The forgotten Indonesian island that was swapped for Manhattan

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that way

Istanbul (Not Constantinople), 1953

Once upon a time the Dutch and the English fought for 60 years over a tiny speck in the middle of the Banda Sea.

Not many will have heard of the object of their feud – Run – a coconut-fringed island about three kilometres long and one kilometre wide. But everyone knows the island for which Run was eventually swapped.

On July 31, 1667 the Dutch and the English signed the Treaty of Breda. As part of the agreement, the swampy island of Manhattan in New Amsterdam – which the Dutch had “bought” from the Native Americans – was exchanged for the island of Run.

Ian Burnet, the author of East Indies, describes it as “the real estate deal of the millennium”.

At the time the Dutch were adamant they were the victors.

“Few would have believed a small trading village on the island of Manhattan was destined to become the modern metropolis of New York,” writes Burnet.

Historian John Keay believes Run is to British imperial history what Runnymede, where King John signed the Magna Carta, is to British constitutional history.

“Every overseas empire had to begin somewhere,” he wrote in The Honourable Company. “There might, for instance, be a case for locating the genesis of the British Empire in the West Indies, Virginia or New England. But there is a less obvious and much stronger candidate. The seed from which grew the most extensive empire the world has ever seen was sown on Pulo [island] Run in the Banda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago.”

In 2017, Run is almost as inaccessible and isolated as it was 350 years ago. The trip is still epic.


By Jewel Topsfield, Karuni Rompies

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