Maluku Islands

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Maluku Islands
Maluku Islands en.png
February 2013 map of the Maluku Islands
Location Oceania, Southeast Asia
Coordinates 3°9′S129°23′E / 3.150°S 129.383°E / -3.150; 129.383
Total islands~1000
Major islands Halmahera, Seram, Buru, Ambon, Ternate, Tidore, Aru Islands, Kai Islands, Lucipara Islands
Area74,505 km2 (28,767 sq mi)
Highest elevation3,027 m (9931 ft)
Highest point Binaiya
ProvincesFlag of Maluku.svg  Maluku
Flag of North Maluku.svg  North Maluku
Largest settlement Ambon
Population2,844,131 [1] (2015)
Ethnic groups Alfur, Nuaulu, Bugis

The Maluku Islands or the Moluccas ( /məˈlʌkəz/ ) (Molukken) are an archipelago in eastern Indonesia. Tectonically they are located on the Halmahera Plate within the Molucca Sea Collision Zone. Geographically they are located east of Sulawesi, west of New Guinea, and north and east of Timor. Lying within Wallacea (mostly east of the biogeographical Weber Line), the Maluku islands have been considered part of both Asia and Oceania.


The islands were known as the Spice Islands because of the nutmeg, mace and cloves that were exclusively found there, the presence of which sparked colonial interest from Europe in the sixteenth century. [2]

The Maluku Islands formed a single province from Indonesian independence until 1999, when it was split into two provinces. A new province, North Maluku, incorporates the area between Morotai and Sula, with the arc of islands from Buru and Seram to Wetar remaining within the existing Maluku Province. North Maluku is predominantly Muslim, and its capital is Sofifi on Halmahera island. Maluku province has a larger Christian population, and its capital is Ambon. Though originally Melanesian, [3] many island populations, especially in the Banda Islands, were massacred in the seventeenth century during the Dutch–Portuguese War, also known as The Spice War. A second influx of immigrants primarily from Java began in the early twentieth century under the Dutch and continues in the Indonesian era, which has also caused a lot of controversy as the Transmigrant programs have done so and even thought to have led to the Maluku Riots.[ citation needed ]

Between 1999 and 2002, conflict between Muslims and Christians killed thousands and displaced half a million people.


The etymology of the word Maluku is not very clear, and it has been a matter of debate for many experts. [4] A common theory says that the term Maluku originates from the Arabic phrase Jaziratul Muluk (جزيرة الملوك), which means "Country of the Kings" (muluk is the plural form of malik, which means king). Thus the kingless Ambon archipelago, the Banda archipelago and island groups to the south were at that time not included in the original sense of the term. The name has been mentioned in the fourteenth-century Majapahit eulogy, Nagarakretagama by the local language with the meaning "the head of a bull" or "the head of something large". Though there is speculation that Majapahit writers sourced their name from the Arabic name. [5] However, the term is known in texts from the 14th century, before there was likely any significant Arab influence, putting this etymology in doubt. [6]

Another idea is the name Maluku comes from the concept of “Maluku Kie Raha”. [7] “Raha” means four, while “kie” here means mountain. referring to 4 mountains of Ternate, Tidore, Bacan, and Jailolo (Halmahera) which have their own kolano (title for local kings). Therefore the Maluku can come from: “Moloku” here means to grasp or hold. However the root word “loku” comes from local malay creole word for a unit, therefore not an indigenous language. Using these the meaning of “Moloku Kie Raha” is “confederation of four mountain”. The other idea is the word “Maloko” which is a combination of “Ma” whish is for support and “Loko” refer to area, which combining the words. The phrase “Maloko Kie Raha” means “the place/world which have four mountains”. In tamil language pepper mean "milaku", possible its named after tamil trader for spicy.

Administrative divisions

The Maluku Islands were a single province from Indonesian independence until 1999 when they were split into North Maluku and Maluku.

North Maluku province includes Ternate (the former site of the provincial capital), Tidore, Bacan and Halmahera (the largest of the Maluku Islands). [8]


Map by Willem Blaeu (1630) Willem Blaeu00.jpg
Map by Willem Blaeu (1630)

Early history

Australo-Melanesians were the first people to inhabit the islands at least 40,000 years ago, and then a later migration of Austronesian speakers around 2000 BC. Arab merchants began to arrive in the fourteenth century, bringing Islam. The conversion to Islam occurred in many islands,[ citation needed ] especially in the centres of trade, while aboriginal animism persisted in the hinterlands and more isolated islands. Archaeological evidence here relies largely on the occurrence of pigs' teeth, as evidence of pork eating or abstinence therefrom. [9]


Drawing of Ternate by a presumably Dutch artist. Inset shows Saint John Baptist Portuguese-built fort on the island Ternate.JPG
Drawing of Ternate by a presumably Dutch artist. Inset shows Saint John Baptist Portuguese-built fort on the island
An orembai, a common traditional sailing vessel of the Maluku Islands COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Orembai in de baai van Elpapoetih Zuid-Ceram TMnr 10010563.jpg
An orembai, a common traditional sailing vessel of the Maluku Islands

In August 1511 the Portuguese conquered the city-state of Malacca. The most significant lasting effects of the Portuguese presence were the disruption and reorganization of the Southeast Asian trade, and in eastern Indonesia—including Maluku—the introduction of Christianity. [10]

One Portuguese diary noted 'it is thirty years since they became Moors'. [11]

Afonso de Albuquerque learned of the route to the Banda Islands and other 'Spice Islands', and sent an exploratory expedition of three vessels under the command of António de Abreu, Simão Afonso Bisigudo and Francisco Serrão. [12] On the return trip, Serrão was shipwrecked at Hitu island (northern Ambon) in 1512. There he established ties with the local ruler who was impressed with his martial skills. The rulers of the competing island states of Ternate and Tidore also sought Portuguese assistance and the newcomers were welcomed in the area as buyers of supplies and spices during a lull in the regional trade due to the temporary disruption of Javanese and Malay sailings to the area following the 1511 conflict in Malacca. The spice trade soon revived but the Portuguese would not be able to fully monopolize or disrupt this trade. [13]

Allying himself with Ternate's ruler, Serrão constructed a fortress on that tiny island and served as the head of a mercenary band of Portuguese seamen under the service of one of the two local feuding sultans who controlled most of the spice trade. Both Serrão and Ferdinand Magellan, however, perished before they could meet one another. [13]

The Portuguese first landed in Ambon in 1513, but it only became the new centre for their activities in Maluku following the expulsion from Ternate. European power in the region was weak and Ternate became an expanding, fiercely Islamic and anti-European state under the rule of Sultan Baab Ullah (r. 1570–1583) and his son Sultan Saidi Berkat (r. 1583-1606). [14]

Following Portuguese missionary work, there have been large Christian communities in eastern Indonesia through to contemporary times, which has contributed to a sense of shared interest with Europeans, particularly among the Ambonese. [14]

Fort Duurstede in Saparua, 1846 Fort te Saparoea.jpg
Fort Duurstede in Saparua, 1846


The Dutch arrived in 1599 and competed with the Portuguese in the area for trade. [15] The Dutch East India Company allied with the Sultan of Ternate and conquered Ambon and Tidore in 1605, expelling the Portuguese. A Spanish counterattack from the Philippines restored Iberian rule in parts of North Maluku up to 1663. However the Dutch monopolized the production and trade in spices through a ruthless policy. This included the genocidal conquest of the nutmeg-producing Banda Islands in 1621, the elimination of the English in Ambon in 1623, and the subordination of Ternate and Tidore in the 1650s. An anticolonial resistance movement led by a Tidore prince, the Nuku Rebellion, engulfed large parts of Maluku and Papua in 1780-1810 and co-opted the British. During the French Revolutionary Wars and again in the Napoleonic Wars, British forces captured the islands in 1796-1801 and 1810, respectively, and held them until 1817. In that time they uprooted many of the spice trees for transplantation throughout the British Empire. [16]

Tanimbar warriors COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Drie jonge Molukers van de Tanimbar-eilanden met hoofdtooien speren en klewangs TMnr 10005682.jpg
Tanimbar warriors

After Indonesian independence

With the declaration of a single republic of Indonesia in 1950 to replace the federal state, a Republic of South Maluku (Republik Maluku Selatan, RMS) was declared and attempted to secede.[ citation needed ] and led by Chris Soumokil (former Supreme Prosecutor of the Eastern Indonesia state) and supported by the Moluccan members of the Netherlands special troops. This movement was defeated by the Indonesian army and by special agreement with the Netherlands the troops were transferred to the Netherlands.[ citation needed ]

Maluku is one of the first provinces of Indonesia, proclaimed in 1945 until 1999, when the Maluku Utara and Halmahera Tengah Regencies were split off as a separate province of North Maluku. Its capital used to be Ternate, on a small island to the west of the large island of Halmahera, but has been moved to Sofifi on Halmahera itself. The capital of the remaining part of Maluku province remains at Ambon.[ citation needed ]

1999–2003 inter-communal conflict

Religious conflict erupted across the islands in January 1999. The subsequent 18 months were characterized by fighting between largely local groups of Muslims and Christians, the destruction of thousands of houses, the displacement of approximately 500,000 people, the loss of thousands of lives, and the segregation of Muslims and Christians. [17]

Geology and geography

Map of Wallacea; upper right corner facing North. The red line denotes the western border of Wallacea. The eastern border corresponds to the light Australia-New Guinea shelf. Linea de Wallace.jpg
Map of Wallacea; upper right corner facing North. The red line denotes the western border of Wallacea. The eastern border corresponds to the light Australia–New Guinea shelf.

The Maluku Islands have a total area of 850,000 km2, 90% of which is sea. [18] There are an estimated 1027 islands. [19] The largest two islands, Halmahera and Seram are sparsely populated, while the most developed, Ambon and Ternate are small. [19]

The majority of the islands are forested and mountainous. The Tanimbar Islands are dry and hilly, while the Aru Islands are flat and swampy. Mount Binaiya (3027 m) on Seram is the highest mountain. A number of islands, such as Ternate (1721 m) and the TNS islands, are volcanoes emerging from the sea with villages sited around their coasts. There have been over 70 serious volcanic eruptions in the last 500 years and earthquakes are common. [19]

Ternate Island, as seen from Halmahera Ternate Island.jpg
Ternate Island, as seen from Halmahera

The geology of the Maluku Islands share much similar history, characteristics and processes with the neighbouring Nusa Tenggara region. There is a long history of geological study of these regions since Indonesian colonial times; however, the geological formation and progression is not fully understood, and theories of the island's geological evolution have changed extensively in recent decades. [20] The Maluku Islands comprise some of the most geologically complex and active regions in the world, [21] resulting from their position at the meeting point of four geological plates and two continental blocks.

Biota and environment

Biogeographically, all of the islands apart from the Aru group lie in Wallacea, the region between the Sunda Shelf (part of the Asia block), and the Arafura Shelf (part of the Australian block). More specifically, they lie between Weber's Line and Lydekker's Line, and thus have a fauna that is rather more Australasian than Asian. Malukan biodiversity and its distribution are affected by various tectonic activities; most of the islands are geologically young, being from 1 million to 15 million years old, and have never been attached to the larger landmasses. The Maluku islands differ from other areas in Indonesia; they contain some of the country's smallest islands, coral island reefs scattered through some of the deepest seas in the world, and no large islands such as Java or Sumatra. Flora and fauna immigration between islands is thus restricted, leading to a high rate of endemic biota evolving. [20]

The ecology of the Maluku Islands has fascinated naturalists for centuries; Alfred Wallace's book, The Malay Archipelago , was the first significant study of the area's natural history, and remains an important resource for studying Indonesian biodiversity. Maluku is the subject of two major historical works of natural history by Georg Eberhard Rumphius: the Herbarium Amboinense and the Amboinsche Rariteitkamer. [22]

Rainforest covered most of northern and central Maluku, which, on the smaller islands has been replaced by plantations, including the region's endemic cloves and nutmeg. The Tanimbar Islands and other southeastern islands are arid and sparsely vegetated, much like nearby Timor. [19] In 1997 the Manusela National Park, and in 2004, the Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park, were established, for the protection of endangered species.[ citation needed ]

From The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Wallace (1869): illustration of king and twelve-wired birds-of-paradise by John Gerrard Keulemans. Malay Archipelago King and Twelve-wired Birds of Paradise.jpg
From The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Wallace (1869): illustration of king and twelve-wired birds-of-paradise by John Gerrard Keulemans.

Nocturnal marsupials, such as cuscus and bandicoots, make up the majority of the mammal species, and introduced mammals include Malayan civets and wild pigs. [19] Bird species include approximately 100 endemics with the greatest variety on the large islands of Halmahera and Seram. North Maluku has two species of endemic birds of paradise. [19] Uniquely among the Maluku Islands, the Aru Islands have a purely Papuan fauna including kangaroos, cassowaries, and birds-of-paradise. [19]

While many ecological problems affect both small islands and large landmasses, small islands suffer their particular problems. Development pressures on small islands are increasing, although their effects are not always anticipated. Although Indonesia is richly endowed with natural resources, the resources of the small islands of Maluku are limited and specialised; furthermore, human resources in particular are limited. [23]

General observations [24] about small islands that can be applied to the Maluku Islands include: [23]


Central and southern Maluku Islands experience the dry monsoon between October to March and the wet monsoon from May to August, which is the reverse of the rest of Indonesia. The dry monsoon's average maximum temperature is 30 °C while the wet's average maximum is 23 °C. Northern Maluku has its wet monsoon from December to March in line with the rest of Indonesia. Each island group have their own climatic variations, and the larger islands tend to have drier coastal lowlands and their mountainous hinterlands are wetter. [19]


People of Tidore during visit by hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) US Navy 100720-N-4044H-209 Capt. Lisa M. Franchetti, commander of Pacific Partnership 2010, embarked aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).jpg
People of Tidore during visit by hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19)

Maluku's population is about 2 million, less than 1% of Indonesia's population. [19]

Over 130 languages were once spoken across the islands; however, many have now switched to the creoles of Ternate Malay and Ambonese Malay, the lingua franca of northern and southern Maluku, respectively. [19]

A long history of trade and seafaring has resulted in a high degree of mixed ancestry in Malukans. [19] Austronesian peoples added to the native Melanesian population around 2000 BCE. [25] Melanesian features are strongest in the islands of Kei and Aru and amongst the interior people of the islands Seram and Buru. Later added to this Austronesian-Melanesian mix were some Indian and Arab strain. More recent arrivals include Bugis trader settlers from Sulawesi and Javanese transmigrants. [19]


Cloves and nutmeg are still cultivated, as are cocoa, coffee and fruit. Fishing is a big industry across the islands but particularly around Halmahera and Bacan. The Aru Islands produce pearls, and Seram exports lobsters. Logging is a significant industry on the larger islands with Seram producing ironwood and teak and ebony are produced on Buru. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Further reading

Coordinates: 2°00′S128°00′E / 2.000°S 128.000°E / -2.000; 128.000