The Banda Islands provide one of the most outstanding destinations explored by any of the Emperor Divers liveaboards.
A truly stunning place that offers a breathtaking diving experience. But that is far from all it offers.
There is much more to these tiny specks on the map, located in Indonesia’s Maluku province, among the vast depths of the Banda Sea.
In a three-part blog, we will introduce the varied facets the islands bring – the history, the wildlife and, of course, the diving.
The main islands were formed from the drowned caldera of a former volcano with the largest, Banda Besar, being only 12km long and 3km wide. Despite their relatively small size, they once represented a centre for global trade and played a significant and understated role in shaping the world we know now.
Due to the island’s isolation, and its inhabitants’ adherence to tradition, the Banda Islands today are something of a snapshot in history. And while it might be the ever-growing reputation of world-class diving that draws you to these islands, it’s pleasantly easy to get lost in the historical and cultural significance as well.
From around 1500 to the early 1900s, the Banda Islands held the attention of some of the world’s most powerful nations. This owed to nutmeg – endemic to the Banda Islands – being highly valued as a food preservative and medication. For roughly 400 years, the spice trade would rule the seas and powerful nations would grapple for control centred around what would become known as “The Spice Islands”.
These small Islands have seen bloodshed, a range of colonising powers, have helped to bankroll global exploration, been bartered away between nations, inspired some of the first international trade agreements, hosted Indonesian freedom fighters in exile, intrigued Christopher Columbus into an expedition that would lead him to ‘The Americas’ and even been a favourite destination for the likes of Princess Diana and Mick Jagger.
Many remnants of history remain. The present day Indonesian Phinisi boat, popular for tourist trips and diving liveaboards, were heavily based on historical Dutch sailing vessels and today can be seen on the horizon with full sails or anchored around the bays. The style of local “Kora-Kora” war boats that welcomed the Portuguese 500 years ago are still in use and colonial architecture and fortifications are still scattered around the islands.
Standing amongst these fragments of history atop the centuries-old Dutch fort Belgica, in the shadow of an active volcano, watching the wooden boats anchored in the harbour and backdropped by the setting sun, it’s easy to be captured by the historical significance. The imagination doesn’t need to work hard to picture life in these islands 400 years ago.
In the present day, the Banda Islands are forging a new identity as a premier diving destination – something we’ll look at in part two.