The impact of the Spice Trade in the history of Southeast Asia The Spice Trade was one of the earliest forms of international commercial trade connecting Asia with Europe through a series of maritime and overland routes (Upshur, et al, 2002).
This Trade had left a deep impact on Southeast Asia, home to the so-called Spice Islands, a region teeming with precious spices that had been the craze in Europe prior to European colonization of Asia and the discovery of the New World. The tropical climate, abundant rainfall, and the fertile soil of the region made it suitable for the growth of cloves, nutmeg, pepper, mace, among many other herbs and spices. These spices, dried, grounded or in wholes, had added flavor and aroma to many dishes. They also helped preserved and enhanced the taste of stored food and some even had medicinal wonders. Asian and European merchants came to the islands in search of these spices.
This brought enormous wealth and influence among the islanders whose different kingdoms had made various deals with these foreign merchants. Navigation to the islands became known early on through this seaborne trade. The Spice Trade had stimulated and enhanced the already existing trade in spices in Southeast Asia long before the coming of the white men. Indian, Chinese and Arab settlements flourished in Southeast Asia. And even centuries after the lucrative Spice Trade, these communities can still be found in the different countries of insular East Indies. These merchants profit, from bringing these spices to their countries and further westward to the Near East and eventually to Europe. Along with their commercial motives, they also brought their faith, culture, arts, cuisine, and material civilization, such as coinage, to the region. Hinduism came to the islands and it is still evident to this day in Bali.
The Buddhist temple complex of Borobodur in central Java is one strong testament to the coming of Buddhism in present-day Indonesia. Islam from Arabia eventually dislodged Indonesia’s classical faiths, Buddhism and Hinduism, and became the dominant faith of the country, as well as present day Malaysia, Brunei and southern Philippines to this day. Indeed, Southeast Asia had become one of the earliest melting pots in the world where native islanders had intermarried with foreign merchants and where Indian, Chinese, and Arab traders eventually settled down to their newly adopted homes. Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs will figure out in the later economic development of post independence states of Southeast Asia. Later on, the Spice Trade attracted the attention of European powers which had become very eager to discover the origins of these spices and to gain direct access to them (Upshur, et al, 2002).
Arab and, later, Ottoman Turkish control of the Near East gave them the monopoly of the East-West overland trade. This prompted Europeans to find an alternate route to reach the Spice Islands. Portuguese and Spanish voyagers soon became successful in finding a way to the East Indies through Africa (Cape of Good Hope) and South America (Strait of Magellan). This opened the East Indies for European competition.
Portugal was eventually superseded by the Dutch who came to control much of the East Indies. The British took the Malay Peninsula, Singapore and some territories in northern Borneo. Spain colonized the Philippines. These Europeans brought Christianity and a new culture to the region. This heritage can still be seen today. Catholicism remains the dominant faith in the Philippines and Christianity is still strong in the Moluccas (Spice Islands), a product of the zealous missionary work that came along with the European traders to the islands. The Spice Trade also changed the landscape of many islands.
Large-scale deforestation was made to clear land for cultivating these spices. The plantation system ushered by the Europeans became a success and the region came to deliver spices directly to Western markets. This plantation system will later be employed in the large-scale growing of other agricultural plants, such as tea, sandalwood, teak, rubber, sugarcane, and coconut.ReferenceUpshur, J.
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