alias the United East India Company (of what would become the Netherlands) was the world’s first multinational corporation.
For millennia, Ternate and the neighbouring island of Tidore in modern Indonesia were the world’s only source of those fragrant, twig-like herbs that were worth their weight in gold: cloves.
Cloves from Ternate were traded by Arab seafarers along the maritime Silk Route not just to China, but eastwards to the Middle East and on to Europe, increasing in value as they travelled westwards.
In China, a Han dynasty ruler from the 3rd century BCE insisted that anyone addressing him in audience chew cloves to sweeten his breath. Their origin was a fiercely-guarded secret until the Portuguese and Spanish burst into the Java Sea in the 16th Century.
In 1652, after displacing the Portuguese and Spanish, the Protestant Dutch introduced a policy known as extirpatie: extirpation. For, just as corporations today seek to monopolise plant genes in the developing world, so The Dutch East Indies Company set about seizing total control of the incredibly lucrative spice production from The Spice Islands of Indonesia (until 1947, the Dutch East Indies).
All clove trees not controlled by the DEIC were uprooted and burned.
Anyone caught growing, stealing or possessing clove plants without authorisation faced the death penalty.
To the south of Ternate, on the Banda Islands – the world’s only source of nutmeg – the Dutch used Japanese mercenaries to slaughter almost the entire male population.
Like OPEC and many other trans-national cartels today, the DEIC also limited supply to keep prices high. Only 800-1,000 tonnes of cloves were exported per year. The rest of the harvest was burned or dumped in the sea.
From the BBC via Anthony Weir.