Sunday, 15 May 2011

19 October 1469: The day that changed the world

All is riddle, and the key to a riddle is another riddle 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson -

The year was 1961. A US meteorologist Edward Lorenz was working on a mathematical modeling of a weather prediction system, using a digital computer Royal McBee LGP-30. In the simulation he wanted to recreate a weather sequence that he had simulated a year earlier, but this time he began the sequence midway and used only 3 decimal places instead of the 6 decimal places in his original simulation.

This minor and seemingly insignificant change, to his surprise, dramatically changed the sequence and made both the old and new calculations become comparatively different. Moreover, in what become known as Lorenz Attractors, this discovery suggested that even the most detailed weather modeling could only predict weather pattern no more than 1 week, due to the system's sensitivity towards the tiniest random changes.

This accidental occurrence intrigued him, and over the next several years he researched this chaotic phenomenon even further, which culminated in 1972 when he presented a paper to American Association for the Advancement of Science with the title "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?"

The paper coined the term Butterfly Effect, and received positive feedback from the scientific community, in which some even praise his findings as 1 of 3 scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century, alongside Theory of Relativity and Theory of Quantum Mechanics. Edward Lorenz became the father of Chaos Theory.

The Butterfly Effect

A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil may represent a very small and largely insignificant event in the overall atmospheric system. But just like changing the decimal points from 6 to 3, when the butterfly flaps its wings it might start-off some kind of chain reactions that ultimately could cause a tornado in Texas.

Just like the butterfly effect, sometimes 1 seemingly small and insignificant point in history is all it takes to start-off series of chain-reactions that would eventually changed the world. Had this point of history not occurred, Spain wouldn't become a country, the Dutch Golden Age might not happen, the global financial market might not exist, the country of Philippines would have a different name, my country Indonesia would still consist of individual kingdoms, Maya Inca Aztec empires might still exist till this day, and we all would still rely on candles as light bulbs would never exist. Hence, had this point of history not occur, the world that we currently live in would be completely different.

To be exact, this 1 small and seemingly insignificant point in history occurred on 19 October 1469.

The day that changed the world

Isabella of Castile was born on 22 April 1451 in Madrigal de las Altas Torres. When she was 3 years old her father King John II died and was replaced by her 26 year old half-brother Henry IV.
Ferdinand of Aragon
and Isabella of Castile
King Henry IV originally intended to put his daughter Joanna as the heiress to the throne, but the nobles in the kingdom of Castile wanted Alfonso (Isabella's younger brother) as the heir, which sparked the Second Battle of Olmedo in 1467. The battle was a draw, and Henry agreed to make Alfonso the heir if he would marry Joanna. This agreement, however, was short-lived when Alfonso died because of the plague, and when Henry discovered that Joanna might not be his biological daughter.

Isabella, whom got the backing from the nobles, then offered a truce with Henry to end the war with the arrangement that Isabella would be named the heiress and in exchange Isabella would have to ask for Henry's consent if she wants to get married, giving Henry the power to still control the succession line of the throne. Henry agreed on the truce, and afterward several match-making candidates were offered to Isabella by Henry, with the likes of King Edward IV of England, Alfonso V of Portugal, Pedro Giron and Charles (the Duke of Berry). But Isabella fell in love with Ferdinand II of Aragon.

Marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella
The day that changed the world
Like any romantic tales their love was prohibited, because they didn't get the consent from Henry on the basis that their grandfathers were brothers, making them second cousins. But this didn't stop them from getting married, when one day Isabella managed to escape the surveillance of Henry with the excuse of visiting her brother's tomb, while Ferdinand managed to smuggle himself into Castile in a disguise as a merchant. Finally, in the Palacio de los Vivero, in the city of Valladolid, Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella of Castile on 19 October 1469. The butterfly began to flap its wings.

Ferdinand and Isabella got married with a clear prenuptial agreement on power sharing. And when Henry IV died in 1474 Isabella became Queen Isabella I of Castile, while in 1479 Ferdinand succeeded his father and became King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Together, Ferdinand and Isabella united the various states in the two kingdoms under the same political Crown, making the base of the creation of the Kingdom of Espana (Spain) that would be realized later by their grandson.

15th century Iberian Peninsula
In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella further expanded their kingdom in the Iberian peninsula by conquering the Islamic kingdom of Granada. Meanwhile at the same year Ferdinand and Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree, a religious purification document in which Jews had to convert to Christianity or faced with expulsion from Aragon and Castile. This triggered a mass exodus of Jews to other European kingdoms, and gave Ferdinand and Isabella the nickname of the "Catholic Monarch."

The Alhambra Decree was also signed by the defeated Emir of Granada Muhammad XII, where Muslims in the kingdom received an exemption for not converting to Christianity. But later on in 1502 this agreement with the emir of Granada was broken by Ferdinand, and the expulsion of the Muslims alongside the Jews, as we will see later, became a chain reaction that will eventually contribute to the bankruptcy of Spain.

But for now in 1492, the Jews were the only ones having a mass exodus out from Aragon and Castile, leaving behind a financially broke kingdom after Ferdinand and Isabella's expensive conquest to capture the kingdom of Granada. It is in this context that a desperate explorer from Republic of Genoa came forward to Isabella for the second time to get a funding from her, after numerously failed to convince other monarchs in Europe of his audacious plan. The desperate explorer's name was Christopher Columbus.

The road to the Indies

The Mongol Empire
There were once stood in the face of the earth the second largest empire in the history of the world, the Mongol Empire. Consisted of several tribes, the empire was first united in 1206 under the leadership of Genghis Khan. Over the next several decades the genius but brutal strategies of Genghis Khan and his successors vastly expanded the empire (Genghis Khan himself subjugated more lands and people in 25 years than the Romans did in 400), which at its height stretched from Budapest in the west to Shanhaiguan in the East, from Russia in the north to Tibet in the south.

The large area of the Empire across Eurasia under one political control made the West-East trade route (the legendary Silk Road) safe once again. Thus, in what became known as Pax Mongolica (Mongol Peace) the trade routes was re-established, and international trade and commerce was booming.

The travels of Marco Polo
Traveling caravans came to the West from what then known largely as the Indies (places in South and South East Asia such as India and Spice Islands) as well as Persia and China, bringing silk, pepper, nutmeg, cottons, pearls, precious stones, carpets and leather goods, among others. And in return Europeans brought fine cloth, silver, horses, linen and others to the East. Along with these goods, people, techniques, information and ideas also moved across the Silk Road, created wonderful travel tales along the way such as the great journeys of Marco Polo and Ibn-Batuta.

The Mongol army
However, just like the decline of the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire started to decline when it became too big to manage. Regional struggles, corruption, rivalries between leaders, separatist revolts and diseases brought the empire down slowly and hence began to threatened the Pax Mongolica. And then in 1453 Constantinople was defeated by the Ottoman Turks, and along with the fall of this last remaining Eastern Roman Empire, the land route to Asia became dangerous and difficult once again.

One of the earliest pioneers who tried to solve this trade-route problem was King John II of Portugal, who sought to reach the Indies by sea. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias achieved this conquest by finding a route through sailing around Africa, where he reached his furthest point when his ship anchored in Kwaaihoek, a small island off the eastern coast of the present day South Africa. Dias initially wanted to continue to sail to the Indies, but several difficulties prevented him to go further. But his pathway discovery was enough to set numerous expeditions by Portugal in the next decade, which all ended in failure, that is until Vasco Da Gama finally landed in Kappad, India, on 20 May 1498.

Meanwhile back in 1480s, with land routes considered dangerous and eastwards sea route hasn't been found yet, a 34 year old Christopher Columbus had another idea, he constructed an alternative plan to reach the Indies by sailing west across the Atlantic. Initially, Columbus presented his plan to John II of Portugal in 1485. But his idea was rejected by the king's team of experts on the base that Columbus travel distance estimation of 3860 km was too short. In the next few years Columbus also traveled to Genoa and Venice to present his plan but with no success, while he also sent his brother to present to Henry VII of England but the king lingered in making any decision.

Columbus presenting his plan
to Ferdinand and Isabella
In 1486 Columbus sought out Queen Isabella of Castile, but her team of experts too judge Columbus' estimation of the distance was too short. Based on the advice of her experts Isabella rejected Columbus' plan, but to keep her options open she gave him annual allowance of 12,000 maravedis and ordered all cities and towns in the kingdom to provide him food and accommodation without cost. In 1488 Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal but was also rejected for the second time, mainly because Bartholomeu Dias had just returned successfully from circling Africa, thus Portugal's focus is now to control the Eastern sea route.

It is in this desperate time that Columbus (now 41 years old) came forward to Isabella for the second time in 1492. Financially broke from the expensive conquest of Granada, and after the unpopular expulsion of the Jews in the same year, Isabella had no desire to implement a risky bet and turned down Columbus' plan once more. But when Columbus was about to leave the kingdom in despair, Ferdinand intervened. After much consultation with her husband, Isabella then sent the royal guard to pick Columbus back, where his plan was finally accepted.

The Gold Rush

Columbus expedition ships
Christopher Columbus began his westward journey to the Indies on 3 August 1492, funded by various private Italian investors and ultimately by the sponsorship of the kingdom of Castile. On 12 October 1492 he landed in the Caribbean island of Guanahani (The Bahamas), and accidentally became the first European to discover the American continent after the Vikings in the 11th century, and 70 years after the Chinese set foot in the continent. Columbus however, insisted that he had reached the Indies (East Indies), thus called the indigenous people the Indians, while in fact he landed in what later to be known as West Indies (This partly explain why the continent wasn't named after Columbus, but instead named after a Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci, whom later in 1508 was made the chief navigator of Aragon and Castile by king Ferdinand, and controversially became the first person to correctly claim the discovery of the new continent).

Columbus landed in the New World
Ever since his discovery, between 1492 and 1503 Columbus completed 4 round-trip voyages between Europe and America, conquering first the islands in the Caribbean and later expanded into Central America. Columbus' discovery in 1492 also marked the beginning of the European Exploration Era and the long and brutal colonization of the American continent, which over the first century and a half the native population plummeted by approximately 80%.

In 1504 Queen Isabella died, and after the death of King Ferdinand in 1516 their grandson Charles I became king (he took the throne due to the mental illness of his mother and the death of his father) and effectively founded the sole kingdom of Spain. Under the rule of king Charles I the Spaniards defeated the Aztec Empire in 1521, in which they looted the riches in the capital Tenochtitlan. They then continued to raid the Chibcha people of Colombia (the original El Dorado) before battling the Inca Empire in the 1530s.

Defeating the Aztec Empire
Among the riches that they looted from the natives, gold and silver were abundant. And it is estimated that from the beginning of the European Exploration in the early 1500s till 1800, around 2739 to 2846 tons of gold (around 70% of world production at that time) were shipped out from the Americas, which at the price of $400 per ounce would have the approximate value of $36 billion.

The Spaniards melt most of the gold and silver that they "found", so that they could be shipped efficiently back to Spain. Their shipments from the Americas arrived once a year in Spain, but the monarchs who got accustomed to the luxury started to spend their portion before the shipments even arrived. To do so, the monarchs borrowed money in advance from their citizens, with the promise to pay it back once the gold and silver arrived. But the monarchs never take into consideration the potential amount of lost due to piracy, or whether the ship ever arrived at all. This, as we will see later, contributed to the bankruptcy of Spain and became one of the main reasons of the Dutch revolution.

Inca Empire surrendered
Meanwhile, thanks to the big inflow of gold import from the Americas, apart from the luxury of gold that the monarchs enjoyed, it is estimated that between 1500 and 1600 prices in Spain rose significantly by 400% while wages remained relatively stagnant for its civilians, thus created poverty.

Most Christian Spaniards at that time worked as peasants, farmers, manufacturers, ranchers, craftsmen or served as soldiers. And due to the ever increasing inflation, their money lost its value and became so limited that they were only able to produce few goods. Hence Spain had to import the supply of goods from other states. This added pressure to the already dying national industries and further spread the gold rush to these importer states in a form of payments.

Moreover, regardless of their profession, the Spaniards had little education and could not read, write nor work with numbers. The educated middle class in the kingdom used to be the Jews and Muslims that they kicked out and without them the Spaniards proved highly ineffective in managing their commercial and financial matters.

In the rush for job and commerce opportunities, people from many states began to come to Spain to fill the role as the middle class society, with the likes of Italian merchants, German moneylenders and Dutch manufacturers. These people, however, took their profit back home without reinvested it back to the Spanish economy, which resulted in a a further outflow of capital from Spain to these states (which among other causes led to Spain's eventual bankruptcy), flourishing these states' economies and partly contributed to what later became the Dutch Golden Age.

The battle of the 17 Provinces

Through complicated series of dynastic marriages, succession lines and conquests, at the beginning of the 16th century most European kingdoms were inter-connected with each others.
Charles I of Spain
When Charles I of Spain was born in 1500 in Ghent, Ghent was part of the Burgundian state of the Netherlands, and the Netherlands was part of the Habsburg Empire since 1477. While in 1516 Charles inherited Aragon and Castile (due to his maternal line from Ferdinand and Isabella), in 1519 he also became ruler of the Habsburg Empire and became Charles V of Holy Roman Emperor (due to his paternal line, which he succeeded from his grandfather Maximilian I), making the Netherlands automatically part of the Spanish Empire ruled by the Habsburgs, or simply called the Spanish Netherlands. The Spanish Netherlands consisted of 17 provinces and around 300 cities, with population estimated at 3 million.

During Charles' reign, the Protestantism movement was starting to gain ground in Europe. Initiated on 31 October 1517 in the university town of Wittenberg, the Protestantism movement began when a German Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses that protested the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church. In his theses Martin Luther mainly criticized the Church's doctrines of purgatory, the authority of the Pope and in particular the Church's sale of indulgences as a mean of funding a massive construction project to build the St. Peter's Basilica.

The declaration of the 95 theses
Based on the 95 theses the Protestantism movement soon spread across Europe, especially northern part of Europe, in 3 waves. While the first wave of the original movement did not spread to the Netherlands, the second wave, the Anabaptism, reached the Netherlands and became very popular especially in the counties of Holland and Friesland. King Charles I as a devout Catholic tried to fight the rapidly spreading new religion from 1523, he made Protestantism a capital offense and prosecuted more than 1300 people along the way. This put gasoline in an already burning fire, as his action further escalated the anger of the Dutch people towards the Spanish ruler.

Tax of violence in the Netherlands
The Dutch people's early resentment towards Spain was rooted in the empire's taxation on them. In those days, the Netherlands was a wealthy state that thrived in trade and industry. And the "overseas" Dutch workers who sent back money home from Spain also contributed to the flourishing economy. Hence, the Netherlands became an important source of income for the treasury of the Spanish Empire, which Charles imposed heavy taxation to the Dutch people to fund his wars and conquests against the Turks, French and Germans.

But on the other hand, with all the taxed money taken away from them, guidance and support for the Dutch was almost none existence from the Spanish government. This, along with Charles' quest to fight Protestantism fueled the anger of the Dutch people, and became the root cause of what years later became known as the Dutch Revolution.

Meanwhile back in Spain, with gold and silver shipments often being disrupted in the Atlantic sea, the Spanish monarchs found themselves increasingly in debt to its citizens. However the monarchs never pay back their debt, as they felt no obligation over their ruled subjects. Subsequently, the citizens started to hide their money from the ruler and quit lending money altogether.

In order to maintain their lavish lifestyle, the monarchs then seek fund from foreign bankers and creditors in Genoa, Germany and Flanders at rates of interest up to 18% per annum. Needless to say, although the Spanish Empire ruled one of the largest area in the world, from the Americas to the large area in Europe, their economy was a mess, they were constantly living in debt, had a huge trade imbalance and at the mercy of their creditors.

Philip II of Spain
which the country Philippines
was named in honour of him
It was in this situation that in 16 January 1556 Phillip II of Spain became king. Philip succeeded his father Charles I, whom left Philip with a debt of around 36 million ducats and annual deficit of 1 million ducats. Charles also left Philip a federation of separate states (instead of a single monarch with 1 unifying legal system) under the control of the Spanish Empire, with boiling resentment in the Netherlands towards the Spanish ruler. Just after a year of Philip's reign, Philip defaulted on their enormous debts and declared Spain's first bankruptcy in 1557.

In the 1560s the third wave of Protestantism, Calvinism, arrived in the Netherlands. The Calvinists was more successful than the Anabaptists in becoming a significant influence in the Netherlands, with them able to convert the common population, mostly in the southern province of Flanders, as well as the elites. King Philip II as a devout Catholic followed the footsteps of his father Charles and his great grandparents Ferdinand and Isabella, by declaring war towards the Calvinists to preserve the "purity" of the Catholic religion in his Empire.

William the Silent
AKA William the Orange
of the Netherlands
In 1566, Philip's army started to engage in a brutal war with the Calvinists in the Beeldenstorm Battle. This war worsen the condition in the Netherlands after the bad harvest of 1565 that spread hunger among the people. This finally exploded the anger of the Dutch people, which prompted William the Silent (or better known as William the Orange), a Calvinism convert, to lead the Calvinist Dutch in Eight Years War against the Catholic Spain. The provinces of Holland and Zeeland eventually fell into the hands of the Calvinists in 1572.

The Spanish Fury
In 1575 Philip defaulted Spain's huge debt once again. Philip acquired these debts to fund simultaneous wars across Europe, and with his unwillingness to pay his debts, the creditors completely stopped the funds flowing to him, including the funds to pay his troops. The troops rebelled in 1576, and in what later to be known as "Spanish Fury" they attacked, mutinied, plundered and burnt the city of Antwerp to make up for their unpaid salary, killing around 8000 lives.

The signing of the Union of Utrecht
This violent episode strengthened the resolve of 7 provinces (out of 17) in the Netherlands to set themselves into the path of independence. In 23 January 1579 these 7 provinces were united by the Union of Utrecht, and formed the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (or in short United Provinces). Few days before, in 6 January 1579 some of the southern provinces in the Netherlands (mostly present-day Belgium) formed another union, the Union of Arras, and declared their support for the Spanish government.

Effectively, the 17 provinces of the Netherlands were divided into a southern group loyal to the Spanish king, and a rebellious group in the north. The rebel north formally signed it's declaration of independence through The Act of Abjuration, on 26 July 1581.

The making of the modern financial market

At the beginning of the 16th century, the city of Antwerp was the richest city in Europe. As the largest city in the Netherlands, it was the cultural, economic and financial center of the 17 provinces and north-western Europe, and in fact it was also the center of the entire international economy, which accounted for 40% of world trade.

Antwerp Bourse
In its glory days, hundred of ships would pass Antwerp's ports in a day, 2000 carts would entered the city each week and many foreign merchants resided in this vibrant city. In addition, it was estimated that the port of Antwerp earned the Spanish Empire 7 times more revenues than the expeditions in the Americas. With its yearlong permission of continuous fair and fast moving flow of goods, Antwerp gave birth to the first settled "bourse", a gathering place for buy and sell interactions, named after a merchant gathering place in Bruges with the name Hotel des Bourses.

When United Provinces was formed by the rebel north, Antwerp became the capital city of the Dutch Revolution, making it a strategically important target for the Spanish troops. During the war between Spanish Empire and the United Provinces, king Philip's troops looked set to completely reconquer the whole Netherlands, when another war broke between Spain and England. Short of men, the Spanish troops withdrawn their advances in the Netherlands and was forced to retreat. However, before retreating they had managed to reconquer the strategically important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent, while on 17 August 1585 the Spanish troops managed to recapture the city of Antwerp.

Migration from Antwerp to Netherlands
Like Ferdinand and Isabella who got rid of the Jews and Muslims from their kingdom in 1492, under the terms of surrender in 1585 Philip asked the Protestant population of Antwerp to reconvert to Catholicism, or else they were given 2 years to settle their affairs before leaving. Many chose to leave, and so a mass exodus of protestants moved from Antwerp to the United Provinces in the north, with most moved to Amsterdam, marking the beginning of the Dutch Golden Age.

Among those who left, the merchants and traders who made Antwerp such a glorious city migrated to Amsterdam, brought their capital and trading skills with them and created the "new Antwerp." Subsequently, by the early 17th century Amsterdam became the financial capital of Europe, with the management of established pool of double-entry bookkeeping, banks and joint-stock companies. And in 1610 a new "bourse" or exchange was born, providing the trading platform for various types of financial products and services such as stock market, current exchange, money market, finance market, maritime insurance and commodities. The world's first modern financial market in history was born.

Courtyard of the Amsterdam Exchange

Alternate History

3 scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century have changed the way we see the world. While the Chaos Theory implies that one seemingly small and insignificant thing can create chain-reactions towards something big, Einstein's Theory of Relativity shows that everything is relative against its comparison. And then there's Theory of Quantum Mechanics, with one significant form of the theory called the Many-World interpretation. Many-World interpretation views reality as many-branched tree in which every possible outcome of every event exist and are realized in other parallel worlds. One practical implementation of this theory comes in the form of Alternate History, a genre of fiction filled with stories of "what ifs" in the history book.

19 October 1469, the day Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile got married, was the day that changed our present world. Despite looking like just another small event in history, their marriage sets some kind of chain reactions like the butterfly who flap its wings in Brazil created chain reactions that could eventually cause a tornado in Texas.

Such is the magnitude of this important day, that the Alternate History of this marriage would realize very different parallel worlds indeed. First of all if Ferdinand and Isabella did not get married the kingdom of Aragon and Castile would not be united, then they would not invade the Islamic kingdom of Granada, and hence Spain would not be united. Nor would Spain exist if Isabella's brother did not die, or king Henry IV did not discover that his daughter Joanna wasn't his child.

If Ferdinand did not marry Isabella, he would not had the chance to persuade Isabella to finally accepts Columbus' expedition plan. Thus the Americas might not even been found by the Europeans, the kingdoms of Maya Inca Aztec and others would probably still exist, the mass exodus of people from around the world to the New World would not happen, thus the great heroic story of Simon Bolivar in 19th century Latin America would not occur, and neither would the declaration of independence of the United States of America on 4 July 1776 from colonial Britain.

If the US did not exist, current global politics and economics would be very, very different indeed. No Bretton Woods conference, no Washington Consensus, no Latin American lost decade, no CIA-backed dictators scattered across the globe. If the US did not exist, there will be no Cold War so countries such as North and South Korea, among others, would not be separated. If the US did not exist, there will be no oil politics in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East hence no Al-Qa'eda to begin with, and no New Great Game in the Caspian Sea thus Central Asian countries would be very different indeed.

Perhaps more directly significant for most of us, if the US didn't exist our technology and our lifestyle would be very different too. Light bulbs would not be invented, no telephone, no computers and internet, no aeroplanes, not even Hollywood entertainment, its music industry and other brand associations that define global consumerism.

While internal changes could alter the course of history dramatically, external factors could also provide inter-connected influences. If Genghis Khan did not unite the Mongol and Turk tribes at the very beginning, the Mongol Empire would not exist, and Pax Mongolica would not happen. If the Turks did not make a westwards conquest towards modern-day Turkey, Constantinople would not fall and Columbus' alternative westward journey to the Indies would be unthinkable, hence no gold rush would occur from the Americas to Europe.

If Martin Luther did not declare the 95 theses, or if the Roman Catholic church did not do the things Martin Luther resented, Protestantism would not be born, the spread of Calvinism would not occur to the Netherlands, and the religious purification act by Charles and Philips would not happen, hence the Dutch Revolution would not get sparked.

If Isabella did not marry Ferdinand, their grandson Charles would not be born, and so the Spanish Empire would not automatically merged with the Habsburg Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish would not got into economic problems that was caused by Charles' greed and mismanagement, and the Netherlands would not be imposed with such heavy taxation. If Charles did not born, Philip would not be born either, and the Philippines would have a different name, Philip would not attack the Protestant Netherlands, would not seize Antwerp, and the people of Antwerp would not move to Amsterdam, hence the first modern financial market might not exist.

Indeed, we live in a very inter-connected world, where 1 secret marriage in the 15th century can set such chain reactions that lead to these many events in history, and also lead to the weird coincidences that set the paths toward my very existence in this world.

When the first modern financial market was born in Amsterdam, its first ever listed joint-stock company was the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie in Dutch, or in short VOC). As the first ever multi-national company in the world, VOC was listed in the exchange to seek funding to invade and manage a large South East Asian archipelago which later got united to fight back the colonial rulers and became my country Indonesia.

Among many other things that they did in their 350-years-or-so of occupation in Indonesia, the Dutch ruler cultivated huge area of rubber forests in Sumatra. In 1908 Henry Ford revolutionized the US automotive industry by introducing the Model-T cars, and subsequently triggered the booming demand of rubber raw material for making the tires. At that time Brazil, as the leading rubber producer in the world, was suffering from a long drought, hence the focus of rubber supply switched from Brazil to Malaya and Sumatra. High on demand, the rubber forest in Sumatra needed to maintain the quality of the materials that they exported, and they hired rubber specialists to do so. One of the rubber specialists that they hire was my British great grandfather.

Indeed, without all of the chain-reactions that created these many events in history, without all of these events that led to the creation of the first modern financial market in Amsterdam, and without the subsequent funding of VOC to invade and govern Indonesia; Sumatra would not be one of the rubber suppliers for US automotive industry, my great grandfather would not come to Indonesia, thus he would not met my Indonesian great grandmother and ultimately, more likely than not, with one smallest random change along this historical chain, I would never have existed in the first place to write this article.

This is Chaos Theory.