The Nutmeg’s Curse
Before the 18th century, every single nutmeg in the world originated around a group of small volcanic islands east of Java, known as the Banda Islands. As the nutmeg made its way across the known world, they became immensely valuable – in 16th century Europe, just a handful could buy a house. It was not long before European traders became conquerors, and the indigenous Bandanese communities – and the islands themselves – would pay a high price for access to this precious commodity. Yet the bloody fate of the Banda Islands forewarns of a threat to our present day. Amitav Ghosh argues that the nutmeg’s violent trajectory from its native islands is revealing of a wider colonial mindset which justifies the exploitation of human life and the natural environment, and which dominates geopolitics to this day.
‘Do not miss this book’ NAOMI KLEIN, author of This Changes Everything
The history of the nutmeg is one of conquest and exploitation – of both human life and the natural environment – and the origin of our contemporary climate crisis.
Tracing the threats to our future to the discovery of the New World and the sea route to the Indian Ocean, The Nutmeg’s Curse argues that the dynamics of climate change are rooted in a centuries-old geopolitical order constructed by Western colonialism. The story of the nutmeg becomes a parable revealing the ways human history has always been entangled with earthly materials – spices, tea, sugarcane, opium, and fossil fuels. Our crisis, Ghosh shows, is ultimately the result of a mechanistic view of the earth, where nature exists only as a resource for humans to use for our own ends, rather than a force of its own, full of agency and meaning.
Writing against the backdrop of the global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, Ghosh frames these historical stories in a way that connects our shared colonial past with the deep inequality we see around us today. By interweaving discussions on everything from the global history of the oil trade to the migrant crisis and the animist spirituality of indigenous communities around the world, The Nutmeg’s Curse offers a sharp critique of contemporary society and speaks to the profoundly remarkable ways in which human history is shaped by non-human forces.