Empowering Community: Conserving Cultural Heritage through the Cultural Landscape-Approach in the Banda Islands, Indonesia

Empowering Community: Conserving Cultural Heritage through the Cultural Landscape-Approach in the Banda Islands, Indonesia
Joella van Donkersgoed


The spices nutmeg and mace were coveted trade goods due to their flavor and medicinal properties, and Chinese, Indian, Arab and European traders have traveled long distances to the Banda Islands in Indonesia to obtain them for many centuries. Due to its scarcity and profitability, the Dutch East India Company fixated on obtaining sole control over their production and trade. To force their objective, the Company violently took possession of the islands in 1621 and constructed an extensive network of fortifications and plantations to control and protect their production and trade in nutmeg and mace.

The first of these fortifications, Fort Nassau, serves as this research’s case study of heritage on the Banda Islands. This fort is of particular interest as it is currently undergoing extensive restorations and during my fieldwork (2014-2019) I have seen the fort change from a neglected overgrown ruin to an active site of reconstruction and
reinterpretation with freshly plastered walls and safe access to the battlements. The aim of this restoration is to attract more tourists to the Banda Islands, and in line with this objective are the efforts to enlist the archipelago as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The decisions regarding the Bandanese heritage are made by provincial and national stakeholders, and the Bandanese residents have expressed a fear of losing control over the possible changes that will come to the Banda Islands.

This research relies on extensive fieldwork and archival research in order to assess the ongoing activities at Fort Nassau and its life-history, and to understand the position of the local community in the heritage management on the Banda Islands. Through the interactions with the local community and outside stakeholders at provincial and national governmental agencies, I have gained an understanding of the local culture and heritage, and the larger aims held by these local, provincial and national stakeholders for Bandanese heritage in pursuit of economic benefits through tourism.

Fort Nassau serves as an example of a heritage site within the larger cultural landscape of the Banda Islands, and this case study demonstrates that heritage sites derive their meaning from their social, sensorial, cultural and natural environment. While these conservation efforts are taking place, the local community attempts to gain more influence over heritage management on the Banda Islands. The activities at Fort Nassau are therefore a proxy for the larger developments, including the World Heritage nomination, to develop more heritage tourism to the islands by non-local stakeholders.

With this research I attest that the (anticipated) active role of the local community in the creation and upkeep of heritage on the Banda Islands is acknowledged through the implementation of a cultural landscape-approach. Moreover, I argue that by implementing this approach the community can be empowered to gain control over the management of their heritage, to ensure the development of a sustainable management plan which will meet the challenges of our 21st century globalizing society and the effects of climate change.


Joella van Donkersgoed

Defended in


PhD defended at

Rutgers University, department of Art History, program in Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies




Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
Southeast Asia


National politics
Art and Culture