MOLUCCAS, or Spice Islands, a name which in its wider sense includes all the islands of the Malay Archipelago between Celebes on the W., New Guinea on the E., Timor on the S., and the open Pacific Ocean on the N. They are thus distributed over an area between 2° 43' N. and 8° 23' S. and 124° 22' and 135° E., and include: (1) the Moluccas proper or Ternate group, of which Halmaherais the largest and Ternate the capital; (2) the Bachian, Obi, and Xulla groups; (3) the Amboyna group, of which Ceram (Serang) and Bum are the largest; (4) the Banda Islands (the spice or nutmeg islands par excellence); (5) the south-eastern islands, comprising Timor-Laut or Tenimber, Larat, &c.; (6) the Kei Islands and the Aru Islands, of which the former are sometimes attached to the south-eastern group; and (7) the south-western islands or the Babar, Sermata, Leti, Damar, Roma and Wetar groups. At the close of the 16th century this part of the archipelago was divided among four rulers settled at Ternate, Tidore, Halmahera and Bachian. The northern portion belongs to the Dutch residency of Ternate, the southern portion to that of Amboyna.
The name Moluccas is said to be derived from the Arabic for “king.” Argensola (1609) uses the forms islas Malucas, Maluco, and el Maluco; Coronel (1623), islas del Moluco; and Camoens, Maluco. Since 1867, when the political unity, under a governor, was dissolved, the Moluccas are often named by the Dutch the “Great East” (Groote Oost). Most of the islands are mountainous, with still active volcanoes.
As they lie near or under the equator, the monsoons blowing over them are less regular, and the rainfall, of large volume throughout the year, is dependent on the height and direction of the chains. The vegetation of the small and narrow islands, all encompassed by the sea, is very luxuriant, and the products, principally nutmegs, mace, and other spices, include also rice and sago. The inhabitants are of mixed descent. In some islands are people of obvious Papuan blood, while in others are Polynesian or Malayan tribes. With these three main races have crossed traders and colonists, Macassars, Buginese, Javanese and Europeans.
The geology of the Moluccas is very imperfectly known. The great chain of volcanoes which runs through Sumatra and Java is continued eastwards into the Moluccas, and terminates in a hook-like curve which passes through the Damar Islands to the Banda group. Outside this hook lies a concentric arc of non-volcanic islands, including Tenimber, the Lesser Kei Islands, Ceram and Buru; and beyond is still a third concentric arc extending from Taliabu to the Greater Kei Islands. The islands of these outer arcs consist chiefly of crystalline schists and limestones, overlaid by Jurassic, Cretaceous and Tertiary deposits.
On the whole it appears that the older rocks are found more particularly towards the interior of the curve, and the newer rocks towards the exterior. Eruptive rocks of supposed Cretaceous age are met with in these outer islands, but Tertiary and recent volcanic lavas are confined to the innermost arc. Halmahera lies outside these arcs. It appears to consist chiefly of gabbro, peridotite, serpentine and other very basic eruptive rocks, which are believed to be of Cretaceous age. Nummulitic limestone occurs in the south-east. Upon the floor of older rock rise a number of volcanoes, some of which are now extinct while others are still active. Most of them lie near the west coast or on the islands off this coast; and they are arranged in lines which run approximately from north to south, with, generally, a slight convexity towards the west.
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 17 pg. 191.