I.5 Trade, Cargoes and Articles

The traditional agricultural products of the Nusantara are famous the world over. Indonesia still produces 75 per cent of the world’s nutmeg. The fine spices such as cloves and mace were once at the heart of the Nusantara's trading relations. Coffee bushes were imported into West Java in the beginning of the eighteenth century. At the same time, the hinterlands of Banten sultanate, in particular Lampung in South Sumatra, and the upstream territories of Jambi and Palembang, produced much of the world’s pepper. This was primarily purchased by Europeans and Chinese. The early modern age was largely agrarian and focused on subsistence farming, but new crops were introduced as a result of global demand.

Priangan in West Java became part of the world’s first coffee boom. Today, it is virtually denuded of coffee bushes. Indeed, all memory of the eighteenth-century boom has vanished from the collective consciousness of the Sundanese. The Batak in North Sumatra hardly recall that the port of Barus on the northwest coast of Sumatra once exported fine quality camphor and benzoin harvested by their ancestors.

Archival series such as the Daily Journals of Batavia and the appendices to the Resolution Books contain many fascinating documents which refer to the indigenous products of the Nusantara. The short list of the cargo of a small Javanese gonting or trading vessel can speak volumes. So too can the cargo lists of Chinese junks from Canton, Amoy and Ningpo which came to purchase or barter local products such as Timorese sandalwood, wax from Alor or sappan wood from East Java and Sumbawa.

Situated in the middle of the great trading arteries between India and China, the Nusantara was always exporting its finest products to other Asian regions. In return, porcelain and silk flowed in from China and skillfully handcrafted textiles were imported by traders from India. Sometime the cargo manifest of a single ship tells it all, as the selected documents in the list indicate.