I recently spent a bit of time in the Maluku Islands, one of Indonesia’s northeastern provinces and also an archipelago in its own right.
Given it is less accessible to tourists and definitely well off the beaten track, I thought Asian Correspondent readers might like to be treated to a photographic essay through the area I visited.
As you may know, Indonesia is one of the most diverse nations in the world – and by that I am referring to ethnic groups, marine life, plant life, religious practices, language and so on. This diversity creates both for interesting food, culture and natural environments.
This description from Lonely Planet on Maluku helps set the scene:
Formerly known as ‘the Moluccas’, these petite little morsels of paradise are a dream-come-true for seekers of superb snorkelling and picture-perfect white-sand beaches. Protected from mass tourism by distance and a (now outdated) reputation for civil unrest, this is one corner of the world where dreamy desert islands remain remarkably hospitable and inexpensive.
But parts of the Maluku Islands are also very remote. For example to get to a particular village on Seram Island we took a flight from Jakarta to Ambon (3 hours), drove to the ferry terminal on Ambon Island (1 hour), took a ferry to Seram Island (2 hours), then drove across the island (2 hours) and finally took a dugout canoe to the village (30 mins). Epic. Dugout canoe is sometimes the only form of transport when roads become impassable from mud or landslides.
The villages subsist here by growing food – cocoa, cloves, bananas, sago, cassava – and fishing. Fortunately the islands have a lush tropical climate and almost anything grows, in fact we met some farmers who had chopped down trees and commented they were still producing leaves some weeks later and could have been just put back in the ground to grow again. So good is the fertile volcanic soil also that no crop rotation is required.
Lonely Planet also has a description on the food and spices of the region:
Maluku also offers a thrill for history buffs. The Moluccas were the original ‘Spice Islands’. Indian, Chinese, Arab and, later, European adventurers all came here in search of cloves and nutmeg. Until the 16th century such spices were worth their weight in gold and grew nowhere else. Thus in Maluku money literally ‘grew on trees’. Today it’s incredible to reflect that the search for this wealth began the whole process of European colonialism.
One of my previous posts was about the food in Indonesia and included some images from the Maluku islands. The tea in this part of Indonesia was incredibly sweet and produced throughout the day with snacks such as fried bananas, boiled cassava and the like. Lunch and dinner times were always fish, rice and vegetables. One day we were served a delicious snack of steaming hot corn – the first of the corn harvests.
What I particularly loved in this part of Indonesia was how they utilised everything they could get their hands on. For example you would see kids scaling coconut trees to bring down some fruit to eat. There’s the old lady pictured above of course who did her own spot of fishing and you would often see people climbing the papaya trees to bring down the flowers and leaves they would use to cook with. This woman below had been just cutting flowers from a papaya tree.
People here live in a variety of dwellings. Some are simple homes in the jungle with little more than bamboo walls and leafy ceilings. Others are wooden and others concrete homes reinfored with wood or steel where possible.
A house such as the one above was being used during the day for a kindergarten to meet in. The children do have primary schools they can attend and some must arrive in dugout canoe or trek through the forest to reach it, depending on where their village is. It was always interesting to see them arriving by boat first thing in the morning.
Look out for part 2 in the next post…