Seeds of Trouble

The forgotten colonial history of Indonesia’s Banda Islands

Fort Concordia, built by the Dutch. A small fort was first built in this location in 1630 to protect the village from pirates. In 1732, it was replaced by the current larger square fort with three corner bastions. After the end of colonial era, it was looted by villagers living nearby as a source for building material. Today, it is relatively intact with only one bastion having been completely demolished.
Photographs by Muhammad Fadli
31 October, 2022

In 2014, the photographer Muhammad Fadli first visited Banda, a tiny archipelago of 12 islands in Indonesia. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these islands were coveted and fought over by Western colonial powers for a rare spice that grew only on its shores: nutmeg. Once a crucial player in the world’s spice trade, the Banda islands today lie largely abandoned and erased from public memory.

“Surrounded by deep and wild seas, the Banda Islands is one of those forgotten places,” Fadli and the journalist Fatris MF write in their photobook The Banda Journal. “The remote islands once exploited for centuries by European powers have now faded into obscurity, as if blotted out from the world map.” The photobook is the outcome of a three-year project, in which the duo travelled to Banda to trace the remnants of its past and document its present condition.

A native of Sumatra, Fadli had briefly read about Banda in history textbooks. But it was only on visiting the islands, he said, that he truly understood how decades of colonisation had defined the island’s past and present. He realised it was a compelling story, one that he wanted to tell.