Inhabitants called the islands Nuhu Evav (Evav Islands) or Tanat Evav (Evav Land), but known as Kei for people from neighbourhood islands. "Kai" is actually a Dutch colonial era spelling, still persisting in books based on old resources. The islands are south of the Bird's Head Peninsula of New Guinea, west of the Aru Islands, and northeast of the Tanimbar Islands. The small group called Tayandu Islands (also Tahayad) is just west.
The Kei islands are made up of numerous islands, including
The Kei Islands' total land area is 1438 km² (555 sq mi).
Kei Besar is mountainous and densely forested. Kei Kecil has the biggest population, and is flat. Actually it is a lifted coral reef. The capital is the town of Tual, mostly inhabited by Muslims. Nearby Langgur is the center for Christians. Kei is famous for the beauty of its beaches, e.g. Pasir Panjang.
The Kei islands are part of Wallacea, the group of Indonesian islands that are separated by deep water from both the Asian and Australian continental shelves, and were never linked to either continent. As a result, the Kei Islands have few native mammals.
Local history holds that ancestors of contemporary Kei islanders came from Bali, part of the expanding Majapahit kingdom from the western archipelago. The village of Letvuan on Kei Kecil or Nuhuroa island was the first place that the Balinese royal family and the army arrived, where they stayed with the local residents. As a result, Letvuan became a seat of government, where the local law (Larvul Ngabal) - Red Blood and Balinese Spear - is developed by the initiative of the royal princess Dit Sakmas. Evidence of these ties on Kei Kecil and especially in Letvuan include an inheritance and a harbour named Bal Sorbay (Bali Surabaya) that is the place where the royals arrived. It is recognized by kai islanders that some of their ancestors also came from another places such as Sumbawa island (Sumbau), Buton (Vutun)in Sulawesi, Seram (Seran) and Gorom (Ngoran) islands in Central Moluccas, and Sultanates of Jailolo (Dalo) and Ternate (Ternat) as well.
The tiny island of Tanimbarkei is not part of Tanimbar, but of the Kei Islands and inhabited by less than 1000 very traditional people. Half of the population calls themselves Hindus, but in fact are more or less practisizing Ancestor worship.
After the 1999 clashes between the Muslim and Christian population in Ambon, they also swept through Kei, but calmed quick down again with less victims.
Three Austronesian languages are spoken on the Kei Islands; Keiese is the most widely spoken, in 207 villages on Kei Kecil, Kei Besar, and surrounding islands. Kurese is spoken on Kur Island and nearby Kaimeer, where Kei is used as a lingua franca. Bandanese is spoken in the villages of Banda-Eli (Wadan El) and Banda-Elat (Wadan Elat) on the west and northeastern side of Kei Besar. Banda speakers originally came from the Banda Islands, but the language is no longer spoken there. There is no native writing system for Keiese Language. Dutch catholic missionaries write the language using a variety of the Roman alphabet.
Kei musical instruments were:-
1) Savarngil (Flute): A small native flute from 4 to 8 in. long, open at both ends and having six fingerholes placed along the pipe made of bamboo and are keyless.
2) Tiva (Drum):Single headed drums, consist of a calf skin membrane which is stretched over an enclosed space or over one of the ends of a hollow vessel.
3) Dada (Gong):a medium-size gong 12" to 15" in size, with a crashing sound, have a raised boss or nipple in the centre.