The inhabitants are of mixed Papuan and Malay ancestry and adhere to traditional animist religions. Some Muslims and Christians inhabit the western islands, where the villages are coastal and nestle among clumps of trees. In the eastern islands the villages stand on high rocks. Houses are entered by a trapdoor in the middle of the floor. Crops include sago, rice, corn (maize), sugar, tobacco, and coconuts. Collecting trepang, pearls, mother-of-pearl, and tortoiseshells provides the islanders’ main income.
Visited in 1606 by the Dutch, the Aru Islands were occupied by the Japanese in 1942. After World War II they reverted to the Netherlands, and they became part of Indonesia in 1949.