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North Sulawesi

"The town of Manado", wrote the well-known English zoologist Alfred Russel Wallace after a visit to the area in 1859, "is one of the most beautiful places in the East. It looks like a big garden in which rows of villas are built. Wide paths in between are streets, which are usually squared. Good roads split up in several directions to the hinterlands, with some rural houses, nice little gardens and rich plantations, jungle and fruit trees. In the west and south the area is mountainous, with groups of volcanic peaks with a height between 1800 and 2100 meters, which form high and picturesque backgrounds in the landscape... I had heard a lot about the beauty of this country, but reality has surpassed my expectations by far."

Introduction to North Sulawesi
Introduction to North Sulawesi

What Wallace wrote down about the wealth was kind of superficial, but his description of the natural beauty is still valid. It is indeed one of the most spectacular areas of Indonesia. The province of North Sulawesi consists of three big districts (the Minahasa, Bolaang Mongondow and Gorontalo) and one smaller (the Sangihe-Talaud Islands) and consists the 600 kilometer long and barely 50 km wide northern peninsula of the island. A big part of the beauty and fertility of this area finds its origin in the high vulcanoes. Many are dead or dormand, bug Gunung Lokon near Tomohon has numerous eruptions between 1982 and 1986 and in 1991, and unung Soputan in Central Minahasa in 1989. Tremors are very common as well. Wallace experienced tremors, while he was in the hills over Ruruka, which lasted over a week with regular intervals. 'We felt engulfed by the power in which the wildest wind and waves are nothing; still the effect is rather more scary than panical which is caused by the rough war of the elements'.
Vulcanoes are just one aspect of a geologically active complex, which concludes fumarols and hot sources in Minahasa. The volcanoes are responsible for the extraordinary fertiule soil, which forms the most important economical factor of the province. North Sulawesi posesses several of the most fertile pieces of soil outside Jawa and Bali. Agriculture (coconuts, clove and nugmeg) forms the base for a big wealth in many parts of the province.
The most northern district concludes the vulcanic islands of the Sangihe and Talaud archipelagos, which depend on fishery, spices and coconuts. The islanders travel to the mainland on a regular base, where they work in harvesting coconuts.
The Minahasa, the hinterland of Manado, is the most densely populated and highly developped district. Only 20 per cent of the land is still covered in forest; the population density has shot up to over 300 people per This is far less than Jawa, but still very high.
The Minahasa is very mountainous (Gunung Klabat, the highest peak, is 1995 meters), but has a small coastal area with coconut trees, and a plateau around Danau Tondano, where irrigated ricefields bring in abundant yields. The hills in the inlands are covered in clove trees, while the cool highland areas in the south, near the border with Bolaang Mongondow is rich with potatoes and carrots.
East of Minahasa are the districts of Bolaang Mongondow and Gorontalo. They are very mountainous as well, with an even narrower coastal plain. The inlands only have a few low valleys, in which agriculture is less intensife than in Minahasa. Both districts have small settlements, developped by transmigrants from Jawa and Bali. The Dumoga valley west of Kotamobagu has two wealthy Balinese villages (and several Jawanese settlements), which have profited from the very fertile soil, the widespread irrigation systems and the good road system. Settlements with transmigrants are remarkably successfull, but pressure of the local population and a shortage of agricultural ground has lead to a practical end of the massive movement.
North Sulawesi is also blessed with abundant rainfall, somewhat spread out over the entire year and a wealth of marine life. There are however some serious ecological problems: deforestation and erosion because of that, and clogging waterways are visible in Minahasa as well as Gorontalo.

Rice and coconuts

The wealth of the province is controlled by agriculture. North Sulawesi is among the best provinces for their contribution to the national treasury. Growth is above the Indonesian average. Education and healthcare is better than most other Indonesian provinces as well.
Rice was the first crop in which 'foreigners' showed their interest. The Dutch which had their base on the Maluku Spice Islands, aimed on the nearby Minahasa for their resupplies. Ironically the province is now importing rice. During the 19th century coffee was important, but nowadays clove, copra, coconut oil and their products are worth much more. Many of the milions and milions of coconut trees are old and not well maintained; they are being replaced gradually.
Coconuts are, as well as the other crops from trees in North Sulawesi, not grown on big plantations for a few exceptions, but by small farmers, so many villagers have a good income. Fruit is dried in the sun or smoked to gain copra from it.

Clove fever

Specially clove (cengkeh) has brought in a lot of money lately. Clove, a local spiecies on the nearby Moluccan islands, are grown in Sulawesi for a long time, but in the last decades this crop has been adopted widely. The term 'clove fever' describes the atmosphere of the 1970's and 1980's, when everybody seemed to be busy with clove: planting, growing, harvesting and trading. For the 'big harvests', commodities are brought in and are paid for by an advance in the clove harvest later.
During production peaks, work at offices and schools comes to a halt, because the labor intensife harvest has to be done in the shortest possible time. The remarkable obor of the spice perfumes the air. The clove is picked when they are still green-yellowish. Spread on mats to be dried in the sun, they color dark pretty soon. Next they are stored in case of rising prices in the future or - usually - given to traders to pay for the debts.
Clove is mainly cultivated on the slopes in Minahasa. Even the posession of a few trees can be an important source of money for a family. The clove is exported to Jawa, mainly for producing kretek cigarettes, which will give the visitor an ever lasting memory to the country. Kretek contains upto 50 per cent clove powder, the World Health organisation has said, quite some time ago, that they are the most dangerous cigaretted in the world. From the leafs of the high trees, clove oil is made, used for alleviating pains. Another important tree crop in North Sulawesi is nutmeg. It is a sour tasting fruit that grows in high trees. The hard pip contains the spice nutmeg. Candien, the fruit of the nutmeg, is a nice snack. Except for nutmeg, vanilla is gaining in importance as well.
Important as well is the sea, rich with several spiecies of tuna. In Air Tembaga, close to Bitung along the northeastern coast, is a small harbor with a modern procession facility. Fishing is still mainly done with small boats instead of big ships, which were supposed to take over quite some time ago. Important quantities of fresh water fish are extracted from Danau Tondano or grown in ponds.

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