Our boat’s engine roared above our voices, but Dhesly Salay got her message across: we were heading to the furthest village into the interior of Aru that she’s ever been. She’s just learned that it was the birthplace of her last living blood relatives native to this far-flung archipelago.

The Aru Islands—a group of almost 100 low-lying islands in Maluku, eastern Indonesia—are isolated; our boat was the only one humming for kilometres in any direction. The islands lie as far away from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta as Perth does from Sydney. In fact, its natural life and geology are more Australian and Papuan than Indonesian.

While considered isolated today, the population of Aru—numbering tens of thousands living in small villages—have for centuries participated in trade stretching as far north as Japan and as far west as Turkey. Its position as a node for trade has left its impact on the islands’ families, including Dhesly’s.

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Ian Morse

Ian Morse is a journalist based in Gorontalo and covering eastern Indonesia and Kalimantan. He tweets @ianjmorse.