‘Banda The Dark Forgotten Trail’ learning from the past
The Jakarta Post
The latest documentary explores the islands where wealth reduced people to slaves.
The Jakarta Post/Jakarta
Banda: The Dark Forgotten Trail opens a window to a piece of Indonesia forgotten by time, tarnished by a dark history, but bearing historical significance that matches the weight of the entire country.
The islands of Banda in eastern Indonesia, once colloquially named “the Spice Islands”, were once the most valuable pieces of property on Earth. Back in the 16th century, an abundance of spices never seen in the world attracted Europeans who aimed to dominate the trade of these valuable commodities.
Nutmeg was Banda’s prized crop. Nutmeg itself was extremely versatile in the way that every part of the spice had a certain use, such as for food preservation, as a culinary flavor and as a basic ingredient of cosmetics. So valuable and rare was this spice in those days that its value exceeded that of gold, and the Dutch did everything they could to secure a monopoly, from killing the Banda natives to even going to war with the English.
Banda: The Dark Forgotten Trail, the new documentary directed by Jay Subyakto, discusses the entire history of the Banda Islands with raw, unfettered emotion and well-researched facts. It is a visually captivating movie, as the images of an unspoiled landscape string the wrenching stories gracefully on top of a moving soundtrack that recalls the music of synth-heavy band Survive.
The film explores the history of the Banda Islands from its pre-colonial era, when the Portuguese held the fort, to the brutal occupation by the Dutch, to its significance in Indonesian history as the port of exile for founding fathers Sutan Sjahrir, Mohammad Hatta and Tjipto Mangunkusumo.
As with many grandiose tales of treasure and desire, the Bandas’ significant history comes with long, savage periods of bloodshed, be it at the hands of the Dutch or even of the islanders themselves. The movie includes a wide range of statements from historians, locals and those who once lived on the Banda Islands, who tell their stories with visible passion.
One local’s account of falling victim to the regional religious violence of the 2000s is told in a stoic manner yet with the kind of chilling impact seen in fellow Indonesian violence documentary The Act of Killing.
Banda and The Act of Killing both explore the blind cruelty that Indonesians are able to stoop to whenever faced with anything that challenges religious or social supremacy.
The conflict between Christians and Muslims that wrecked the Maluku region in the early 2000s seems to sting the hearts of the Banda natives even deeper than the Dutch occupation, because the destruction was carried out by the islands’ own people.
The destruction of present-day Banda Islands does not only come in the form of violence. Locals also tell the viewers of savage economical rape of the once glorious nutmeg trade by the companies that run it today, leaving the nutmeg farmers and harvesters with less than nothing. The way the natives are treated by the current, local companies mirrors the way the Dutch used to treat them centuries ago: as slaves.
Viewers can capture the emotions of the Banda people, who express their deep sentiments toward their history and toward an increasingly indifferent Indonesia, and the movie, which aims to elicit an emotional reaction more than anything else, succeeds in doing so.
The Banda Islands are of breathtaking beauty to the eye. There is no need to visually enhance the natural features that surround and are within the island group.
However, some historians and locals in the film lament the fact that the cold foot of globalization has begun to creep in. Parks are turned into multi-story government buildings, and the internet has rendered the youth rather unmotivated to preserve the Bandas of today. The modern age might have opened Banda’s doors to the world even wider, but it comes at a risk to the island group itself.
The Bandas want tourists to boost their economy, but they also want to keep the islands’ spirit intact.
Jay Subyakto says it is up to the youth to give a darn about things like this, because they are the generation that masters this era.
They should be able learn from the mistakes of our forefathers and treat what remains of the past with greater care than before.
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