An advance copy of Archipelago has arrived and for an author there is nothing more exciting than holding a copy of your book for the first time. The distillation of hours, weeks, months and years of research and writing, has finally taken its final form.
Archipelago started with my long held dream of travelling across the arc of islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago, island by island, and adventure by adventure. I was also interested in researching a book about sandalwood and the sandalwood trade, since after cloves and nutmeg it was sandalwood that drew traders and adventurers to the islands of the eastern archipelago.
During the writing of the sandalwood book it gained a wider significance as it somehow morphed into a journey book, which attempts to describe some of the fascinating history and huge diversity of the Indonesian Archipelago and its people. The Indonesian national motto had to be ‘Unity in Diversity’, as these islands are an extraordinary mixture of races, religions, languages and cultures.
In the prologue to the book I ask the question – is this a travel book or a history book? It is neither, as it is a journey not just across geographic space but also through historic time. The journey is full of surprises. Who would expect that on the island of Bali, the vibrant Balinese culture has the largest population of Hindu believers outside of India? Who would expect that on the islands of the eastern archipelago such as Flores, Solor and Timor it is Christianity that has replaced their animist traditions? Why would the Pope make a state visit to the country with the largest Muslim population in the world? Who would expect that a ‘kingdom’ of Portuguese and Dutch renegades could have ruled parts of Timor and the eastern islands for hundreds of years? Or that the people of East Timor would gain their independence after twenty-four years of Indonesian occupation?