The conditions of soil and climate on Banda were so perfect for nutmeg trees that most of the trees were planted naturally by the same species of Tine and very handsome fruit pigeons’ which Wallace observed. These birds had such a wide-opening beak that they could swallow an entire nutmeg fruit and pass the round seed undamaged through the gut, so that it grew where it fell. The labourers had to keep the saplings free of weeds, tend the tall kenari trees which provided essential shade for the nutmeg trees, and pick the fruit. Obligingly, in that warm equatorial climate, the nutmegs gave their crop all year long. It is calculated that, in nearly two centuries of colonial rule, Holland produced a billion guilders’ worth of these spices from their tiny Banda holdings. The income from the Banda spice monopoly so dominated Dutch foreign policy that Holland offered the island of Manhattan to the British if they would drop their claim to the minuscule islet of Run in the Bandas barely three kilometres long and one and a half kilometres wide. Even more remarkably, Run itself grew no nutmeg trees. The Dutch ripped them up in order to concentrate virtually the entire world production of nutmeg and mace on the other Bandas.
Slavery in the Dutch Indies was not abolished until 1862, so there must have been slaves on Banda when Wallace visited there in the late 1800s. Yet he says nothing about them and – astonishingly for an Owenite socialist – he voiced his strong approval of the Dutch system of monopoly plantation though he knew this opinion would raise hackles in Victorian England. State monopolies, he argued, were the only way for a colony to be viable. The mother country had to find some way of paying the huge cost of its colonial efforts, bringing education, peace and a ‘civilising influence’ to unruly native peoples, and if the state controlled a lucrative monopoly, that cost could be met. It was far better, Wallace argued, for the state to reap the profits than to allow the local economy to pass into the hands of private businesses, who would exploit the natives and give nothing in return. The only condition which Wallace put forward was that the monopoly should be of a product not essential to the natives, who must be able to live without it. In this respect, of course, nutmeg was ideal; it was a luxury, not a subsistence food.
In truth, by Wallace’s time the state’s monopoly in nutmeg was in tatters. Nutmegs were being grown illegally elsewhere in the Moluccas, and the French had established nutmeg plantations in Mauritius, using seeds smuggled in from the Spice Islands. Corruption had been so widespread among the superintending officials in Banda and Amsterdam that tight control of the nutmeg trade was a sham. The Dutch authorities abandoned the system within a decade of Wallace’s visit, and handed over ownership of Banda’s nutmeg gardens to the perkiniers, the planters who had previously held them on licence. They in their turn would go under, unable to survive in world competition. The nutmeg plantations fell into neglect and Banda began a long, slow slide into obscurity while, ironically, the impoverished planters came to be replaced by a new generation of Bandanese orang kaya who re-established the age-old trade links. Twenty years after Wallace’s visit, the wealthiest man on the islands was a Javanese Arab trader, Bin Saleh Baadilla, who traded in pearls and bird products. His warehouse contained skins of Birds of Paradise prepared by the natives of Kai, Aru and New Guinea, as well as the feathers of other exotic and coloured species from the rainforest. Where his predecessors had sent the bird-skins to decorate the fans and turbans of a few Indian and Malay potentates, Bin Saleh now had a larger and more voracious market. He shipped his bird-skins to the milliners of Europe, who at the peak of the fashion craze were said to be importing 50,000 bird-skins a year to provide decorations for ladies’ hats.
Daily Archives: 20 November 2009
Social notes: Rachel is a full member of the family now. She has her own independent moods, desires, habits, hobbies, and insights. Her many observations intrigue and delight us and her usually buoyant mood lifts us when we are feeling cold and discouraged. She is more and more articulate about the specialness of our family relationship. She likes to repeat “Mama, Daddy, Rachel” as she points to each of us, sometimes misnaming us for our collective amusement. She often calls Daddy “Mama” and vice versa. When she does, she just smiles and repeats her error to reaffirm it. She has also discovered our given names and sometimes uses them to amuse us. She likes to sit us all next to each other and often calls for three-person hugs. She gives nice strong hugs now. She likes to refer to us as “this baby’s Mama” and the like. When we were travelling, she once said, “If Rachel goes to Guangzhou by Rachel’s self, Rachel will cry.”
She continues to feel more comfortable with familiar people. She warms up to students and people we visit much quicker than she used to, and is willing to show off a bit for them when she’s in the mood. She readily waves goodbye to everyone and anyone—even the most obnoxious of the “hello, hello” types. She really likes her teachers at school and knows them all by name. They really like her too, and spend a lot of time teaching her Chinese and eliciting English words from her. Rachel recognizes her classmates when we run into them around town, and knows many of their names. She has also become much more attached to and affectionate toward her stuffed animals, and likes to arrange them around her when she’s sitting on her potty chair or lying down to sleep.
Intellectual notes: Rachel’s compulsion about arranging things has reached the stage where she will take every loose object in the house and make long lines across the floor. When she finishes a line she calls us to come look, and then spends some time sucking her thumb, rubbing her belly button, and surveying her work with an artist’s eye.
She also likes her routines to be just so. When Daddy doesn’t do exactly what Mama did the day before, she will object. One day, Daddy sang Old King Cole as he stirred Rachel’s milk into her oatmeal, inadvertently establishing a ritual. Only the living room will serve for the nighttime milk-drinking and teeth-brushing routine.
Right before we took our winter trip, Rachel started to ask WHY everything. “Oh, that boy has no shoes on! Why?” “Oh, that’s a steam locomotive! Why?” Now, about three weeks later, she is trying out “that’s why” constructions: “Rachel’s cold, that’s why Rachel has no pants on.” (She still gets it backwards sometimes.)
She has begun to exercise her imagination and sense of humor a lot. She will turn herself into a roaring lion, an old lady with a walking stick, a vendor and shopper at the market, or a train passenger with bags and ticket. One night, she said “Rachel is sleeping with Rachel’s eyes open because Rachel doesn’t have eyelids.” She laughs “Rachel made a moo-take!” when she slips up, and likes to deliberately set out to make us laugh with funny faces, words, or movements.
Language notes: Rachel makes a clear distinction between occasions to use Chinese and English. Sometimes when we use Chinese, she will protest, “But Daddy’s an English speaker!” She is still not very talkative at school, but gets chatty in English as soon as we show up. She frequently asks “How Rachel say X in Chinese?” Sometimes she gets confused: “How Rachel say China in English?” She has learned to read a few more characters: 中国 (Zhongguo, China), 美国 (Meiguo, the US), 中山大学 (Zhongshan Daxue, Zhongshan Univ.), and 园林管理处 (Yuanlin Guanlichu, Forest Park Management). [Well, the last only in the context of the sign in the photo that we passed on the way to her school and back everyday.] She sat up in bed one night and said “Apple is pingguo” and then lay back down to sleep.
Her teachers were astounded to find that she knew all the letters of the English alphabet. (They seem rather easily astounded.) She knows how to spell her own name, and can say the 7 syllables of her full name pretty fluently. Her grammar is coming along nicely: “Rachel thought this walrus had a blue shirt on.” “If Rachel runs down this ramp slowly, Rachel won’t fall down.”
CHILD’S SCHOOL RECORD
OFFICIAL NO. 2 KINDERGARTEN – SMALL CLASS
NAME BO LIQIU, WEIGHT 29 lbs. HEIGHT 89 cm. (35 inches)
CHILD’S SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
Able to adapt very quickly to kindergarten life. Comes to school on time everyday. Asks for leave when needed. Able to play together with her little playmates. Likes to listen to stories. Can chant simple nursery songs. Can do morning exercise and play games. With teacher’s guidance, can do drawing exercises. Ability to get along independently has improved. Regularly washes her hands before eating and wipes her mouth afterwards. Can eat by herself. Noon nap normal. But usually drinks little water. Hope next semester to strive for even greater improvement.
HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD’S OPINION
SIGNATURE: BO DEXIAO
UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.