The Maluku Islands (also known as the Moluccas, Moluccan Islands, the Spice Islands or simply Maluku) are an archipelago in Indonesia, and part of the larger Malay Archipelago. They are located on the Australian Plate, lying east of Sulawesi (Celebes), west of New Guinea, and north of Timor. The islands were also historically known as the "Spice Islands" by the Chinese and Europeans, but this term has also been applied to other islands.
Most of the islands are mountainous, some with active volcanoes, and enjoy a wet climate. The vegetation of the small and narrow islands, encompassed by the sea, is very luxuriant; including rainforests, sago, rice, and the famous spices--nutmeg, cloves and mace, among others. Though originally Melanesian, many island populations, especially in the Banda Islands, were killed in the 17th century. A second influx of Austronesian immigrants began in the early twentieth century under the Dutch and continued in the Indonesian era.
Politically, the Maluku Islands formed a single province from 1950 until 1999. In 1999 the North Maluku (Maluku Utara) and Halmahera Tengah (Central Halmahera) regency were split off as a separate province, so the islands are now divided between two provinces, Maluku and North Maluku. Between 1999 and 2002 they were known for religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians but have been peaceful in the past years.
Maluku was a cosmopolitan society where spice traders from across the region took residence in settlements, or in nearby enclaves, including Arab and Chinese traders who visited or lived in the region.
Allying himself with Ternate, Serrão constructed a fortress on the island and served as the head of a mercenary band of Portuguese warriors under the service of one of two feuding powerful sultans who controlled the spice trade. Such an outpost far from Europe generally only attracted the most desperate and avaricious, such that the feeble attempts at Christianisation, strained relations with Ternate's Muslim ruler. Serrão urged Ferdinand Magellan to join him in Maluku, and gave the explorer information about the Spice Islands. Both Serrão and Magellan, however, perished before they could meet one another. In 1535 King Tabariji was deposed and sent to Goa by the Portuguese. He converted to Christianity and changed his name to Dom Manuel. After being declared innocent of the charges against him he was sent back to reassume his throne, but he died en route in Malacca in 1545. He had, however, bequeathed the island of Ambon to his Portuguese godfather Jordão de Freitas. Following the murder of Sultan Hairun at the hands of the Portuguese, the Ternateans expelled the Portuguese in 1575 after a five-year siege.
The Portuguese first landed in Ambon in 1513, but it became the new centre for Portuguese activities in Maluku following their expulsion from Ternate. European power in the region was weak and Ternate became an expanding, fiercely Islamic and anti-Portuguese state under the rule of Sultan Baab Ullah (r. 1570 - 1583) and his son Sultan Said. The Portuguese in Ambon, however, were regularly attacked from native Muslims on the island's northern coast, in particular Hitu, which had trading and religious links with major port cities on Java's north coast. Indeed, the Portuguese never managed to control the local trade in spices, and failed in attempts to establish their authority over the Banda Islands, the nearby centre of nutmeg production.
Spaniards took control of Ternate and Tidore. Missionary and Catholic Saint, Francis Xavier worked in Maluku in 1546–1547 among the people's of Ambon, Ternate and Morotai (or Moro), and laid the foundations for a permanent mission there. Following his departure from Maluku, others carried on his work and by the 1560s there were 10,000 Catholics in the area, mostly on Ambon, and by the 1590s there were 50,000 to 60,000, although most of the region surrounding Ambon remained Muslim.
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. Other influences include a large number of Indonesian words derived from Portuguese which alongside Malay was the lingua franca up until the early nineteenth century. Contemporary Indonesian words such as pesta ('party'), sabun ('soap'), bendera ('flag'), meja ('table'), Minggu ('Sunday'), all derive from Portuguese. Many family names in Maluku are derived from Portuguese including De lima, Waas, da Costa, Dias, de Fretas, Gonsalves, Mendosa, Rodrigues, and da Silva. Also of part-Portuguese origin is the romantic keroncong ballads sung to a guitar.
The Dutch East India Company was a company with three obstacles in its way: the Portuguese, controlling the aboriginal populations, and the British. Again smuggling would be the only alternative to a European monopoly. Among other events of the 17th century, the Bandanese attempted independent trade with the British, the East-India Company's response was to decimate the native population of the Banda Islands sending the survivors fleeing to other islands and installing slave labour.
Though other races re-settled the Banda Islands, the rest of Maluku remained uneasy under foreign control and even after the Portuguese had a new trading station at Macassar there were native revolts in 1636 and 1646. Under company control northern Maluka was administered by the Dutch residency of Ternate, and the southern by "Amboyna" (Ambon).
During the Japanese occupation in World War II, the Moluccans fled to the mountains but began a campaign of resistance also known as the South Moluccan Brigade. After the war's end the island's political leaders had successful discussions with the Netherlands about independence. Complicated by Indonesian demands, the Round Table Conference Agreements were signed in 1949 transferring Maluku to Indonesia with mechanisms for the islands to choose or opt out of the new Indonesia. The Agreements granted Moluccans the right to determine their ultimate sovereignty.
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 is Ternate, on a small island to the west of the large island of Halmahera. The capital of the remaining part of Maluku province remains at Ambon.
The situation in much of Maluku became highly unpredictable when religious-nuance conflict erupted in the province 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. The following 12 months saw periodic eruptions of violence, which appeared more targeted and premeditated, which helped keep suspicions high and people segregated (although these experiences were generally the norm). In spite of numerous negotiations and the signing of a peace agreement in February 2002, tensions on Ambon remained high until late 2002, when an increasingly stable peace led to a series of spontaneous 'mixings' between previously hostile groups.
The Maluku islands lies in Wallacea, the region between the Sunda Shelf (part of the Asia block), and the Arafura Shelf (part of the Australian block). Wallacea also encompasses Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi, and within this region of small islands lies some of the world's deepest seas. Malukan biodiversity and its distribution is 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; it contains some of the countries 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.
The ecology of the Maluku Islands has fascinated collectors for centuries; Alfred Wallace's famous book, The Malay Archipelago was the first significant recording of this natural history, and remains one of the most important sources on Indonesian natural history. Maluku is the source of two major historical works of natural history; George Everhard Rumpf wrote the Herbarium Amboinense and the Ambonische Rariatenkamer.
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.
General observations about small islands that can be applied to the Maluku Islands include: