Banda Islands

Missing image
Banda Besar island seen from Fort Belgica

The Banda Islands (Kepulauan Banda in Bahasa Indonesia) are a group of ten small volcanic islands in the Banda Sea, about 140km south of Seram island and about 2000km east of Java, and are part of the Indonesian province of Maluku. The capital city is Bandanaira, located on the island of the same name. They rise out of 4-6 km deep ocean and have a total land area of approximately 180 km². They have a population of about 15,000. Until the mid 19th century the Banda Islands were the only source of the spices nutmeg and mace, produced from the nutmeg tree. The islands are also popular destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling.

The Portuguese navigator Antonio de Abreu was the first European to encounter the islands, in 1512. Controlling production of nutmeg and mace was a major motivation for the Dutch conquest of the islands in the 1621. At the time nutmeg was one of the "fine spices" kept expensive in Europe by disciplined manipulation of the market, but a desirable commodity for Dutch traders in the ports of India as well; economic historian Fernand Braudel notes that India consumed twice as much as Europe (Braudel 1984, p. 219). The lucrative monopoly over supply was ruthlessly enforced,: the Dutch decimated and displaced the indigenous Bandanese and the islands were subsequently settled by imported slaves, convicts and indentured labourers (to work the nutmeg plantations), as well as in-migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia.

The population of the Banda Islands prior to Dutch conquest is generally estimated to have been around 13-15,000 people, some of whom were Malay and Javanese traders, as well as Chinese and Arabs. The actual numbers of Bandanese who were were killed, forcibly expelled or fled the islands in 1621 remain uncertain. But readings of historical sources suggest around one thousand Bandanese likely survived in the islands, and were spread throughout the nutmeg groves as forced labourers (Hanna 1978, p.54; Loth 1995, p.18). Shipments of surviving Bandanese were also sent to Batavia (Jakarta) to work as slaves in developing the city and its fortress. Some 530 of these individuals were later returned to the islands because of their much-needed expertise in nutmeg cultivation (something sorely lacking among newly-arrived Dutch settlers) (Hanna 1978, p.55; Loth 1995, p.24).

Fort Belgica, one of many forts built by the Dutch East India Company, is one of the largest remaining European forts in Indonesia.

Religious violence, spilling over from intercommunal conflict in Ambon, affected the islands slightly in the late 1990s, damaging the previously prosperous tourism industry.

There are seven inhabited islands and several that are uninhabited. The inhabited islands are:

Banda Besar volcano in the Banda Islands
Banda Besar volcano in the Banda Islands

Main group:

  • Banda Neira, or Naira, the island with the administrative capital and a small airfield (as well as accomodation for visitors).
  • Gunung Api, an active volcano with a peak of about 650m
  • Banda Besar is the largest island, 12km long and 3km wide. It has three main settlements, Lonthoir, Selamon and Waer.

Some distance to the west:

  • Pulau Ai or Pulau Ay
  • Pulau Run, further west again.

To the east:

  • Pulau Pisang, also known as Syahrir.

To the southeast:

  • Pulau Hatta formerly Rosengain or Rozengain

Others, possibly small and/or uninhabited, are:

  • Nailaka, a short distance northeast of Pulau Run
  • Batu Kapal
  • Manuk, an active volcano
  • Pulau Keraka or Pulau Karaka (Crab Island)
  • Manukang
  • Hatta Reef

Bandanese culture

Most of the present-day inhabitants of the Banda Islands are descended from migrants and plantation labourers from various parts of Indonesia, as well as from indigenous Bandanese. They have inherited aspects of pre-colonial ritual practices in the Bandas that are highly valued and still performed, giving them a distinct and very local cultural identity.

In addition, Bandanese speak a distinct Malay Dialect which has several features distinguishing it from Ambonese Malay, the better-known and more widespread dialect that forms a lingua franca in central and southeast Maluku. Bandanese Malay is famous in the region for its unique, lilting accent, but it also has a number of locally identifying words in its lexicon, many of them borrowings or loanwords from Template:Ll.

Banda Besar volcano seen from Fort Belgica.Note soldiers at left.
Banda Besar volcano seen from Fort Belgica.
Note soldiers at left.

Examples :

  • fork : forok (Dutch vork)
  • ants : mir (Dutch mier)
  • spoon : lepe (Dutch lepel)
  • difficult : lastek (Dutch lastig)
  • floor : plur (Dutch vloer)
  • porch: stup (Dutch stoep)

Banda Malay shares many Template:Ll loanwords with Ambonese Malay not appearing in Indonesia's national language Bahasa Indonesia. But it has comparatively fewer, and they differ in pronunciation.

Examples :

  • turtle : tetaruga (Banda Malay); totoruga (Ambonese Malay) (from Portuguese tartaruga)
  • throat : gargontong (Banda Malay); gargangtang (Ambonese Malay) (from Portuguese garganta)

Finally, and most noticeably, Banda Malay uses some distinct pronouns. The most immediately distinguishing is that of the second person singular familiar form of address: pané.

The descendants of some of the Bandanese who fled Dutch conquest in the seventeenth century live in the Kai Islands (Kepulauan Kei) to the east of the Banda group, where a version of the original Banda language is still spoken in the villages of Banda Eli and Banda Elat on Kai Besar Island. While long integrated into Kei Island society, residents of these settlements continue to value the historical origins of their ancestors.

See also

Maluku Islands

External links

  1. Rick van den Broek's site -- -- including a Dutch talk from 18 June 1994 --
  2. Banda Sea Islands moist deciduous forests --
  3. Municipalities and Districts, Central Maluku --
  4. The author Giles Milton's book Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History (Sceptre books, Hodder and Stoughton, London) gives a vivid account of the struggle for possession of the Banda Islands.
  5. Further reading suggestions by the Spice Islands Archaeology Project --


  • Braudel, Fernand. 1984. The Perspective of the World. In: Civilization and Capitalism, vol. III.
  • Hanna, Willard A. 1978. Indonesia Banda:Colonialism and its Aftermath in the Nutmeg Islands. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Affairs.
  • Lape, Peter. 2000. Political dynamics and religious change in the late pre-colonial Banda Islands, Eastern Indonesia. World Archaeology 32(1):138-155.
  • Loth, Vincent C. 1995. Pioneers and perkerniers:the Banda Islands in the seventeenth century. Cakalele 6: 13-35.
  • Villiers, John. 1981. Trade and society in the Banda Islands in the sixteenth century. Modern Asian Studies 15(4):723-750.
  • Winn, Phillip. 1998. Banda is the Blessed Land: sacred practice and identity in the Banda Islands, Maluku. Antropologi Indonesia 57:71-80.
  • Winn, Phillip. 2001. Graves, groves and gardens: place and identity in central Maluku, Indonesia. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 2 (1):24-44.
  • Winn, Phillip. 2002. Everone searches, everyone finds: moral discourse and resource use in an Indonesian Muslim community. Oceania 72(4):275-292.

da:Bandařerne nl:Banda-eilanden


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