MOLUCCAS or SPICE ISLANDS (Dutch, Molukken), a name which in its wider sense includes all the islands of the Malay archipelago between Celebes on the west, New Guinea on the east, Timor on the south, and the open Pacific ocean on the north. They are thus distributed over an area between 2° 43' N. and 8° 23' S. and 124° 2 2' and E., and include: (I) the Moluccas proper or Ternate group, of which Halmahera is the largest and Ternate the capital; (2) the Bachian and Obi groups; (3) the Amboyna group, of which Ceram (Serang) and Buru are the largest ; the Banda islands (the spice or nutmeg islands par excellence) ; (5) the south-eastern islands, comprising Larat, Babar, etc.; and (6) the Kei islands and the Aru islands, of which the former are sometimes attached to the south-eastern group. The whole of Dutch New Guinea is included administratively with the Moluccas. Formerly the Moluccas were divided into two residencies, Ternate and Amboyna. In 1923 these residencies were united under one Government, i.e., that of the Moluccas.
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 nut megs, mace, and other spices, include also copra, rice, sago, caje put oil, damar, timber, trepang, pearl-shell, shells, tortoise shell and bird-of-paradise plumes. In the main the flora of the Moluccas is of extreme fertility, and many Australian forms are intermingled with the predominating Asiatic. The flora of New Guinea is distinctly individual to the island. The fauna of the Moluccas is peculiar in its distribution. Land mammals are very few ; Viverra tangalunga is the only carnivorous representative, the only ruminant a deer, and the only quadrumanous animal the baboon, Cynopithecus nigrescens. The strangely-formed babi rusa of Celebes is found in the Sula isles and Buru. The little shrew, the wild pig, flying opossum and cuscus are common. Bird-life is profuse, parrots, king-fishers and doves predominating; most curious are the mound-builders, Megapodidae, and the large cassowary of Ceram ; most beautiful the bird-of-paradise. New
Guinea and the Aru isles are Australian in fauna. Insect life is even richer. In the gorgeous Ornithoptera butterflies have reached probably their highest state of development ; the insects are re markably beautiful even when compared with those of other parts of the archipelago. Fish and shell-fish abound in extraor dinary variety. Poisonous snakes and man-eating crocodiles are found in New Guinea. The inhabitants are of mixed descent.
The geology of the Moluccas is imperfectly known. The great chain of volcanoes which runs through Sumatra and Java is con tinued 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 Talaibu 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.
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. After Magellan's passage round Cape Horn to the Far East, the Spanish had laid claim to the Moluccas under the Treaty of Tordesilas (1494), but in 1528 they were bought out by the Portuguese, whose influence in the Moluccas was predominant until the arrival of the Dutch early in the i7th century. Finding the power of the sultan of Ternate too strong in the north Moluc cas, the Dutch concentrated on the southern islands, particularly Amboyna and Banda. The Bourgay Contract (1667), gave them an opening in the north, the friendship of the sultan of Ternate aided them immensely, and when in 1685 the Dutch declared all contracts with the sultan of Ternate void, they took the northern Moluccas under their rule, and with them went New Guinea, which, with the northern and southern isles, was gradually con solidated into the Moluccas of to-day. (See further MALAY ARCHI PELAGO, and separate articles on the principal islands and groups.)