Join me in my wanderings around the globe via these online ramblings in far off places....

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Mapia : Middle of No Where


Mapia Atoll - Header


Mapia Atoll, Kepulauan Mapia in Bahasa Indonesian, just north of the Equator, is about as remote as it gets. This tiny island group has also been named the Freewill Islands and St David's Islands over the years. Indonesia’s “outermost” island group, sharing an ocean border with the independent nation-state of Palau in the Micronesian geographic region, the tiny islands of Pegun, Fanildo and Bras that make up the above-high-water-land of Mapia Atoll are very isolated. There’s not much information out there about these islands, there’s a Wikipedia page in Bahasa Indonesian for Pulau Bras, which has less words and info then I have given already, and not much else.


Sat Grab - Mapia Atoll - with LabelsKepulauan Mapia or Mapia Atoll is about as remote as one can get


UntitledAn 1899 New York Times reference to the island group


The particularly small Pulau Fanildo together with the only slightly more substantial Pulau Pegun and Pulau Bras, each have a lighthouse on them, marking the roughly triangular shape of the atoll. Fanildo in the North West, Bras in the North East and Pegun in the South. The lighthouses are apparently only occasionally manned by work parties from Indonesian Maritime authorities. All information points to these islands being uninhabited. There is a reference out there that I came across that the people who USED to live here spoke a Micronesian language similar to the language of Chuuk to the north in what is now the Federated States of Micronesia, but that was about that. I had planned a landing on the southern tip of Pegun where I know dive boats had visited and commented on good reef there, but when we arrived the weather and wind conditions made that end of the atoll unpleasant, so we headed north for some shelter. Approaching the northern end of Bras, smoke rising camp fire style alerted us to the potential presence of people, and a quick look through the binoculars showed a substantial jetty. It seems Mapia was not uninhabited after all……..


Approaching Mapia Atoll - first viewsLooking from the north back onto the North Eastern tip of Bras, this infrastructure seems to indicate this is NOT an uninhabited island after all


Approaching Mapia Atoll - first views IIFirst view of the “uninhabited” (?) island as we come ashore


Landing next to the substantial yet dilapidated and unusable jetty, it quickly became apparent there was a substantial settlement here. And in a very short period after stepping foot ashore it became even more apparent that this was not just any settlement, this was an Indonesian Military Outpost. On this extreme outermost island on the strategic border of the Indonesian Archipelago, it shouldn’t actually have been that surprising that the Indonesian Military has a surveillance and patrol outpost right out here in the middle of no where.


Mapia Atoll BuildingsThe houses on the foreshore were really not that different to what you would find in just about any other Indonesian coastal village


Mapia Island Bird JettyThe jetty on the island seemed to serve no other purpose but provide a roost for Boobies, Terns and other sea birds


Village Offie, MapiaThe sign outside this unassuming building clearly defines our location; the Regency of Supiori, the District of West Supiori, the Village of Mapia, the office of the Secretary of Mapia


I was immediately welcomed and taken to the Naval Base Commander to seek permission to formally land. I was also cautioned that no photographs of the military installation itself would be permitted. The sprawl of this community surprised me. There were easy 200 people living here. There was a substantial school and many other facilities. It was old and run down but not a lot different to most remote Indonesian communities. No body spoke English, but with my broken Bahasa and their broken English communication was not that difficult. The inhabitants where all either Navy, Marine or other Government workers and their immediate families. Some of them indicated they had lived here for 4 years. There was some kind of advanced long range infra red surveillance device on a tripod facing out to sea and there were radar and radio towers as well. A large barge mounted pile driver lay anchored in the lagoon seemingly ready to one day start construction of a more modern jetty facility, perhaps? The sailors, marines and their families were friendly and super surprised to receive sudden visitors, I am sure it broke up the boredom of life that would certainly impose itself on one living in a remote place like this.


Mapia Dried FishA group of Indonesian Marines passed with this wheel barrow full of dried fish. Normally a staple through out Indonesia, I imagine with very little choice on Mapia, dried fish would be vital.


Mapia KidsMapia kids at play with floating “toys” made from oceanic flotsam and jetsam



Mapia ViewsLooking out over Mapia’s Lagoon from Pulau Bras


Along the main row of buildings there appeared what I would describe as an old plantation house. Row after row of ancient coconut tree indicated that at some time in the past this was a copra plantation. If these islands had always been part of what is now Indonesia it could have been Dutch, if it was linked to Micronesia or linked to what is now Papua New Guinea it could well have been German. Another surprise was a Japanese memorial, obviously some kind of link to WWII. After returning I searched for information linking Mapia Atoll to WWII and what I found was surprising. Mapia Atoll played a role in the Battle of Morotai. As the Japanese were being pushed back across the Pacific and the invasion of Morotai began, Japanese bases on Mapia could track and report on maritime traffic (ironically the islands are still being used today for that purpose outside of war). 1,200 US  troops from the 2nd Battalion, 167th Infantry Regiment and attached units were landed on Pulau Pegun on November 15, 1945. 1,200 troops is a HUGE number for this tiny island. By the next day they were on Bras, and by the 18th the 172 Japanese troops of the 36th Infantry Division based on Mapia Atoll were defeated after putting up strong resistance. It’s hard to believe having seen the size of these seemingly insignificant island that 1200 troops fought an intense three day battle here.


Japanese WWII Monument MapiaThis Japanese monument led me to uncover the military history of these remote islands during WWII


Old Plantation House, MapiaWhat appears to be an old plantation house, possibly Dutch


Mapia LocalsLocal military and their family look on with mild amusement at the sudden arrival of visitors in their remote community


Mapia  DogWoof


Mapia Deep Water BerthAt some point there was a reasonably deep water wharf berth connected to the main island


Well so much for an inhabited island in the middle of no where. Well it is still the middle of no where, but it seems these seemingly insignificant islands have so much more to them. The plantation house, the WWII History and the current Naval facility where all unexpected. Such an amazing travel experience made up of the unexpected!


Bye Bye from MapiaBye Bye from Mapia Atoll….


Leaving MapiaLeaving Mapia Atoll, I would never have guessed what surprises existed here…..



untitled-truecolo r-08

So you want to go to Mapia Atoll?

  • There is no real easy way to get to Mapia Atoll unless you take some kind of organised vessel based tour or you have your own boat
  • Several live aboard dive operations, operating around West Papua/Papua often schedule sailings the incorporate Mapia Atoll
  • Expedition cruise companies, such as Orion Expeditions, will often schedule visits to Mapia




Map picture







  1. Dear Sir;

    My complimemts for visiting the Mapia islands.In fact in Holand several good researches were made about it.Of course,because it was an area of Dutch East Indies,but with rival claims from Spain/USA.The original people are Palu people.In ca. 1800 still ca. 1.000 people,ruled ny their raja.But in ca. 1900 the origial population nearly faded away and only then made by the raja and his close family.I have a picture from 1898 of the then ruling raja:Raja Marwedi;and his close family. He was confirmed in his dignity by Holland in 1879 and still ruled in 1905.There was some indirect intermarried relationship with an adventuruos trader(to long to explain ,that here)and a fenake ofspring /daughter was the reprsentative of his coconut business there.Later the major part of the population were coconutplantions workers of that foreign cocnut trader from Yap/Micronesia;only a little part were the descendants of some local royals married with foreigners working for that coconut trade.That daughter also went with the people in exile in WW II.Orders of Japan.She was Mrs. Eugenia Scott-O'Keefe.Or maybe wqas later.In 1954 they had to go from Maopia to anither place,but returned 5-7-1954.Ca, 150 people.I have pictures of that return.Mr. Scott were seen by that people as their queen.I wonder,if still descendants of that people are alive.I do not knw,how to contact that area. Thank you. Yours sincerwelly: DP Tick gRMK secr. Pusat Dokumentasi Kerajan2 di Indonesia "Pusaka" Vlaardingen/Holland . .facebook: Donald Tick

  2. Thanks for dropping by "Kupang"

    For such a small group of islands in the middle of no where, they have such interesting history

  3. I just ran across this, and these are the first pictures I have seen of Mapia.I live on Yap Island, and it was David Dean O'Keefe who ran the coconut plantation until he disappeared at sea in 1901. He leased the islands from (Chief) Marwedi and brought him up to Yap several times. O'Keefe had a nice home there, and some of his children are buried there. Eugenia O'Keefe Scott and Jenny were O'Keefes daughters. Eugenia fled to Mapia when the Japanese prepared for war in Yap and joined her half sister Jenny there.

    1. Hi Don, I am guessing you are the Don Evans associated with Micronesia Tourism. For such a tiny island in the middle of no where this blog post has attracted more comments then any of my others!


    2. Hi There: I was excited to see your posting on Mapia as according to our family history, my grandfather worked at a copra plantation there in the 1930s and died and is supposedly buried there. Your picture of "what appears to be an old plantation house" made me think it may be associated with him.

      I don't suppose you noticed an old graveyard somewhere while you were there? In any case, I'd be interested in any other facts you could relay about the Mapia Islands as I'm pretty sure I'll never get there! :)

      You can reach me at


      Eric Shiner


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