The eastern archipelagos stretch from Mindanao and Sulu in the north to Bali in the southwest and New Guinea in the southeast. Many of their inhabitants are regarded as “people without history”, while colonial borders cut across shared underlying patterns. Yet many of these societies were linked to trans-oceanic trading systems for millennia. Indeed, some of the world’s most prized commodities once came from territories which were either “stateless” or under the very tenuous control of loosely structured polities. Although individual regimes sought to control traffic, exchange between trans-regional or even trans-oceanic shippers and local communities was often direct, without mediation by overarching authorities.
Trade provides the integrating framework for local and regional histories that cover more than 300 years, from the late 16th century to the beginning of the 20th, when new technologies and changing markets signaled Western dominance. Southeast Asian specialists can learn from this book, which ignores conventional geographic and temporal boundaries. It will also appeal to those working on wider themes such as global history, state formation, the evolution of markets and anthropology.