Indonesia is the 4th most populated country in the world with more than 250.000.000 people --- There are 316 ethnic groups which speak 670 dialects in Indonesia --- There are 17.508 islands in Indonesia, which is the largest Archipelago in the world and only 6.000 of them have a name with only 1.000 are inhabited --- If you could spend only 1 day on each island of Indonesia, you would need 48 years to see all of them? (Transportation between islands not counted) --- Indonesia has the longest coastline in the world, with 100.000 kms long --- Indonesia is probably the last country in the world, which has still unexplored territories, and is not completly mapped? (specially around Irian Jaya) --- There are about 400 volcanoes in Indonesia, and 150 out of them are active, which represents 75% of all active volcano on the planet


Travelling to Banda Naira Island II

Banda Naira A Spice Island Teeming With History
Text and Photos by Sari Widiati

Historic Tourist Destinations Enrich the Meaning of Life (see part I)

Cakalele war dancer

Banda Naira, specifically Pulau Naira, was also the place of internal exile for several nationalist leaders during the Dutch colonial period. In February 1936, (later one of the co-proclaimers of Indonesia's independence) and Mohammad HattaSutan Sjahrir were transferred here from the political prison camp in Boven Digul, Papua, following Dr. Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo and Iwa Koesoema Soemantri, who had previously been exiled there.

The historical evidence of their presence is still preserved. The Banda Naira Heritage and Culture Foundation has converted their houses into museums where subsequent generations can see and feel how they lived in exile.

One tragic event in the island's history was the slaughter of 44 local notables'– referred to as Orang Kaya Banda – and hundreds of other Bandanese, led by the Netherlands East Indies Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) Governor General Jan Pieterzoon Coen on 8 May 1621. He brought in ronin, Japanese freelance samurai, to sadistically execute anyone who resisted. The Rante Monument now stands here to remind us of this brutality and their sacrifice in trying to defend the nation from colonial domination.

Near the Rante Monument, a large five-sided building stands firmly atop a hill. The Dutch used Fort Belgica, built in 1611 by Banda Governor General Pieter Bothdam, as their place of defense against attacks. This huge fortress, with towers on all sides and a wide space in the middle, contains a well that connects to Fort Nassau, on the coast not far from Belgica and built in 1609 by Admiral Verhoeven on the foundations of a Portuguese fort.

In those days, Benteng Belgica enabled the Dutch to control the entire Banda chain. Now, it's the best place on land to enjoy the impressive view of the Banda Naira islands and watch the sun set behind Gunung Api Banda.

Another obligatory part of your visit to Naira is a stop at the Istana Mini, or Miniature Palace, built between 1820 and 1824 by Dutch Controller Van Der Capallen. It served as the residence and office of the VOC Governor.

Nutmeg,commodity of Banda Naira

As a mark of appreciation for the services of the national leaders who were exiled here, Des Alwi has not only built museums to commemorate them; in 2002, he also founded the Hatta-Syahrir Fisheries Academy, an important step because this island region really needs people with strong knowledge of maritime affairs. Next to the school is a mosque to remember these national heroes. Des Alwi was originally planning to erect a statue of Mohammad Hatta to commemorate his services, but Hatta refused, saying, "Build a mosque to remember me."

Overwhelming Natural Beauty and Culture

The largest island in Banda Naira is the crescent-shaped Banda Besar, where there is a large nutmeg plantation and agrotourism destination.

You really must explore the islands of Banda Naira, and if you dive into their waters, you will find amazing underwater gardens of coral reefs and colorful tropical fish. This is why snorkeling and diving are so popular with tourists who visit here. Among the famous people who have explored the waters here are the legendary French diver Jacques Cousteau, Princess of York Sarah Fergusson, the rocker Mick Jagger, and film director (Apocalypse Now) Francis Ford Coppola.

It's best to stay on Naira. There's a modest hotel, the Maulana, right opposite Gunung Api Banda, where guests can enjoy the view of the mountain's greenery from their rooms. Many tourists choose to climb the volcano, which has an elevation of 670 meters. If you'd like to try, set out early in the morning. If you're in good shape, it should only take one and a half or two hours to reach the top. The volcano erupts roughly every 80 to 100 years, most recently on 8 May 1988. Gunung Api Banda contributes to Banda Naira's beauty and fertility, as well as bringing occasional disaster.

Banda Naira's culture is equally impressive. The Cakalele and Kora-Kora are phenomenal performances. The Cakalele war dance is usually performed to honor important visitors. In the past, dozens of men would take part in the dance; now it is performed by five men, each carrying a traditional weapon, as well as shields and helmets. The number five has special symbolism: Captain 1 as the master of the land, captain 2 as master of the sea, the hulubalang (commander) representing the orang kaya from the traditional villages who were murdered or exiled by the VOC, and two soldiers, called malesi. Each traditional village in Banda Naira has a different Cakalele.

The most exciting event in Banda Naira is the Kora-Kora (traditional boat) race, held twice a year. The local people are very enthusiastic about the race, and it's almost a cultural obligation to place bets on their favorites to win. Each village's Kora-Kora has a different shape and decorations, with symbols of different animals on the bow. Each Kora-Kora is around ten meters long and is rowed by a large crew with dozens of men. The Banda Naira Sea, normally so calm, becomes a tumult when the Kora-Kora race begins.

This year Banda Naira is commemorating two important events: the 400th anniversary of the VOC's arrival in the islands, and the twentieth anniversary of the last eruption of Gunung Api Banda. But it will be even more important if you include Banda Naira in your travel plans.

Things to remember

A visit to Banda Naira takes quite a long time, at least a week. First, because you need plenty of time to enjoy all aspects of its beauty, and second, because transportation is limited; there's only one flight a week, and ships come only twice a week. So plan your time well and prepare yourself for a truly memorable trip full of nature and history.

The only communication to the outside world is through wartel (communications kiosks) near the hotel. Cell phone signal? Forget it…

Maulana Hotel
Jl. Pelabuhan Banda Naira, Central Maluku, Maluku
Tel. (62 21) 4240151/4251613 (Jakarta)
Tel. (62 910) 21022/21023 (Banda Naira)

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