Kai Islands

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Kai Islands
Native name: KaiKai
Topographic map of the Kai Islands-en.svg
Kai islands
ID Kai islands.PNG
Location South-east Asia
Coordinates 5°45′S 132°44′E / 5.75°S 132.73°E / -5.75; 132.73
Total islands 47
Major islands Kai Besar, Kai Kecil
Area 1,438 km2 (555 sq mi)
Highest elevation 90 m (300 ft)
Highest point 82 meters altitude
Province Maluku
Largest settlement Alaku Malaki
Kai Islands in the east of Maluku Islands

The Kai Islands (also Kei Islands) of Indonesia are a group of islands located in the southeastern part of the Maluku Islands in Maluku Province.[1][2] The Malakus have been known as the Spice Islands due to region specific plants such as nutmeg, mace and cloves that originally intrigued European nations of the 16th century.[3]

Though originally Melanesian,[4] many islanders were exterminated in the 17th century during the spice wars, particularly in the Banda Islands. A second influx of Austronesian immigrants began in the early twentieth century under the Dutch and continued in the Indonesian era.


The islands consist of the Maluku Tenggara (Southeast Maluku) Regency within the Maluku Province. The Regency (which excludes the city of Tual) is sub-divided into six districts (kecamatan).


Inhabitants called the islands Nuhu Evav (Evav Islands) or Tanat Evav (Evav Land), but they were known as Kei to people from neighboring islands. The islands are located on the edge of the Banda Sea, south of the Bird's Head Peninsula of New Guinea, west of the Aru and Tayandu Islands, and northeast of the Tanimbar Islands.

The Kai islands are made up of numerous islands, including:

  • Kai Besar or Nuhu Yuut or Nusteen (Great Kai)
  • Kai Kecil or Nuhu Roa or Nusyanat (Little Kai)
  • Tanimbar Kai or Tnebar Evav
  • Kai Dulah or Du
  • Dulah Laut or Du Roa
  • Kuur
  • Taam
  • Tayandu Islands (Tahayad) groups

The Kai Islands' total land area is 1,438 square kilometres (555 square miles).

Kai Besar is mountainous and densely forested. Its capital is the town of Tual. Kai is famous for the beauty of its beaches, e.g. Pasir Panjang.[5]

The Kai islands are part of Wallacea, the group of Indonesian islands that are separated by deep water from both the Asian and Australian continental shelves, and were never linked to either continent. As a result, the Kai Islands have few native mammals and are part of the Banda Sea Islands moist deciduous forests ecoregion.


The islands are located in a tropical area where there is hardly a change in the weather all year. Constant 30 °C (86 °F) all the time, the lowest temperature is around 18 °C (64 °F). The dry season lasts from April to September, and rain is scarce during this time of the year.


COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Een winkeleigenaar met zijn familie Kai-eilanden TMnr 10002751.jpg

Local history holds that ancestors of contemporary Kai islanders came from Bali, part of the expanding Majapahit kingdom from the western archipelago. The village of Ohoi-Ewur (first Raja Ewab: Raja Ohoi-Ewur = Raja Tabtut) on Kai Kecil or Nuhuroa island was the arrival point for the Balinese royal family and their army. They stayed in the village with local residents. As a result, Ohoi-ewur became a seat of government, where the local law (Larvul Ngabal) – Red Blood and Balinese Spear – was developed at the initiative of the royal princess D it Sakmas.

Evidence for these stories include an inheritance and a harbour named Bal Sorbay (Bali Surabaya) on Kai Kecil which is, presumably, the harbour at which the royals arrived.

It is recognised by Kai islanders that some of their ancestors also came from other places such as Sumbawa island (Sumbau), Buton (Vutun) in Sulawesi, Seram (Seran) and Gorom (Ngoran) islands in the Central Moluccas, and the Sultanates of Jailolo (Dalo) and Ternate (Ternat) as well.

The tiny island of Tanimbarkei is not part of Tanimbar, as the name might suggest but is, in fact, one of the Kai Islands. It is inhabited by fewer than 1000 very traditional people. Half of the population call themselves Hindus, but in fact are more or less practicing ancestor worship.

After the 1999 clashes between the Muslim and Christian populations in Ambon, similar inter-communal clashes also swept through Kai, but quickly calmed down.

All of the islands depend on 22 ratshcaap, or traditional local leaders called Rat or Raja, as kings of customary law.


The soil on Kai Kecil is of poor quality. Slash-and-burn agriculture is still common. Fishing is engaged in around Trepang. In Kai Kecil cultured pearls are harvested.


The official language in the Kai Islands is Bahasa Indonesian, although local languages also exist between regions.

Three Austronesian languages are spoken on the Kai Islands; Keiese is the most widely spoken, in 207 villages on Kai Kecil, Kai Besar, and surrounding islands. Kurese is spoken on Kur Island and nearby Kaimeer, where Kai is used as a lingua franca. Bandanese is spoken in the villages of Banda-Eli (Wadan El) and Banda-Elat (Wadan Elat) on the west and northeastern side of Kai Besar. Banda speakers originally came from the Banda Islands, but the language is no longer spoken there. There is no native writing system for the Keiese Language. Dutch Catholic missionaries write the language using a variation of the Roman alphabet.

Musical instruments[edit]

Some Kai musical instruments include:

Savarngil: A small native flute from 10 to 20 centimetres (4 to 8 in) long, open at both ends and having six fingerholes placed along the pipe made of bamboo and are keyless.

Tiva: Single headed drums, consist of a calf skin membrane which is stretched over an enclosed space or over one of the ends of a hollow vessel.

Dada: A medium-size gong 30 to 38 centimetres (12 to 15 inches) in size, with a crashing sound, have a raised boss or nipple in the centre.

Local culture[edit]

The major religion that dominates these Islands is Christianity, and they are among the few islands in the region to have more Catholics than Protestants. In fact, the Kai Islands are regarded as the center of Catholicism in all Maluku. Muslims present in this region are minor and they follow the mild form of Islam because they rarely have veiled women and mosques are low key affairs too.

See also[edit]



External links[edit]