company vessels Swan and Defense off the tiny island of Rhun in 1616 and because of the islanders antipathy to the Dutch, he was able to get them to sign their allegiance to King James I of England, in a document similar to the one posted below. This was the very first English colony and King James I was able to declare himself, ‘King of England, Scotland and Puloo Run’.

On the other side of the world Dutch colonists acquired rights to the island of Manhattan in 1625 in exchange for sixty guilders of trade goods and named it Nieuw Amsterdam. In 1664 the English captured Nieuw Amsterdam and renamed it New York, leading to the exchange of these two islands under the Treaty of Breda in 1667.

In September 2015 the conceptual artist Beatrice Glow created what she described as the Rhunhattan Tearoom in the Sunroom Project Space, of the Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center, Bronx, New York. The exhibition consisted of acrylic and decal collage on ceramics, ink on paper and terracotta infused with the scents of colonial commerce such as cloves and nutmeg.

During her residency at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University, Beatrice Glow investigated the social history of plants via spice routes and botanical expeditions, focusing on the historical relationship between two islands on opposite sites of the world: Manahattan and Rhun. The islands, which were traded by the British and Dutch during the 17th-century spice wars, are connected by both a botanical and colonial legacy.