Whether you are in Manado, Padang or Solo, sambal – chilli paste – is a feature of daily life and is as Indonesian as it gets. Still, cabai, the chilli pepper used to prepare sambal, is not an indigenous Indonesian plant, originating in Mexico and Brazil.
In the early 16th century, Spanish vessels from the East, and Portuguese ones from the West, reached the Moluccas – Maluku – while seeking faster and more direct routes to the spice trade – clove and nutmeg. On board there were a number of American foods such as corn, tomato, cassava, potato and tobacco. While all important, none of them are as essential to Indonesian gastronomy as cabai – chilli peppers.
We came to Nusantara seeking Indonesian spices sought-after in Europe, but we also brought new foods and spices, which were instantly popular among Indonesians. This love of food and exchange of spices marked the beginning of globalisation 500 years ago.
There is no denying that during the second half of the 15th century, Portugal and Spain were the avant-garde of shipbuilding and seamanship. One could argue that the technological innovations and wealth of knowledge concentrated in the Iberian Peninsula at that time made it the forerunner of today’s NASA or Silicon Valley. Instead of trying to reach the moon they were navigating the Earth to reach Tidore and Ternate.
Before these innovations, no single vessel had navigated two open oceans in a row. Until then, sailing relied heavily on coastal reference and on hit-or-miss attempts. Long-haul navigation across the fearful Pacific had been essentially one-way, round trips were unthinkable.
Therefore, the critical milestone of maritime globalisation was the first circumnavigation of the world from 1519 to 1522, a truly amazing voyage entrusted by the Spanish monarchy to a Portuguese native, Ferdinand Magellan. He died in the Philippines shortly before reaching the Molucca Sea, and after several failed leadership attempts, a Spaniard named Juan Sebastian Elcano was democratically elected to take command of the Victoria, one of the two remaining vessels of the Spanish fleet.
On November 7, 1521, both the Trinidad and Victoria finally anchored in Tidore waters. While they had originally planned to return to America through the Pacific, Elcano’s bold plan to circumnavigate the world was ultimately determined in the Moluccas. The Trinidad pursued the original plan of returning to America through the Pacific but ended as a wreck in the reefs off the coast of what is today known as Kastela – Gamalama – in Ternate. Only the Victoria managed to return to Spain.
The crew enlisted in the Magellan-Elcano expedition was made up of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Greek, Dutch, German, Irish, British and Malay citizens and while undeniably international in composition, the enterprise remained distinctively Spanish. The path to globalisation can be traced to a small number of locations in the Moluccas and the Iberian Peninsula with Tidore and Ternate on one side and Spain and Portugal on the other.
The commemoration of 500 years since the first circumnavigation of the world by Magellan-Elcano is an important milestone in global history but it is also the beginning of the relationship between Spain and Indonesia.
To commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first trip around the world, the Embassy of Spain to the Republic of Indonesia has collaborated with the governor of North Maluku, the city councils and sultans of Tidore and Ternate, to prepare an exciting programme from March 27 to 29, in the Moluccas. Portugal will also participate, leaving old rivalries in the past, where they must remain.
The highlight of the programme will be the three-day visit of the Spanish Navy training ship, Juan Sebastian Elcano. The ship is currently on the way to the Moluccas as part of the journey to reproduce the route of the first circumnavigation of the world.
With the support of Aula Cervantes Jakarta, the Spanish Cultural Centre, the Spanish embassy has an exciting itinerary in Tidore and Ternate, which includes a socially distanced flamenco concert, exhibitions and a seminar at the Spice Museum in Ternate. The discussion will focus on the Spanish presence in the Moluccas from 1521 to 1663 when there were more than 20 Spanish enclaves scattered across the Moluccas and Sulawesi.
Since 2019, the Spanish embassy has participated in several official visits to Tidore and Ternate in preparation for this anniversary.
In December 2020, we took Den Kisot, a wayang golek – wooden puppet show – version of the Spanish masterpiece Don Quijote written by Miguel Cervantes to Tidore and Ternate. Produced by Komunitas Salihara, Den Kisot was adapted to Indonesian, Sundanese and Ternate languages by the eminent writer Goenawan Mohamad, and then transformed to wayang format by the ethnomusicologist Endo Suanda. Ternate novelist Nukila Amal helped to adapt and reimagine Den Kisot in the context of the Moluccas.
Besides being an accomplished writer, Nukila is the daughter of the scholar Adnan Amal, the author of Kepulauan Rempah-Rempah, the canonical history of the Spice Islands, and Portugis & Spanyol di Maluku, the preeminent narrative of the Spanish history in the Moluccas.
As a response to the works of Adnan, our embassy, along with Aula Cervantes Jakarta, recently published in Spanish En el archipielago de la Especieria: Espana y Molucas en los siglos XVI-XVII, the first comprehensive volume delving into the history of the Moluccas-Spain relationship during the 16th and 17th centuries. In this book we highlight the long-term alliance between the Sultanate of Tidore and the Spanish monarchy, and rescue from oblivion figures such as Sultan Kaicil Zayde from Tidore, or prime minister Karaeng Pattingalloang from Makassar, who once spoke Spanish.
From trade to maritime technology, and cuisine to cartography, the impact and importance of the first circumnavigation by Magellan-Elcano cannot be overstated. Spain may have been the point of departure and return, but the Moluccas were at the heart of this momentous global voyage.
Jose Maria Matres Manso is Spanish ambassador to Indonesia
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK