Halmahera has a land area of 17,780 km² (6,865 sq mi) and a population in 1995 of 162,728. About half of its inhabitants are Muslim and about half are Christian.
Sparsely-populated Halmahera’s fortunes have long been closely tied to those of the smaller islands of Ternate and Tidore, both off its west coast. These islands were both the sites of major kingdoms in the era before Dutch East India Company colonized the entire archipelago.
During World War II, Halmahera was the site of a Japanese military base at Kao Bay.
In 1999 and 2000 Halmahera was the site of violence between Christians and Muslims that began as a purely ethnic dispute between residents of (mainly Christian) Kao and (entirely Muslim) Malifut sub-districts and then took on a religious nature as it spread through much of the North Moluccas.
Thousands of people on Halmahera were killed in the fighting between religious militias, including groups like Laskar Jihad and FPI (the Islamic Defenders’ Front) who arrived from Java in large numbers. In June 2000, about five hundred people were killed when a ferry carrying refugees from the fighting on Halmahera sank off the northeast tip of Sulawesi island. Conspiracy theories about this event abound. A touching memorial to this tragedy can be found in Duma village in North Halmahera district.
Today, much transportation to the rest of Indonesia is through connections on the provincial capital, Ternate island; although Tobelo, the largest town on Halmahera, also has direct ferry and cargo sea links to Surabaya and Manado.
Particularly since the inauguration of the first ever directly elected Bupati (Regent or District Head), Tobelo is undergoing rapid development and is aiming at rivaling Ternate’s historical dominance. Tobelo has the advantage of expansion potential, being surrounded by flat land. Ternate is limited by its size, being a small island which can be driven around in 45 minutes. Also, the provincial government has plans to move the provincial capital to Sofifi, a small village on the Halmahera coast opposite Tidore island.
North Maluku province consists of 8 districts, 6 of which include a part of Halmahera island. They are: North Halmahera, West Halmahera, East Halmahera, Central Halmahera, South Hamahera, Ternate Municipality, Tidore City and Islands and Sula Islands. Only Ternate Municipality and Sula Islands do not include any part of Halmahera.
Geology and Mining on Halmahera
Halmahera is the site of several mining projects. Australian corporation Newcrest Mining is the majority owner of two gold mines on the island. The Gosowong mine was an open-pit cyanide-leach mine that operated from June 1999 to May 2002, and is now closed. The Toguraci mine began operation in February 2004. This latter mine has been the subject of conflict between local residents and the mining company. The mine is located in a forested area that, according to local residents, is protected under Indonesian law. In January 2004 then-president Megawati issued an amendment to the forestry law that, according to Newcrest, ensures that its operations are within the law.
In 2003 and 2004, there were intermittent protests at the Toguraci site by residents seeking to stop the Newcrest mine. Until late 2003, security at the mine was provided by members of the Indonesian military, who were paid by Newcrest Mining’s local subsidiary. In October 2003, they were replaced by the police’s Brigade Mobil, a paramilitary force. One person was killed and several others injured by these security forces during a protest in January 2004. Further protests and an occupation of the mine site occurred in May and June 2004.
Weda Bay Minerals is engaged in developing a nickel and cobalt mine on the island. The single-purpose corporation, focused only on developing this mine, is a joint venture of two Australian mining companies, and is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange in Canada. The project is still in an exploratory phase; the corporation expects the mine to last for at least twenty-five years after it opens.