Asian Studies Block A1
7 September 2015
Spice Trade Analysis
Multiple social studies subjects are analyzed in order to fully understand the events that unraveled during the Spice Trade. For example, for one to explain the motivation and execution of the European conquest of Southeast Asia, one must utilize aspects of Cultural anthropology, Economics, and Geography.
Economic benefit was the driving force behind European decisions to span the globe in search of exotic spices. In the Dutch West India’s Charter of Privileges, written June 7th, 1629, the corporation states their wishes to control the trade of spices and other luxuries. The charter starts of by mentioning that they are aware that “The prosperity of [countries involved in the spice trade] and the welfare of their inhabitants depends principally on navigation and trade.” It can be assumed that since trade is essential for the wellbeing of many countries, making money off of the exorbitant prices of spices was the one of the primary reasons for invading Southeast Asia.
The cultural beliefs and societal norms of Europeans defined their treatment of natives. An excerpt from the Dutch East India Company’s Charter of Privileges reads “None of the Natives or Inhabitants of these countries shall be permitted to sail to or from [other lands], or to traffic on the coast.” This statement shows that the Dutch East India Company does not see the natives as equal to the Europeans. Indirectly, the Company creates two unequal classes: natives, who cannot participate in the growing traffic of spices, and Europeans, the economic beneficiaries of the increased trade. Therefore, the culture of the Europeans who conquered Southeast Asia affected the society of the Europeans and natives.
Geography influenced the reasons why the Europeans felt it was necessary to trade directly with Southeast Asia. As seen in the map up above, in Big Era Six, The European countries that were demanding spices were a considerable distance away from the East Indies, India and the Philippines, where the spices were primarily grown. Several empires, like the Mogul Empire, Safavi Empire, and Ottoman Empire, separated the Spice-producing regions from the European consumers. Sending goods all the way from the Spice Islands to Europe via land would cross the boundaries of several different lands, and the spices would be passed from many middlemen. The spices would be taxed each time it enters a new sovereign state, which would greatly increase the end price for spices. Therefore, Europeans were forced to voyage to the Spice Islands themselves instead of paying ridiculous sums for spices.
Economics, Cultural anthropology, and Geography explain some of the driving forces of European occupation of the Spice Islands.The geography of Eurasia prevented the Europeans from having easy, affordable access to spices. The opportunist Europeans ventured to the Spice Islands because of the possibilities of wealth the economy offered. Their cultural norms and traditions affected the natives that they encountered and the laws that they wrote. The ramifications of the Spice Trade extend well beyond those initial trading journeys, shaping the geopolitics of Europe and Asia into the twenty-first century.
Freedom in World History. Political Map of the World 1500-1800 AD. Freedom in World History. Hermes, 1995. Web. 4 Sept. 2015. <http://www.hermes-press.com/hist1e.htm>.
Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library, trans. “Charter of the Dutch West India Company : 1621.” The Avalon Project. Yale Law School, 2008. Web. 4 Sept. 2015. <http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/westind.asp>.