Maluku [mə lo͞o′ko͞o]
Indonesian name for MOLUCCAS

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      propinsi (province) of the Maluccas island group, eastern Indonesia. In 1999 the northern half of Maluku province was made into the separate North Maluku (Maluku Utara) province. The Moluccas group includes about 1,000 islands. The largest of North Maluku province are Halmahera, Morotai, Bacan, obi, and the main islands of the Sula archipelago; those of Maluku province are Ceram, Buru, Wetar (Wetar Island), Babar (Babar Island), Ambon, and the main islands of the Aru (Aru Islands), Tanimbar (Tanimbar Islands), Banda (Banda Islands), Leti, and Kai (Kai Islands) archipelagos. North Maluku province is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the north, the Molucca Sea to the west, and Papua (Irian Jaya) province to the east. Maluku province, which almost encircles the Banda Sea, is bounded to the east by the Ceram Sea and to the south by the Arafura Sea, East Timor, and the Timor Sea. The provincial capitals are Ambon (for Maluku) and Ternate (Ternate Island) (for North Maluku).

      Commonly referred to as the Spice Islands (Moluccas) by the early Indian, Chinese, and Arab traders, the Moluccas formed part of the Javanese Majapahit Empire and the Śrivijaya Empire (Sumatra) before Islam was introduced in the 15th century. The Portuguese entered the region in the early 16th century, and the Dutch, beginning in 1599, established settlements on some of the islands. The Dutch conquest was completed in 1667, when the sultan of Tidore Island recognized Dutch sovereignty. The islands were ruled by the British between 1796 and 1802 and again in 1810–17; they were occupied by the Japanese in 1942–45 during World War II. The Moluccas formed part of the Dutch-inspired temporary autonomous state of East Indonesia in 1945. The southern Moluccas, led by Christian Ambonese from Ambon, revolted against the Indonesian government in 1950 and formed the short-lived Republic of South Moluccas.

      Surrounded by coral reefs and deep seas, the islands vary in size from tiny atolls to the large mountainous islands of Halmahera and Ceram, each of which covers more than 6,600 square miles (17,100 square km). Ternate Island has an active volcano, which rises to 5,416 feet (1,651 metres), and Mount Arpi on Banda emits fumes and smoke. Ambon Island has frequent earthquakes but no active volcanoes. The Aru Islands are low and swampy, and Babar and Wetar are hilly, with steep coasts. Many of the smaller islands are uninhabited. The slopes of the mountainous islands are covered with dense evergreen forests of pine, rhododendron, casuarina, and eucalyptus; mangrove and freshwater swamp forests line their coasts. The islands' lowlands are fertile because of the volcanic lava and ash that have been broken down and redistributed by small streams and wind action. Bird life includes honeyeaters; racket tailed kingfishers; giant redcrested Moluccan cockatoos; parakeets; black capped, purple, red, and green lories; and the white fruit pigeons of Ceram. Opossums, civet cats, wild pigs, and babirusas (wild East India swine) are also found.

      Agriculture constitutes the mainstay of the economy of these sparsely populated islands. Rice, sago, coconut, spices (including cloves and nutmeg), tobacco, resin, ironwood, rattan, timber, and coffee are the chief products. Fish, ebony, rattan, copra, spices, and bird skins are exported. Crafts include wood carving, silver and gold filigree work, the making of bracelets and rings, and handloom weaving. Nickel is mined and petroleum is exploited on Ceram near Bula on the northeastern coast. Interisland traffic is mainly by steamer; inland transport on the larger islands is by roads that run parallel to the coasts. Halmahera has an airport at Jailolo. Ambon, Ternate, Namlea, Masohi, Tual, Soasiu, Morotai, and Labuha are other important towns.

      The largest ethnic groups are the Malay, who live mainly along the coasts, and the Alfoer, who are concentrated inland. Less-numerous groups include Tanimbarese on the southern islands, Ambonese on the central islands, and Ternatan, Tidorese, Makianese, Tobelorese, Batjan, and Sawai on the northern islands. Islam (Islāmic world) is the dominant religion, especially in the north, but a large number of Christians live in the central Moluccas. Tensions between Muslims and Christians escalated into violence in the late 1990s and early 2000s that killed several thousand people, displaced tens of thousands more, and was one of the main reasons for forming North Maluku province. Area Maluku, 18,137 square miles (46,975 square km); North Maluku, 11,929 square miles (30,895 square km). Pop. (2000) Maluku, 1,205,539; North Maluku, 785,059.

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Universalium. 2010.

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