Maluku is blessed with incredible sea gardens, idyllic, tropical beaches and rugged, forest-coated volcanic mountains. These are the famous ‘spice islands’ which drew Indian, Chinese, Arab and eventually European traders in search of cloves and nutmeg. In 1511, the Portuguese built their first fort in the area on the island of Ternate, and cornered the clove trade.
The Dutch, who arrived in 1599, mounted the first serious threat to Pourtuguese control of Maluku’s treasures. Armed conflicts broke out, taking a heavy toll from the island populations as well as the rival European powers. When the Dutch finally emerged as victors they enforced their trade monopoly with an iron fist. Whole villages were razed to the ground and thousands of islanders died, especially on the island of Banda.
The British briefly occupied Maluku during the Napoleonic Wars, but Dutch rule was restored in 1814 and it wasn’t until 1863 that the compulsory cultivation of spices was abolished in the province. Now fish and other sea products are Maluku’s major sources of revenue, but nickel, oil, manganese and various kinds of timber also contribute to the province’s wealth.
Perhaps the name is derived from the Arabian Jazirat-al-Muluk, meaning The Land of Many Kings. The kings reigned Ternate, Tidore, Bacan and others. Kora-kora, their powerful fleets, equipped with war canoes roamed the sea of Sulawesi and Papua in their golden days. The kings were wealthy from spices, especially clove. Clove and spices were very expensive due to their ability to preserve food, in the era that knew no freezers and fridges. Spices were also used as medicine back then, and European countries could not grow them. Spices had to pass complicated route to reach Europe, thus causing them to be horribly pricey. Europeans then thought it’d be much cheaper to come to the source of the spices, and the era of invasion began.
Portuguese came first in 1510, seeking to monopolize the trade. However Portuguese and Spain had to battle and be outwitted by Ternate and Tidore kingdom, so after a while they gave up.
Dutch then came, better equipped in financial and weapon matters. They also experienced set backs and cultural blunders like Portuguese and Spain, however they were more harsh in their methocs. Islanders who refused to cooperate in Banda islands were ruthlessly massacred, to be replaced by slaves.
During the fall of VOC, British reigned here for a year but it caused a catastrophe because British smuggled the seeds to be planted in Malaya (Malaysia) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Soon Maluku did not become the center of spices because one could find them elsewhere.
The main gateway into Maluku is through the provincial capital Ambon, which is served by regular flights to most parts of the archipelago. Air and sea transportation connect the islands with 79 seaports and 25 airports. Roads on many of the islands provide access to the more remote places of interest.
People & Culture
Due to its history, the people here are very mixed. Malay, Indian, Arab, Chinese, Portuguese, Bugis, Javanese are found anywhere. Tribal communities of Ua-ulu choose not to garb themselves in traditional outfirts. Ua-ulu men can be distinguished with red headscarves that they wear. And as for their head hunting habit? It all belongs to folklore and legend.
Numerous dishes of sea food can be found here. Try grilled or baked fish and enjoy the spectacular view that several eateries provide.
Nasi ikan (rice and fish meal) is also worth a try.
For those interested in concocting their own dishes, you can buy the fresh ingredients in nearby supermarkets and mini markets.
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Tribal communities of Ua-ulu