The Molucca (Maluku) islands are perhaps the heart of Indonesia itself. Poised between Sulawesi to the east, New Guinea to the West, Philippines to the north and the dominant administrative centre of Jakarta a long way to the south, these then are the fabled Spice Islands of myth and legend. Much of the modern history of Indonesia was formulated by the centuries of European and Asian struggle over who would control the trade to these lands of magic woods, fragrant plants and pungent flowers.
With the current global market in herbs and spices, it is hard to believe there was a time when so many of the tastes and scents of what we call normal were mostly sourced from a small group of islands not so far to the north of Australia, spices so precious and rare that the quest for it changed the history of the world. Somewhat neglected in the early 1900’s, the Moluccas again were thrown into the limelight as a strategic asset in the struggle for control of South East Asian and Oceanic in World War 2.
Japanese forces captured the strategic islands of Halmahera and Morotai, and used them as their core bases in their further expansion into the Dutch held East Indies. After many depreciates and deaths across Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Australia, the Japanese forces were pushed back with huge loss of life to the local populations, the Japanese soldiers and the Allied forces – usually in that order.
The North Moluccas then became a strategic part of the air command of the Allied forces for the rest of the war and again, in the early 50’s, a battleground for the Indonesian Merdeka movement against the newly proclaimed and swiftly defeated Dutch protectorate of Greater Eastern Indonesia.
During the years between 1993 and 1994, I spent some time traversing the islands of Ambon, Ternate, Tidore, Halmahera and Moratai, islands which make up much of which is generally called the “Northern Moluccas” (Maluku Utara), only a few hundred kilometers south of the large Philippine island of Mindanao.
This section is of some of the notes, writings and photos I made during that time.