The islands were known as the Spice Islands due to the nutmeg, mace and cloves that were originally exclusively found there, the presence of which sparked colonial interest from Europe in the 16th century.
The Maluku Islands formed a single province from Indonesian independence until 1999, when it was split into two provinces. A new province, North Maluku, incorporates the area between Morotai and Sula, with the arc of islands from Buru and Seram to Wetar remaining within the existing Maluku Province. North Maluku is predominantly Muslim, and its capital is Sofifi on Halmahera island. Maluku province has a larger Christian population, and its capital is Ambon. Though originally Melanesian, many island populations, especially in the Banda Islands, were exterminated in the 17th century during the spice wars. A second influx of immigrants primarily from Java began in the early twentieth century under the Dutch and continues in the Indonesian era.
The name Maluku is thought to have been derived from the term used by Arab traders for the region, Jazirat al-Moluk ("the island of the kings"), from the word malik (pl. moluk). However, since the name itself has been mentioned in a 14th-century Majapahit eulogy, Nagarakretagama, that predates the arrival of Islam in Maluku at the late fifteenth century, other sources claim that the name comes from a local language with the meaning the head of a bull or the head of something large.