Cloves have been a precious commodity for residents of Huamual district in western Seram regency, Maluku, for hundreds of years.
The European arrivals in Indonesia, while originally intending to search for spices, later turned to colonizing the region and building a political power.
Spices and European colonialism have brought dark periods to Indonesia’s history.
Before the Europeans arrived, Negeri Luhu, now the district capital, was one of 99 villages within the kingdom of Huamual.
“The Huamual War, which lasted from 1602 to 1656, destroyed the other 98 [villages], leaving Negeri Luhu as the only survivor,” said Umar Faisal Kaliky, the former king of Negeri Luhu.
The war stemmed from the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) control over the clove trade, which enraged the Huamual people and triggered resistance against the trading company
Today, only a few European heritage objects remain in Negeri Luhu, which has a predominantly Muslim population.
Two cannons, believed to have belonged to the Portuguese, are now located in front of Baeliu, a place where rituals and enthronement ceremonies used to be held. Located some 10 kilometers east of Negeri Luhu is Pintu Tujuh, where there are several caves formerly used as hideouts and meeting places for local monarchs. Visitors have to enter a forest and trek uphill to reach the site.
With a population of more than 10,000 people, Negeri Luhu relies highly on spices, especially cloves, as a source of income.
“During the harvest season, the roads here are covered with cloves that are being dried,” said Abdul Gani Kaliky, the acting king of Negeri Luhu.
A clove plantation owner can produce between 250 kilograms and 1 ton of clove per harvest time. The price of cloves reached Rp 150,000 (US$11) per kg in 2015. However, today, it stands at Rp103,000 to residents’ disappointment.
For residents of Negeri Luhu, cloves are not just a livelihood, but a source of pride that allows them to continue their ancestral tradition.