Made up of approximately 1,027 islands straddling the Equator the Maluku Islands are situated in the north and east of Indonesia. Once referred to as the Spice Islands due to the nutmeg, mace and cloves which grew there and nowhere else. The islands are diverse and scattered over an enormous 850 000 km² ranging from east of Sulawesi, to the north of Timor and to the south of Papua.
The majority of the islands are mountainous and forested with a few being low and swampy. A number of the smaller islands are volcanos poking out of the ocean with cities and villages clinging to the coastline. Volcanic activity and earthquakes are a regular occurrence with an estimated 70 major eruptions in the last 500 years.
Maluku’s population is around 2 million with approximately 450,000 living on the tiny, 51 kilometre long island of Ambon. Bearing the same name as the island, Ambon city is the capital and main administration centre with a major seaport and airport. Ambon Island lies to the south-west of the much larger Seram Island and is on the northern fringe of the Banda Sea. It is also part of the Lease Island group.
Ambon has a chequered history of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule dating back to the sixteenth century. Between 1610 to 1619, it served as the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), prior to relocating to Batavia (Jakarta). The island was also occupied by the Japanese during World War II.
Economic and religious tensions flared throughout much of the archipelago from 1999 to 2002. Initially considered to be caused due to political and economic factors, the unrest and fighting soon became a religious battle between Christians and Muslims. Many lives were lost and an estimated 700,000 people displaced. The conflict came to an end in February 2002 with the signing of the Malino II Accord.
Today the islands exude a peaceful charm. With beautiful beaches, diving, volcanoes, countless tiny islands and villages along with architecture and fortifications dating back to the years of European rule, the Maluku Islands have something for everybody.