Formerly known as the Moluccas, these islands are the original Spice Islands, which in the 16th and 17th centuries lured the major seafaring nations of Europe to come to trade and to establish their power and influence in this part of the East.

Chinese annals of the Tang dynasty from around the middle of the 7th century A.D. make mention of a land named Mi-li-ku. The 14th century Javanese manuscript 'Nagarakertagama' mentions the name Maloko, meaning the island of Ternate, part of this province, which in the 17th century was known to the Portuguese as Moluquo.

It was Nicoli de Conti, however, who in 1440 revealed the existence of the Spice Islands to the Europeans. Using his information, Fra Maura drew his world map, and soon the race to the East began. In 1511, the Portuguese built their first fort in the area on the island of Ternate and established their monopoly of the clove trade.

The Spanish also came, but posed little trouble to the Portuguese. The Dutch, who arrived in 1599, on the other hand, proved to be their toughest contestants in the quest for Maluku's treasures. Armed conflicts broke out, taking a toll not only between the two rival European powers, but also among the local populations. The Dutch finally emerged as winners and established their trade monopoly with iron hand. Whole villages were razed to the ground and thousands of islanders died in the so-called Hongi expeditions launched by the Dutch to maintain their trade monopoly.

The British occupied Maluku for a brief period during the Napoleonic war between England and France. Dutch rule was restored in 1814, leading to a new rebellion under Matulessi, which the Dutch suppressed with difficulty. The compulsory cultivation of spices was abolished in Maluku only in 1863.

Traces of that turbulent period in Maluku's history can still be found on a number of islands. However, Maluku's great attraction for present-day visitors is its sea gardens, beaches and the beauty of the land. Music and dances and hybrid culture in general, are among the strong tourist drawing cards. Maluku Utara or North Maluku became a separate province from Maluku on January 1, 2000. Fish and other sea products are nowadays Maluku's major sources of revenue, but nickel, oil, manganese and timber also contribute to the province's wealth.

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