Maluku (Moluccas), a region of Indonesia formerly known as the Spice Islands, was once the source of cloves and nutmeg, spices highly valued for their aroma, preservative ability, and use in medicine before people learned how to cultivate the plants in other parts of the world. Maluku is a cluster of about one thousand islands totaling 74,504 square kilometers, forming part of the Malay Archipelago in eastern Indonesia near New Guinea. The region is divided into two provinces, Maluku with its capital in Ambon, and North Maluku (2002 estimated population 913,000), with its capital in Ternate; other important islands in the group include Halmahera, Seram, and Buru.
Its approximately 1000 islands support a population of less than 1.7 million people. The average population density figure is 19 people per-square kilometer, but the distribution is uneven. Air and sea transportation is the main means, which link the islands together. The province has 32 seaports and 20 airports, and only about 160 km of roads. However, good roads on many of the islands provide easy access to the often-remote places of tourists' interest.
Maluku lies in the transition zone between Asiatic and Australian flora and fauna and has a tropical climate. Maluku's flora includes meranti trees and many kinds of orchids; distinctive fauna includes cuscuses, birds of paradise, wild goats, and parrots. The economy is based on subsistence agriculture, especially sago (the sago palm, producing a starch used in food), and on the export of such products as spices, cacao, coffee, coconuts, fish, and minerals. Important indigenous groups include the Ambonese.
A great variety of endemic plant and animal species are found in the rugged forest-covered and mountainous hinterlands of most of the islands. A few of the best known are the Rucker-tailed kingfisher, the red-crested Moluccan cockatoo, and various brilliantly colored lorikeets and parrots. Most of Maluku sits astride one of the world's most volatile volcanic belts.
North Maluku is a province of Indonesia. It covers the northern part of Maluku Islands, which are split between it and Maluku Province. Maluku Province used to cover the entire group. The planned provincial is Sofifi, on Halmahera, but the current capital and largest population is Ternate Island. So, the capital city of North Maluku is Ternate.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the islands of North Maluku were the original "Spice Islands". At the time, the region was the sole source of cloves. The Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and local kingdoms including Ternate and Tidore fought each other for control of the lucrative trade in these spices. Nutmeg trees have since been transported and replanted all around the world and the demand for nutmeg from the original spice islands has ceased, greatly reducing North Maluku's international importance.
In North Maluku the land makes up just 15 percent of the area's total surface. In many places the surrounding seas could be thousands of meters deep. North Maluku is in a transition zone between the Asian and Australian fauna and flora, and also between the Malay-based cultures of western Indonesia and those of Melanesia.
A great variety of endemic plant and animal species are found in the rugged forest-covered and mountainous hinterlands of most of the islands. A few of the best known are the Rucker-tailed Kingfisher, the Red-crested Moluccan Cockatoo and various brilliantly colored lorikeets and parrots.
North Maluku sits astride one of the world's most volatile volcanic belts. The region has known more than 70 eruptions in the last 400 years. Tremors and volcanic eruptions are by no means rare events at present. Many islands, in fact, look from a distance like volcanic cones rising right out of the sea.