Essays on Early Ornithology and Kindred Subjects/The Banda Islands and the Bandan Birds



THE islands of the Banda Sea, with the exception of Letti, Kisser, and Wetter, constitute the Ceram sub-group or the Moluccan group; the principal units are Buru, Amboyna, Great Banda, Ceram, Ceram Laut, Goram, Kur, Babar, and Dama. The Matabela Islands, the Tiandu Islands, the Ké Islands, and the Tenimber Islands also belong to the Ceram sub-group. We are only concerned with the Banda Islands, which are eight in number, and consist of four central islands in close proximity to one another, inclosing a little inland sea, and four outlying islets. The central islands are Lonthoir, or Great Banda, Banda Neira, Gounong Api, which is an active volcano, and Pisang. The remaining Banda Islands are Rozengain, which lies about ten miles distant to the south-east of Great Banda; Wai, at an equal distance to the west; Rhun, about eight miles west by south from Wai; and Suangi or Manukan, about seventeen miles north by east from Rhun.

The Banda Islands are well known as the principal centre of the cultivation of the nutmeg. When the Dutch East India Company became the possessors of the islands in the beginning of the seventeenth century, they destroyed the nutmeg trees in all the islands under their jurisdiction, with the exception of those in Amboyna and the Banda Islands. By doing so they hoped to maintain the high value of these natural products.

The Banda Islands may have been visited by Varthema, but our first reliable account of them connects the discovery of them with an expedition dispatched by order of Alfonso de Albuquerque from Malacca. Shortly after Albuquerque had defeated the Malays and taken possession of that city, he sent three vessels, under the command of Antonio de Abreu, to explore the Archipelago and to inaugurate a trade with the islanders. A junk, commanded by a native merchant captain, Ismael by name, preceded the other vessels for the purpose of announcing their approaching advent to the traders of the Archipelago, so that they might have their spices ready for shipment. With De Abreu went Francisco Serrão and Simão Aifonso, in command of two of the vessels. The pilots were Luis Botim, Gonçalo de Oliveira, and Francisco Rodriguez or Roiz. Abreu left Malacca in November, 1511, at which season the westerly monsoon begins to blow. He steered a south-easterly course, passed through the Strait of Sabong, and having arrived at the coast of Java, he cast anchor at Agaçai, which Valentijn identifies with Gresik, near Sourabaya. At Agaçai, Javan pilots were engaged for the voyage thence to the Banda Islands. Banda was, however, not the first port of call. The course was first to Buru, and thence to Amboyna. Galvão relates that Abreu landed at Guli Guli, which is in Ceram. Barros, however, in his account of the voyage, makes no mention of Ceram. At Amboyna the ship commanded by Francisco Serrão, an Indian vessel which had been captured at Goa, was burnt, for, says Barros, 'she was old,' and the ship's company was divided between the two other ships, which then proceeded to Lutatão, which is perhaps identical with Ortattan, a trading station on the north coast of Great Banda, Here Abreu obtained a cargo of nutmegs and mace and of cloves, which had been brought hither from the Moluccas. At Lutatão Abreu erected a pillar in token of annexation to the dominions of the King of Portugal. He had done this at Agaçai and in Amboyna also.

The return voyage to Malacca was marked by disaster. A junk, which now was bought to replace the Indian vessel, was wrecked, and the crew, who had taken refuge on a small island, was attacked by pirates. The pirates, however, were worsted and their craft was captured. Serrão, who had been in command of the junk, sailed in the pirate vessel to Amboyna, and thence eventually reached Ternate, where he remained at the invitation of Boleife, the Sultan of that island. The junk, of which Ismael was the skipper, was also wrecked near Tuban, but the cargo, consisting of cloves, was recovered in 1513 from the Javans, who had taken possession of it.

Zoologically the Banda Islands lie within Wallace's Australian Region, and their avifauna has a great affinity with that of Australia. Wallace visited these islands in December 1857, May 1859, and April 1861, and collected eight species of birds, namely, Rhipidura squamata, a fan-tailed Flycatcher; Pachycephala phæonota, a thickhead; Myzomela boiei, a small scarlet-headed honey-eater; Zosterops chlori, a white-eye; Pitta vigorsi, one of the brightly-coloured ground thrushes of the Malayan region; Halcyon chloris, a kingfisher with a somewhat extensive range; Ptilopus xanthogaster, a fruit-eating pigeon, and the nutmeg pigeon, Carpophaga concinna. The islands were visited by the members of the Challenger expedition in September and October, 1874, but the only additional species then obtained was Monarcha cinerascens also a Flycatcher.

These birds may be regarded as the resident birds of the Banda Islands, but there are others which are occasional visitants or migrants. Indeed, in seas so full of islands, it is inevitable that wanderers from other islands should occasionally visit the group. To those which I have already mentioned there may therefore be added, as of less frequency, the accipitrine bird, Astur polionotus, the Hoary-backed Goshawk; the Passeres Edoliisoma dispar, a Caterpillar Shrike, the skin of a male of which from Great Banda is in the Leyden Museum, and Motacilla melanope, the Grey Wagtail. Of picarian birds there have been found Cuculus intermediús, the Oriental Cuckoo; Eudynamis cyanocephala sub-species everetti, a small form of the Koel, and Eurystomus australis, the Australian Roller. João de Barros, in his Asia, mentions the parrots of the Banda Islands,[1] and we find accordingly that one of the Psittaci is recorded from Banda in modern times, namely, Eos rubra, a red, or rather a crimson lory. The ornithologist Müller saw many of these birds in Great Banda, on the Kanary trees. Additional pigeons are the seed-eating Chalcophaps chrysochlora and the fruit-eating Ptilonopus wallacei, and finally there is one gallinaceous bird which is probably resident, but the shy and retiring habits of which have enabled it to escape observation until recently. This is a Scrub Fowl (Megapodius duperreyi).

  1. III. v. 6. 'Muitos papagayos & passaros diversos.'