- Creolization and Diaspora in the Portuguese Indies: The Social World of Ayutthaya, 1640–1720 by Stefan Halikowski Smith
A century ago, the history of the Portuguese Empire in Asia was written as a series of heroic episodes where figures such as viceroys and missionary saints filled the stage. Fifty years after that, economic actors entered the scene and clamored for attention. A generation ago, the groundlings demanded their place, first corporately—as Câmaras or Misercórdias—and later as individuals, [End Page 146] whether merchants, adventurers, missionaries, or women. Recently, a spotlight has been placed on other individuals from plebeian ranks, many of whom appear only fleetingly in early modern documents. These figures do not easily fit into the category of “Portuguese”; many of them were tenuously related to the imperial projects sketched in Lisbon and carried out from Goa. They were the objects of inquisitorial wrath, the translators who were adjuncts to Portuguese diplomacy and trade, or the families where European, Asian, and African bloodlines mixed. In cases such as the one addressed in Creolization and Diaspora in the Portuguese Indies, these individuals had only a pidgin form of a European language and the Catholic religion to identify them as “Portuguese”.
This general trend in historical writing about the Portuguese empire has produced valuable results. After all, Portuguese archives are far from exhausted. Scholars now know a great deal more than before about the social composition of the empire, how its governing structures functioned, and how its mission churches expanded. Stefan Halikowski Smith intends to make a further contribution by presenting a theoretical argument about the nature of the Portuguese presence in Southeast Asia, and an analysis of the Portuguese community in Ayutthaya. This is an ambitious project with important ramifications for the study of the Portuguese in Asia. Its primary subject is the community of indigenous Christians and Eurasians who were expelled from Makassar (situated in modern-day Indonesia) in the mid-seventeenth century and who took up residence at the Siamese court. These migrants were accorded a territory abutting the court city known as the Campo Português.
Smith argues that since these “Portuguese” were one group among other migratory groups in Southeast Asia, they should be referred to as a “tribe”. He takes his cue from the work of Leonard Andaya, an influential historian of Southeast Asia, and insists that the political dynamics of Siam reveal how these “Portuguese” acted in the same ways as other diasporic groups. The author further argues that they constitute a vivid example of the forces of creolization in the early modern world. Smith spends little time problematizing this term and takes it as a given that the process of blending cultures was a fact of life in contemporary Asia (pp. 7–8). More interesting for him is the notion of a “shadow empire”, whose presence was manifested by peoples who were culturally, religiously, or economically allied to the Portuguese Estado da Índia. It was this type of people who belonged to the Campo Português at Ayutthaya.
It should not be surprising that a semi-Portuguese community is hard to pin down. Smith is obliged to rely on secondhand references to “Portuguese” individuals in Siam, many of which come from the pens wielded by Northern European rivals of the Estado da Índia. Dutch, English, and French sources offer most of this book’s information, and very little of it does more than indicate (most often disapprovingly) that there were “Portuguese” at Ayutthaya. Few individual names are mentioned, and little specific data about this community is presented to the reader. The most common refrain in this study is “we know [End Page 147] very little about . . .” (pp. 59, 93, 97, 109, 130, 137, 156, 200). Far more time is given to sketching the broader Southeast Asian context over a span of two centuries, a task for which the author relies on references scattered through books and articles in a wide range of languages. For instance, the reader learns much...