The islands were visited by the Portuguese in c.1512 and thereafter colonized by them; they established a trading center at Ternate. In the 17th cent. they were taken by the Dutch, who secured a monopoly in the clove trade. Twice the British gained a foothold in the islands, which passed definitively to the Dutch in the first quarter of the 19th cent. Local separatists declared a Southern Moluccas republic following Indonesia's independence, but they were crushed. The separatist movement experienced a resurgence following President Suharto's fall from power (1998). The islands have been the scene of Muslim-Christian violence in recent years.
Island group (pop., 2005 est.: 2,059,200), eastern Indonesia, lying between Celebes (Sulawesi) and New Guinea. The Moluccas comprise three large islands (Halmahera, Ceram, and Buru) and many smaller ones. Their combined area is about 30,066 sq mi (77,870 sq km). They constitute the Indonesian provinces of Maluku and North Maluku; the provincial capitals are, respectively, Ambon and Ternate. The population is ethnically diverse, including Malays and Papuans and people of Dutch, Portuguese, and Javanese descent. Known as the “Spice Islands,” the Moluccas were part of the Asian spice trade before being discovered by the Portuguese in 1511, and they were fought over by the Spanish, English, and Dutch, eventually coming under the Dutch. Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, the islands were afterward incorporated into the state of East Indonesia and then into the Republic of Indonesia in 1949.
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