Background: History

Although the Dutch colonial history of Indonesia and Suriname is well known, the settlement by the Dutch along the eastern (Coromandel) and western (Malabar) coasts of India and Sri Lanka is often overlooked. The European global expansion of the 17th century was motivated by the enormous profits to be made from spices and other trade goods. During the 17th century, the Dutch captured many Portuguese command posts en route: Surat, Ahmedabad, Chinsurah, Cochin. In 1663 the Dutch took Cochin from the Portuguese with a military struggle, and set up their own trading post within a huge fort, which became the territory known as Dutch Malabar, extending along the southwestern coast of modern day Kerala. It is still one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, with a tropical climate that supports an extensive variety of spice, medicinal herbs and other valuable plants. It was this bio-diversity that made the area so desirable to traders since ancient times. In particular ‘spices’ were shipped out globally, and the Dutch tried to control a monopoly on the black pepper of the region, still known today as ‘Malabar Gold’.