The archipelago of Maluku cover almost 1.5 million sq. km, and stretches 1.200 km from north to south and about the same from east to west. Within this huge area there aren about 1.027 smaller and larger islands, of which more than 600 is uninhabited, total land area is about 87.000 sq. km. The largest islands are Seram, Halmahera and Buru, these three islands alone makes up half of the total land area of Maluku.
Most of the islands are mountainous and covered by forests, except for the island groups of Aru and Tanimbar which in large parts consists of swamps. The highest mountain is Gunung Binaya on Seram, 3.027 m. Many of the islands have volcanoes with the population living on the mountain slopes. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes have been frequent, also during the past centuries.
In Central and South Maluku the dry season lasts from October to March, the wet season lasts from May to August. In the northern parts the wet season lasts from December to March, a low season for tourism. The climate can however be very local in Maluku, even within a small island, and surprises can occur.
The region is located inside the Wallace line, the transitional zone between the Asian and Australian fauna (see also Lombok, Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi). A majority of the species belong to the Australian fauna, of which many are marsupials. The area has more than 300 species of birds, and around Ambon alone there is about 780 species of fish. Seram is known for it’s rich birdlife, you can see this for yourself in the national park of Taman Nasional Manusela. There is a large variation of vegetation on the islands, including some Australian species like eucalyptus, exotic and valuable species of trees, orchids and of course spices.
The population of about 2 million is spread out on the islands, this is about one percent of the entire population of Indonesia. The people here are a unique mix of Malay from Asia and Papuans from Polynesia, with some European blood, mainly from the Portuguese. About half of the people is Christian Protestants, who live on the Central and Southern islands, the rest is mostly Muslim. A few are still holding on to the old gods and spirits.
Main income is agriculture and fishing, spice is still important for the economy, other export products are copra (from coconuts), coffee, fruit and timber. Due to the unrest here lately the income from tourism is now almost zero, but tourism has a large potential in the future.
The name “Maluku” probably come from the Arabic “Jazirat-al-Muluk”, which means “the land of kings”. Already in the 7th century some islands called Miliku was mentioned in Chinese writings, and traders from Java, China, India and Arabic countries operated here long before the arrival of any Europeans. At this time some of the islands, including parts of Sulawesi and Irian Jaya, was under the rule of the Sultan of Ternate.
The first Portuguese arrived Ternate in 1512, at that time the most important island in the region. They made an alliance with the Sultan of Ternate against the rivaling island of Tidore in exchange for a spice-trade monopoly. This cooperation soon collapsed, the Portuguese were thrown out in 1575 and established a fort on Tidore instead. Their efforts to create a spice monopoly did not succeed, and after a while they moved south to Ambon, Seram and Banda. Also there they were out of luck.
Expeditions from Spain, England and the Netherlands followed soon after. They all tried to get control of the spice trade, something the Dutch finally succeeded in with a larger fleet, larger weapons and more brutality. The natives were “convinced” to cooperate after several bloody clashes. The Dutch spice empire were firmly organized from Ambon, the last rival Europeans were the Spanish who were forced to leave in 1663. The growing of spices soon became a major industry also in other colonies, and Maluku quickly lost its importance as a center for the spice trade.
More than fifty percent of the population in Ambon converted to Christianity and became a large part of the Dutch colonial army. The Ambonese were seen as traitors by many Indonesians because of their pro-Dutch attitude.
Maluku were invaded by Japanese forces during World War II, and cities like Darwin in north Australia were bombed with planes from Japanese bases here. In the last phase of the war this was retaliated by the allied forces, who bombed islands like Ambon and Halmahera. The Morotai island was conquered and made into an allied base.
Some Ambonese resisted when the Dutch were thrown out by the Indonesians after World War II, more than 2.000 of these had been members of KNIL, the Dutch Colonial Army. On Ambon there was a declaration of independence in 1950 for the south Maluku Republic, called Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS). As an answer to this the Indonesians first occupied Pulau Buru and parts of Seram, later in 1950 they landed in Ambon and soon gained control. Most of the Ambonese forces and their families, about 12.000 people, were at that time stationed on Java, and were sent to the Netherlands until the situation had calmed down. A majority of these however chose to stay in Europe, and today there are about 40.000 Ambonese living in the Netherlands. A hijacking of a train in the Netherlands in the 1970′s was an effort to create an independent republic in South Maluku. Since this failed attempt there has been very little activity in this political area.
Today Ambon and other parts of Maluku is the scene of a meaningless religious war between Muslims and Christians that has caused the loss of thousands of lives.
There is a rich culture here with unique forms of music, dance and crafts. Because of the large distances between the islands also every single island has their own characteristics and traditions which has been developed through the centuries.
There are some great places for diving here, especially around Banda and Ambon. Maluku also has some of the most beautiful and peaceful beaches in Indonesia, especially on the Kai islands, but also on Ambon, Ternate, Banda and Lease to mention a few there are lovely tropical beaches with palm trees and crystal clear water.
Parts of Maluku is today considered to be a problem area and not all the islands are guaranteed to be safe. There are no reports of violence against foreigners, but traveling here may be difficult for the time being. Special areas for caution are the islands of Ambon, Seram, Saparua and Kai, it is advised to check the local conditions before traveling here.