BANDA SEA AND MALUKU

Isolated from the rest of Central Maluku, the dozen little volcanic islands that make up the Banda archipelago are the most wanted tourist destination in the whole of Maluku. Fortunately, most wanted doesn't equal most visited in this case, as these pretty little islets remain somewhat time-consuming to reach which keeps the crowds away.

History alone could be a major attraction here. While the islands of North Maluku made their empires trading their cloves, Banda used to be the World's only source of good quality nutmeg. No sultanates and empires were made of it here though, trade was in the hands of a number of local "orang kaya", and the spices were traded for such basic necessities of life as foodstuff from the neighbouring islands and clothing from further west. Until the Europeans arrived, that is. When the Dutch took control of the Bandas, they were so ruthless about getting the whole business to themselves that they simply massacred the entire native population, with the few survivors fleeing to the Kei Islands where their descendants live today. So keen were the Dutch to control all of Banda, that in what seems to be a truly unbelievable act today, they traded away the island of Manhattan (yes, THAT Manhattan!) to the British in exchange for the last remaining island yet to come under their rule: Run. Once the locals were out of their way, the islands were repopulated with slaves from Sulawesi and Java, whose descendants live here today, and the local Dutch competed with each other in building more and more impressive residences to themselves. Banda's once unique nutmeg has long lost its high value, and today the islands have become a quiet backwater. While this may not make the locals happy, it also means that they have been spared from the evils of modern development, and colonial architecture, largely gone from bustling Ternate and Ambon, remains impressively well-preserved here.

Colonial architecture and all the scenic beauty - Banda even has its own active volcano - could well be enough to draw the tourists here, but to top all that, the surrounding seas harbour some of the richest marine life in all Indonesia. Coral reefs here are largely undamaged by dynamite-fishing, lots of large pelagic fish swim by, and visibility can reach 30-40 metres. Snorkellers can see more here than divers elsewhere! Add to this the fact that budget accommodation in Banda, often in old, stylish colonial homes, is some of the cheapest and yet best in Maluku, and you will quickly see the appeal of these islands.


KEY ISLANDS
The most accessible part of southern Maluku, the Kei Islands are rapidly regaining their reputation as the place to go to look for perfect, unspoilt beaches. The most popular destination is the island of Kei Kecil, which is connected by a bridge to the neighbouring island of Dullah. The bridge also connects the twin towns of Tual and Langgur that make up the capital of the entire Kei archipelago, and as such, the two islands form a practical unit. In contrast to these two flat, deforested islands, Kei Besar, the largest of the Keis, is long, mountainous and forested. The other islands in the Kei archipelago tend to be of the little white sands and coconut palms type, but the remotest of them, Tanimbar Kei, is noted for its traditional culture.

The southernmost island in the Kei group, Tanimbar Kei is also the most traditional one by far. It is one of the few places in all Maluku where truly traditional-style native houses can still be seen, and where a good part of the population still follows the traditional religion (though they do call themselves "Hindu" for official purposes). As such, it is an intriguing destination for those interested in culture, but beach fans may find the island somewhat disappointing.

TANIMBAR ISLANDS
Geographically, the northeast islands are still part of the Lesser Sunda Islands. The Aru Islands and Kai Islands lie to the northeast, and Babar Island and Timor lie to the west. The islands separate the Banda Sea and the Arafura Sea. The total land area of the Islands is 5440 km² (2100 sq mi). The largest of the group is Yamdena. Yamdena Island has a range of thickly forested hills along its eastern coast, while its western coast is lower. Saumlaki is the chief town, located on the south end of Yamdena. Other islands include Larat, Selaru, and Wuliaru. In modern history, the Tanimbar islands (as the Aru Islands) were mentioned in the 16th century maps of Lázaro Luís (1563), Bartolomeu Velho (c. 1560), Sebastião Lopes (1565), in the 1594 map of the East Indies entitled Insulce Molucoe by the Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius, and in the map of Nova Guinea of 1600 (based on Portuguese sources). The Tanimbar Islands were sighted and possibly visited by Portuguese navigators such as Martim Afonso de Melo Jusarte around 1522–1525, who traveled around the archipelagos of Aru (with the reference "Here wintered Martin Afonso de Melo") and Tanimbar, and possibly Gomes de Sequeira in 1526. The Tanimbar Islands were part of the Dutch East Indies. During World War II the Dutch sent a detachment of thirteen men to the town of Saumlaki in the Tanimbar Islands in July 1942. Japanese ships entered the bay at Saumlaki on 30 July and small boats were used to get to the jetty. The Japanese filed in ranks on the jetty and wanted to march in close order into Saumlaki. The garrison opened fire at close range with their two light machine guns. The Japanese retreated to their boats leaving several dead on the jetty. On 31 July an Australian contingent arriving at the jetty at Saumlaki in order to support the Dutch garrison was fired on from the shore, and the commander on board was killed. The Australians returned to Darwin. Next, the garrison came under naval gunfire, which inflicted some casualties, followed by a second attack on a wider front. Seven survivors withdrew and boarded a sailing ship and escaped to Australia.

 

BANDA SEA AND MALUKU GALLERY

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