History of the World

Joe Yaggi | April 25 2012 | no comments

BBC has always been known for taking on ambitious projects. So I wasn’t too surprised when my friend and colleague Chris O’Donnell, whom we worked with on Last Man Standing and Last Woman Standing, called me up early in 2011 to say he was working on a new project called History of the World. And given the UK’s roles in Indonesia’s history, it seemed logical to do a section on the spice race that took place in the Banda Islands. While colonial occupation of Banda was a constant form the 1500’s – through the late 1800’s, our story took place in the mid 1600’s.

One of my favorite books on that part of Indonesia is Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton, which we’ve affectionately dubbed Nate’s Nuts… It’s a fascinating look into the history of this part of the archipelago. Nate’s Nuts tells the story of the battle for Run, a tiny, 3.5 km island at the far end of the Banda group. At one point, the island of Run was the most expensive piece of real estate on the planet and Captain Nathaniel Courthope and his tiny rag tag group of men were charged with defending it. Eventually the Dutch traded Run for Manhattan but not before killing the good Captain and most of his crew.

We spent a week shooting in the Banda Islands. Covering Run from all angles, we tried to imagine how the Dutch would have approached it and how Captain Courthope and his men would have defended it. We shot farmers in Run harvesting fresh nutmeg and mace as they’ve done for centuries and produced time lapse of the eastern bay, the island’s main port into the tiny town. I can only imagine how that might compare to a time lapse of the bay in Manhattan for which it was traded! On Banda Naira we shot beautiful images nutmeg processing deep in the heart of a dilapidated Dutch warehouse. Later, on the sea front, we used an old colonial barracks to re-create how Dutch traders would have bought and bartered nutmeg from the Bandanese.

To get a feel for just how “far out there” the island of Run really is, we bashed up Gunung Api, the 650 meter volcano that dominates the view from Banda Naira – challenging with the weather as there were only momentary windows of clarity where we could see the tiny speck of Run off in the distance. Across Banda’s calderic bay lies Banda Besar (Big Banda) where we shot an ancient nutmeg grove which locals say dates back all the way to Nathaniel. Our stay coincided with Eid al-Adha, an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isma’il) as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep— to sacrifice instead. Throughout the day cattle, goats and various other animals were sacrificed as the locals paraded through the streets singing and dancing.

The war during those times was intense and the main line of defense for the area was Fort Belgica on Banda Naira. A lot of blood was shed at that fort and you definitely got the feeling that there were some restless spirits still in the area… Spending the night on one of the turrets to capture time lapse and shots from the defenders perspective was a bit un-nerving. About 1am, while the gatekeeper and I slept, Djuna had a visitation – what sounded like keys banging out morse code on the metal ladder up to our location. Much later, after escaping into the turret from an incoming squall, I kept hearing what sounded like people sprinting across the rampart. In the morning, we asked the gatekeeper and he said “oh good, you heard them too huh? Yeah, they do that all the time…”

Please watch History of the World on BBC 1 and definitely go to Maluku and the Banda Islands if you get a chance.

BBC Comment:

—— Forwarded Message
From: RENNY Bartlett
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2012 17:07:07 +0000
To: Chris O’Donnell
Subject: Banda Island footage

Hi Chris,

I never got the chance to say what an amazing job your friend Joe did
filming the Bandas. We’ve spent the last few hours going through the
many hours he shot for us and there are so many gorgeous shots. Our
only problem is not having enough time to use  them all. A nice
problem to have. So please pass on my very belated thanks to him.



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