Journal of World History 7.1 (1996) 145-149
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Early modern southeast Asia offers one of the most provocative and yet least understood periods in Asian history. The intersection of firearms, growing international trade, and a plethora of newly empowered kingdoms ushered in a period of warfare, commercial competition, political centralization, and territorial expansion that previous historiography has not brought together adequately. In recent years, historians of early modern southeast Asia have contributed vigorous analyses of the period, stimulating and provoking valuable arguments and research. But gaps have remained. The works under review here attempt to fill some of these gaps from a variety of perspectives and for diverse areas within southeast Asia.
In The World of Maluku, Leonard Y. Andaya offers an inspiring attempt to identify the fundamental conceptual constructs that determined boundaries, conceptual and geographical, and legitimate behavior in Malukan history. Malukan myths, he explains, formed a unified world of "family" out of the many islands and ethnolinguistic communities of the eastern Indonesian archipelago. Maluku's unity [End Page 145] and prosperity depended upon the maintenance of dualism, especially that of Ternate and Tidore, and the replication of the number four. As Andaya cleverly shows, the Malukans' view of the early modern period of their history is as a cycle in which their world moved from unity to disunity, and from the existence of the four pillars to the failure to maintain them.
In Andaya's view, Islam, increased trade, and the influence of European ideas of the proper status and role of kingship all worked to shatter the Malukan world. Islam brought increased access to firearms and Muslim trade and thus strengthened Malukan sultans to an unprecedented degree with regard to other traditional sources of authority. Due to Dutch overlordship and the widening gulf between the sultan and other leaders brought by international trade, the Malukan sultans abandoned their obligations to the periphery, changing the nature of exchange from rituals of unity to the sultans' self-interested pursuit of wealth and political power. Malukans saw in these changes the collapse of Malukan unity, which the popular revolt of Nuku and his enthronement as sultan of Tidore in 1801 restored.
Andaya's approach to his source material is unusual and sometimes a tad too ambitious, but it is generally effective. Because of the absence of indigenous materials, he is forced, with the help of recent ethnographic materials, to reconstruct the early modern world of Maluku from contemporary European translations of Malukan traditions. Of course, there are some problems with this approach, as Andaya fully admits. European material and myths that have survived from the early modern period are usually concerned with elites or simply with kings. Further, one might wonder if the tremendous task of extracting indigenous views from European records produced some four hundred years ago is really possible to achieve without significant distortion. These problems aside, Andaya has made some useful observations that are certain to stimulate future approaches to the eastern archipelago, and southeast Asia in general, for the early modern period.
The ten pieces brought together by Anthony Reid present a diverse assortment of analyses by major scholars of early modern southeast Asian history. A conference in Lisbon in 1989 seems to have provided the inspirational and coordinating basis for the volume. Of course, some papers in the volume present arguments that can be found in fuller form elsewhere. Andaya's chapter, for example, reiterates some themes that are central to his World of Maluku. Reid has happily contributed a paper to the volume, which, in keeping with his structuralist approach, is geographically and conceptually the most general in this volume...