Maluku is the only Indonesian province in which land makes up just 10 percent of the area's total surface. In many places the surrounding seas could be thousands of meters deep. Maluku is a transition zone between the Asian and Australian fauna and flora, and also between the Malay-based cultures of western Indonesia and those of Melanesia.
Its approximately 1000 islands support a population of less than 1.7 million people. The average population density figure is 19 people per-square kilometer, but the distribution is uneven. Air and sea transportation are the main means which link the islands together. The province has 32 seaports and 20 airports, and only about 160 km of roads. However, good roads on many of the islands provide easy access to the often remote places of tourists interest.
A great variety of endemic plant and animal species are found in the rugged forest-covered and mountainous hinterlands of most of the islands. A few of the best known are the Racker-tailed king fisher, the red-crested Moluccan cockatoo, and various brilliantly-colored lorikeets and parrots.
Most of Maluku sits astride one of the world's most volatile
volcanic belts. The region has known more than 70 eruptions in the last 400 years. Tremors and volcanic eruptions are by no means rare events at present. Many islands, in fact, look from a distance like volcanic cones rising right out of the sea.
Formerly known as the Moluccas, these islands are the original Spice Islands which in the 16th and 17th centuries lured the major seafaring nations of Europe to come to trade and to establish their power and influence in this part of the East.
Chinese annals of the Tang dynasty from around the middle of the 7th century A.D make mention of a land named Mi-li-ku. The 14th century Javanese manuscript Nagarakertagama mentions the name Maloko, meaning the island of Ternate, part of this province, which in the 17th century was known to the Portuguese as Moluquo.
It was Nicoli de Conti, however, who in 1440 revealed the existence of the Spice Islands to the Europeans. Using his information, Fra Maura drew his world map, and soon the race to the East began. In 1511, the Portuguese built their first fort in the area on the island of Ternate and established their monopoly of the clove trade.
The Spanish also came, but posed little trouble to the Portuguese. The Dutch, who arrived in 1599, on the other hand, proved to be their toughest contestants in the quest for Maluku's treasures. Armed conflicts broke out, taking a toll not only among the two rival European powers, but also among the local populations. To make it short, the Dutch finally emerged as winners and established their trade monopoly with iron hand. Whole villages were razed to the ground and thousands of islanders died in the so called Hongi expeditions launched by the Dutch to maintain their trade monopoly, especially on the island of Banda.
The British occupied Maluku for a brief period during the Napoleonic war between England and France. Dutch rule was restored in 1814, leading to e new rebellion under Matulessi which the Dutch suppressed with difficulty. The compulsory cultivation of spices was abolished in Maluku only in 1863.
Traces of that turbulent period in Maluku's history can still be found on a number of islands. However, Maluku's great attraction for present-day visitors is its sea gardens and beaches and the beauty of the land. Music and dances and hybrid culture in general, are among the province's strong touristic drawing cards. Fish and other sea products are nowadays Maluku's major sources of revenue, but nickel, oil, manganese and various timber also contribute to the province's wealth.
Ambon, the provincial capital of Maluku which is built on a hillside overlooking the bay, has a number of interesting sites of historical and cultural interests. Among them are the remnants of some old forts built by the Dutch East Indies Company during the heydays of the spice trade and the Museum Siwa Lima with its collection of local arts and crafts.
More ruins of forts are found such as the Dutch one at Lima and those of the Portuguese at Hila, which are almost entirely hidden underneath the contorted roots of a giant Banyan tree.
The ANZAC War Cemetery near Ambon town is the site of services held every year to commemorate the Allied soldiers who died in the region during world War 11. Ambon is at the Maluku end of the annual yacht race between Darwin, Australia and Ambon. The race usually takes place in August.
Coral Sea Gardens
Good beaches with coral reefs just off the shore are found around Pombo island and at Hunimoa Beach on Ambon. A popular recreation beach on the same island is Natsepa.
Ternate, an island off the west coast of Halmahera in northern Maluku, was once the seat of an important kingdom which prospered from the spice trade. The Portuguese, the Spanish and the Dutch vied with each other for influence on this island. A stronghold of Islam in the otherwise predominantly Christian province of Maluku, Ternate nevertheless carries the clear imprints of both its pre-Islamic past and its period of contact with the West, especially the Portuguese.
The old sultan's palace in Ternate town is now a museum. In the vicinity are the ruins of old Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch forts. The remnants of the Dutch Fort Orange are right in town.
About five kilometers west of the town, on the slope of a 1,715 meter tall volcano in the middle of the island, is Afo, with its giant clove tree, said to be more than 350 years old.
Morotai Island, just off Halmahera's northern arm, was an important air-base during world War II, first for the Allies and later for the Japanese until its recapture near the end of the war. The ghosts of war still linger in this area, where many wrecks of aircraft and rusting guns lie abandoned in the bushes.
The Banda group, about 160 kilometers southeast of Ambon, consists of three larger islands and seven smaller ones, perched on the rim of Indonesia's deepest sea, the Banda Sea. Near the island Manuk, the water reaches a depth of more than 6,500 meters. Of the three biggest islands Banda, Banda-Neira and Gunung Api, the first two are covered with nutmeg trees and other vegetation. The third however, is entirely bare and highly volcanic. The last eruption of Mt. Api occurred only a few years ago. The seas around Banda are the site of the famous Maluku sea gardens with their bright corals and colorful fish darting through the crystal-clear waters. Facilities for sightseeing, snorkeling and skin diving are available, as well as clean, comfortable cottages.
Banda saw some of the bloodiest episodes of Maluku's past history during the 17th century. In 1609, the Dutch East Indies
Company (VOC) dispatched Verhoeff to the islands to obtain the contested spice trade monopoly at any cost. Confronted by a superior power, the people of Banda were forced to allow the company to establish a fort, but in that same year Verhoeff was killed together with 45 of his men. The Company retaliated, but peace was not restored. In 1619, V.O.C. Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen arrived at the head of a penal expedition and exterminated the entire population of Banda. The land was divided into lots, called "perken, and given to former company employees, the "perkiniers", who were obliged to grow nutmeg and sell them at predetermined prices to the company. Slaves did the actual work in the fields. The old "perkenier houses", or what is left of them, and old churches still retain a peculiar colonial character to the port town of Bandaneira today. Two old forts Belgica and Nassau, are inside the town limits. Others are found elsewhere on the islands. See also the former Dutch Governor's mansion, the Museum of History in Neira, and the huge nutmeg plantation nearby.