Maluka is located just south of the Equator and refers to both a province and a group of islands. The province encompass the islands of Ambon (the most populous island in the Moluccas), the Uliasser or Lease Islands (Haruka, Saparua, Nusalaut), Seram (also spelled Ceram), Buru, Ambelau, Buano, Kelang, Ceramlaut, Gorong and the Banda Islands. Many of the original inhabitants were headhunters. Islam arrived from Ternate when the spice trade developed. Christianity was brought by the Portuguese and Dutch and took hold the strongest in places that were not Islamicized.
Maluku province comprises the central and southern regions of the Maluku Islands (the Moluccas). The main city and capital of Maluku province is Ambon on the small Ambon Island. The population of the province is around 1.5 million. The Maluku Islands were a single province from Indonesian independence until 1999 when they were split into Malaku and North Maluku, which embraces Ternate, Tidore, Bacan, Halmahera (the largest of the Maluku Islands), the Sula and Obi Islands and Morotai. Maluku is located in Eastern Indonesia. It is directly adjacent to North Maluku and West Papua in the north, Central Sulawesi, and Southeast Sulawesi in the west, Banda Sea, East Timor and East Nusa Tenggara in the south and Arafura Sea and Papua in the east.
By one count 49.61 percent of the population of Maluku is Muslim and 49.16 percent is Christian (both Protestantism and Catholicism. Maluku was the site of bloody and viscious sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians in the late 1990s and early 2000s, particularly in 1999. Since then Maluku has tried to present itself as a friendly and peaceful place. The World Peace Gong was placed in Taman Pelita, near downtown Ambon, in 2009.
All the Maluku Islands were part of a single province from 1950 until 1999. In 1999, the northern part of Maluku (then comprising the Maluku Utara Regency, the Halmahera Tengah Regency and the City of Ternate) were split off to form a separate province of North Maluku (Maluku Utara).
The Ambonese live on the island of Ambon and other islands in the Central Moluccas. The are also known as the Alifuru (interior of Ceram), Ambonese, Central Moluccans, the Moluccans, Orang Ambon and South Moluccans (exiles in the Netherlands). Maybe a million people live in the Central Moluccas. The population is pretty equally divided among Muslims and Christians. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
The Ambonese are very ethnically mixed. The Moluccas are near the traditional dividing line between Melanesian and Indonesians peoples and all sorts—Malays, Hindus, Chinese, Europeans, Arabs, other Asians—came to the islands for their spices. Genetic material and cultural traits from all these people have been left behind to varying degrees. ~
They strongest links to Melanesia are found among the Alifuru (Nua-ulu) in the interior of Seram (Ceram). These people were headhunters until they were pacified by the Dutch before World War I and have a secret men’s society, the only such society in Indonesia and something normally associated with Melanesian cultures. In the days, severed heads were said to part of their marriage and coming of age ceremonies. Much of their old ways have ben lost since they converted to Christianity. The culture of the Pasisir people who live in the coastal areas has been influenced much more by outsiders. ~
Muslim and Christian Ambonese
The Muslims and Christians in the Central Moluccas are surprisingly similar culturally. Their ideas about kinship and clan ties are similar, namely that villages or districts are made of several patrilineal clans led by a headman and clan descent is traced to a common ancestor. Marriage customs are also similar. Most are monogamous and in the past were arranged but today are largely love matches that follow two patterns: 1) formal request by the groom’s family, with the payment of a bride price; and 2) elopement. The latter is often preferred because it is way to avoid parental approval and the cost of a formal wedding. Divorce is rare among both Christians and Muslims. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
Ambonese Christians and Muslims have incorporated elements of ancestor worship and each other’s religions into their faiths and excluded members of other ethnic groups from their churches and mosques in an efforts to ensure ethnic harmony of the islands. Contrary to this effort has been efforts by conservatives in each faith to purify their religion and get rid of non-Christian and non-Muslim elements from the respective faiths.
In the Ambonese belief system ancestors are called upon for blessings and invited to villages ceremonies and incorporated into concepts of salvation and the afterlife. There are also Christian and Islamic devils and spirits that cause illness and bring misfortune. At funerals there are often non-Christian and non-Muslim rituals to pacify the spirit of the deceased. Spirits and evil forces are linked with concepts of disease and health although generally Ambonese Western-style doctors before traditional healers.
Ambon Island was formerly the jewel of the Spice Islands. Located between Ternate and Tidore, the source of cloves, and the Banda Islands, the source of nutmeg, it was developed into an important port. It importance declined when the East Indies spice trade declined. The island played an important role in World War II when Ambon was used as a headquarters for the Japanese military. Now it is denuded and the coral gardens are slavers by oil disgorged from timber-carrying ships.
Ambon Island is comprised of two peninsulas that look like two islands attached together by a small isthmus. The large northern peninsula, known as Leihitu, is predominately Muslim. The smaller arrowhead-shaped southern peninsula of Leitimur s mostly Christian. The main city Kota Ambon (Teluk Ambon) sprawls over both peninsulas and is divided into Muslim and Christian sections. In the late 1990s and early 2000s it was the site of the worse Muslim-Christian fighting in the Moluccas. For a while the area was closed to foreigners and those who arrived at Ambon airport were turned back.
People on Ambon include descendants of the native Alifuru tribes as well as Javanese, Sumatrans, Minahasans, Butons and Arabs who have been coming here since the 9th century and who are predominately Muslim. There are also many people of Chinese and Europeans descent. They and the descendants of the native Alifuru tribes are predominately Christian.
Kota Ambon (southern Ambon Island) is a port city and provincial capital in the middle of the Moluccas. Founded by the Dutch in 1517, it was at the center of the spice trade for centuries and remained a pleasant colonial city until World War II when it was used as a military headquarters by the Japanese was heavily bombed by the Americans. Ambon is half Christian and half Muslim. The city the site of much the violence in the 1990s and 2000s and was divided between Muslims and Christians and became the Indonesian equivalent of Beirut. Many buildings had noet been rebuilt since they were burned down as of the late 2000s,.
Kota Ambon (also known simply as Ambon or Ambon city or town) is the capital and largest city of Maluka Province, with a population of around 340,000. Located on the Banda Sea in eastern Indonesia, this important seaport was founded by the Portuguese in 1574. Early in the 17th century, the Dutch and English settled in the area, and fought over it for 200 years. The "massacre of Amboina" took place in 1623 and involved the killing of many English settlers by the Dutch. Japanese forces held the city during World War II from 1942 until 1945. [Source: Cities of the World, Gale Group Inc., 2002, adapted from a 2001 U.S. State Department report]
Kota Ambon sits on a hillside and occupies a small flat area by the Ambon Bay that is backed by green mountains and faces blue seas with coral reefs. Most of the city lies on the southern Christian peninsula of Ambon island although the population of the city is roughly divided equally between Muslims and Christians with, like the island itself, the Muslims mostly in the north and Christian mainly in the south.
A few examples of Dutch colonial architecture remain today. Fort Victoria, used by the Dutch East Indies Company and now occupied by the Indonesian army, and the former Dutch governor's home, both stand in the heart of Ambon. The Museum Siwalima is in the eastern suburb of Karang Panjang. It houses a number of artifacts, including Chinese ceramics, objects of magic, and skulls. Otherwise there is not that much to see other than damage caused by the violence in the 1990s and 2000s. The World Peace Gong was placed in Taman Pelita, near downtown Ambon, in 2009 as part to mollify that legacy.
Traveling to Ambon
Ambon is located very close to the equator and the weather can be very hot and humid. Bring bottled drinking water to avoid dehydration. To get around in the downtown Ambon try a becak — where you will be pushed around in a carriage attached to a bicycle. This local transport may not be quick but it’s definitely unique. Alternatively bemo’s (local minibus) are also available as well as Ojeks (motorcycle taxi). To cross Ambon Bay, speedboats are available at the pier where the ferries dock from the other side of the bay.
A number of travel agents operate in Ambon. These include: 1) Sumber Budi, Jl. Mardika II/16, Ambon, Tel. (0911) 53205, fax: (0911)53205; 2) Tujuh Jaya Travel Agent, Jl. Kopra 6/142-143, Ambon, Tel. (0911) 52342, fax: (0911)52690; 3) Pedoman Pratama Travel, Jl. Dr. Sutomo 3/1-65 Ambon, Tel. (0911) 51703, fax: (0911) 54761; 4) Natrabu, Jl. Anthony Rhebok No.27 Ambon, Tel. (0911) 43938, fax: (0911) 43959; 5) Novita Sari, Jl. Rijali No.1 Batu Merah, Ambon, Tel. (0911)41866; 6) Ambon Dive Centre, Jl. Pantai Namalatu Latuhalat, Tel. (0911) 55685, fax: (0911) 54199; 7) Ansiko, Jl. Amananlite No.1 Latuhalat, Ambon, Tel. (0911)51988, fax: (0911)42024; 8) Daya Patal, Jl. Said Perintah SK 11/27 Ambon, Tel. ((0911) 53344, fax: (0911) 53287; 9) Nanusa, Jl. Rijali No.53 Ambon, Tel. (0911) 535S7, fax: (0911)52593; 10) Netral Jaya, Jl. Diponegoro No.76 Ambon, Tel. (0911) 53363, fax: (0911) 42021. Some of the diving operations and travel agencies closed down after the violence in 1999.
Getting There: Pattimura Airport on Ambon Island, about 36 kilometers from Ambon City, is a domestic only airport, with flights available from Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Kupang, and several other smaller destinations.Travelers visiting Ambon usually start their flights either from Denpasar, Bali (DPS) or Sukarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta (CGK). The airport in the city of Ambon is the Pattimura Airport (AMQ), serving airlines such as: 1) Garuda Indonesia, 2) Lion Air, 3) Batavia Air, 4) Indonesia AirAsia, 5) Wings Air, and 6) Sriwijaya AirThey fly within the routes from Ambon to Makassar, and then Jakarta, or Ambon to Surabaya, and then Jakarta, and vice versa. Garuda Indonesia has recently started flying to Ambon, and serves a brand new route from Jakarta to Ternate, North Maluku transiting in Makassar.
Accommodation, Food and Restaurants in Ambon
In Kota Ambon you will find a range of budget and midrange accommodation. The better hotels have AC, bathrooms with hot showers and some English speaking staff. Prices can be negotiable so it is a good idea to bargain to get the best price. A few hotels: 1) Hotel Aston Natsepa, Jalan Raya Natsepa 36; 2) Abdulalie Hotel, Sultan Babullah Street IV Ambon, Tel. +62 911 352057; 3) Hotel Tirta Kencana, Jl Raya Amahusu, Ambon, Tel. +62 911 351867; 4) Lelisa Beach Hotel Namalatu Latuhalat, Ambon, Tel. +62 911 362107; 5) Beta Hotel, Wim Raewaruw Street 114 Ambon, Tel. +62 911 353463; 6) Jamilah Hotel, Soa Bali Sk Street 33/32 Ambon, Tel. +62 911 353054; 7) Hotel Manise, Jl. W.R. Supratman No. 1 Ambon., Tel. + 62 911 342905, 354144, 241445, fax: + 62 911 341054, 354145; 8) Hotel Amboina, Jl. Kapiten Ulupaha No. 5A Ambon., Tel. + 62 911 341725, 355515, fax: + 62 911 353354; 9) Hotel Grand Soya, Jl. Cendrawasih No. 20 Ambon., Tel. +62 911 312019, fax: +62 911 312018 Hotel Wijaya 1, Jl. Said Perintah no. 15B Ambon, Tel. +62 911 343023, 343024, fax: +62 911 351976
Unique delicacies you might want to try in Ambon are: Colo-colo, pronounced cholo-cholo, is a condiment usually served with grilled fish, ikan komu asar or ikan kadondong. Green and reddish tomatoes are diced and red chili peppers and onions are added to give a strong the aroma and flavor. Fresh lime juice and basil are the final touches to make colo-colo perfect. Try it with papeda, the sago starch, and soami. Ikan Komu Asar is smoked tuna fish cooked to order. Try it with original colo-colo or soy sauced colo-colo. Kohu-kohu is a side dish eaten with ikan kadondong. Ikan Kadondong is skipjack fish wrapped in kadondong (great hog plum) leaves. It is eaten with steamed sweet potatoes.
Also try Saraba. made from coconut milk, brown sugar and ginger; sagu, a local food made from sago palm; durian, a very famous fruit in Indonesia with a nasty smell; bagea: traditional cake made from sagu, crispy and a bit salty, and consumed with sweet black tea; makron: made from sagu (sago) mixed with almond; and nasi Jaha: made from rice drenched in coconut milk and put on bamboo stick-grilled in charcoal
Restaurant Dede’s on Jalan Said Perintis is a very busy and unassuming restaurant, serving Ambon’s best grilled and smoked fish. Barokah Bakery is on Jalan AM Sangaji, Southern Kota Ambon.CAF Restaurant is where you will find great seafood. It is located on Jalan Raya Pattimura, Southern Kota Ambon. For Western food and beverages try Hotel Amans Rooftop Café is in Hotel Amans.
Café Panorama Restaurant is an open-sided terrace café serving various menu items, including western food, located on Jalan CM Tiahahu, Northern Kota Ambon; Tel: +62 911 351 884 Es Teler 21 Kentucky specializes in mixed tropical fruit ice cream, located in Istana Gizi, on Jalan Pantai Mardika, Northern Kota Ambon. Warong Tenda Nasi Kelapa (Coconut Rice) in the Batu Merah area is a street stall selling flavorsome coconut rice cooked in the Maluku style. Bunga Pepaya (Papaya sprout) is usually added to increase the taste and create a tropical taste sensation. Rumah Kopi or coffee shops are everywhere in Ambon. Spend an hour or two to chat with the locals and sip the aromatic coffee made locally.
Sights in Kota Ambon
Some interesting places worth checking out in and around Kota Ambon are: 1) Pattimura Statue (a national hero from Ambon), at Lapangan Merdeka; 2) Tugu Dolan at Kudamati; 3) Tugu Trikora at Urimesing; 4) Franciscus Xaverius (St) Francis Xavier) Statue (a catholic missionary) at Batumeja; 5) Rumphius monument at Batu Meja; 6) Namalatu Beach at Latuhalat; 7) Natsepa Indah Beach at Natsepa; 8) Santai Beach at Latuhalat; 9) Pintu Kota at Airlow; 10) Gong Perdamaian Dunia (World Peace Gong); 11) VOC Bunker at Benteng Atas; Victoria Fort or Benteng Victoria was built in 1575 by the Portuguese under Sanchos Vanconcelos. As local people began settling around the fort the city began to grow into what we now know as Kota Ambon. The Dutch took over the fort in 1602. Today, you can still see the enormous walls facing Ambon bay. You can’t go in as it is occupied by the Indonesia military.
Also in 1575, a mosque was constructed in Batu Merah Village, literally meaning the Red Stone Village. The mosque is known as An Nur Batu Merah Mosque. It was built by the Hatala family and continues to serve the community and is famous for producing the country’s best ulamas (Muslim scholars). Gerja Immanuel Church, founded in 1580 and said to be Indonesia’s oldest church, was destroyed in 1999 violence.
In Tawiri Village, close to Pattimura Airport, an Australian monument honors William Doolan, a soldier took on advancing Japanese soldiers in World War II on his own with a rifle, hand grenades and bike chain and died covering his comrades . Although never confirmed, it was reported at the time that he killed up to 80 Japanese. Doolan’s bullet riddled body was found by members of his battalion a few days later. He was buried in a marked grave near to where he fell.
The Martha Christina Tiahahu statue is a tribute to an anti colonial resistance hero who fought against the Dutch alongside her father in the early 19th century. When her father was executed for supporting the resistance movement Martha continued the fight, but starved herself to death when captured by the Dutch.
Sights and Activities Around Ambon
Although small in size, Ambon island still has a lot to offer from charming Kota Ambon — the main town of the island — to walking in mountains through tropical vegetation to exploring beaches and dive sites in Ambon and the islands around it. Outside of Kota Ambon there is a ruined Dutch fort in Lima and a Portuguese one in Hila, part of which in engulfed by a giant Banyan tree. Good beaches and coral reefs are around Pombo Island, Natmalatua Beach and Hunimoa Beach.
The Ambon area is blessed with many white beaches and spots ideal for diving and snorkeling. Experienced divers should try diving off Tanjung Setan (Satan’s Cape) at the far southern tip of Seram. The Lease (pronounced Ley-a-say) Island used to a popular retreat for Ambonese slavers, who were mostly Christian. On Haraku there are a pair of ruined Dutch forts and some good beaches. Remnants from World War II still remain: in museums, in the jungle, in the city and underwater.
Pombo Island (five kilometers from Ambon) is one of over a thousand islands in Maluku Province. Covering only two hectares, it is a uninhabited little island surrounded completely by a coral and is home to a variety of colorful marine creatures, easily seen in the clear waters, and a nesting site for several species of birds. There is no accommodation on the island but camping may be allowed.
Don’t miss a visit to the sacred eels at Waai near Tulehu, 24 kilometers. from Ambon. Here the sacred giant eels emerge from underwater caves when their keeper signals and feeds them with chicken eggs. The locals believe that when the eels and carp swim away, a disaster will occur. In 1960 an epidemic struck the area but once offerings were given, the eels returned and the epidemic stopped.
Buru (west of Ambon) is Indonesia’s equivalent of Siberia during the Suharti era, especially in the 1960s and 70s. There are few remains form that era and little to see otherwise other than some waterfalls and forests. Local officials are somewhat suspicious of foreign visitors.
Under Suharto, some 12,000 political prisoners were sent to the Buru island in the Spice Island to the "Humanitarian Project" there, where dissidents, suspected communist, sympathizers, lawyers, professors, doctors and "the shining light of Indonesia's intelligencia" toiled in the hot sun. Many died from torture, gun shot wounds from guards, blows from falling trees, spear wounds from local residents, starvation, malaria, filariasis (a mosquito-born disease that produced elephantiasis) hepatitis, tuberculosis and other diseases.
Described as a tropical Siberian gulag, the Buru Island Humanitarian Center was established in 1969. It consisted of camps built around wooden barracks that housed 50 prisoners each. The prisoners grew corn and rice, felled trees, built roads, cultivated the land, and constructed buildings. Many of the prisoners were detained for more than a decade without being charged or given a trial.
Prisoners were prohibited from having reading material and those found possessing a book or a magazine risked being tortured or severely punished or even executed. On one occasion, Pramoedya said, a man found some scraps of newspaper while unwrapping something. Three day later he was found dead in a river with his hands tied behind his back.
Banned from possessing paper or a pen during his first years at Buru, Pramoedya wrote the historical novels for which he is famous in his head, offering installments each day to his fellow prisoners who helped him remember and get his facts straight. Eventually a sympathetic general allowed him to have pen and paper and, later, a typewriter. To win these favors he used money he earned from selling duck eggs.
John Aglionby wrote in The Guardian, “ ”The scale of the suffering on Buru island eventually came to light through The Mute's Soliloquy, an autobiographical work published decades later - and in English in 1999 - with numerous incidents recorded on scraps of paper that were smuggled out by a sympathetic Catholic priest. Most of the prisoners, including Pramoedya, were moved from Buru in 1979, but the writer was only released as a result of intensive lobbying by numerous foreign diplomats. He was confined to Jakarta until 1992. [Source: John Aglionby, The Guardian, May 3, 2006]
Seram Island is the second largest island in the Moluccas and formally the home of head hunters—the Nuaula—that were active until the 1940s Covering 17,454 square kilometers, it is mountainous and contains forests with cockatoos and colorful parrots. The beaches are beautiful and the swimming is good. Also found here are Sago trees, coral gardens and virgin forests including Manusela National Park which is the home to many exotic flora and fauna.
The main entry point for Seram (also spelled Ceram) is Masohi-Amahai. It is a quiet, predominantly Muslim town. The museum sometimes shows a film about the island’s headhunters. Outside the city in Telunk there is nice beach with cliffs in the background. Slaeman is a pretty village with a cave full of bat-like Lusiala bird that emerge form the cave at dusk.
Manusela National Park occupies a large part of central Seram. Covering 1890 square kilometers, it embraces rugged mountainous scenery and contains lots of birdlife (the park’s name means “bird of freedom”) but the birds are hard to spot and the going can be quite tough.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020