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Craig A. Lockard, 2009, Southeast Asia in World History.

Craig A. Lockard, 2009, Southeast Asia in World History. The New Oxford World History; with a Preface by Bonnie G. Smith and Anand A. Yang (series editors). New York: OUP, pbk, US$19.95. ISBN 978-0-19-516075-8, ISBN 978-0-19-5338119 pbk.; x + 262pp. (of which only viii + 256pp. are actually numbered); maps illustrations chronology bibliography index.

In the preface the series editors plead for a new type of world history, with a fair balance between the Western and non-Western worlds, tilting too much neither one way nor the other, but viewing the globe "from the vantage point of the moon." There is much to be gained, they say, "by considering both the separate and inter-related stories of different societies and cultures" (pp. vi-viii).

Although Borneo is marginal to Southeast Asia in World History, Professor Lockard's lively new overview does provide nevertheless a wider context, or framework, within which developments in the island might be placed. The book represents the distillation of half a century spent studying, teaching and writing about Southeast Asian and world history by an author who requires no introduction to readers of this Bulletin.

The whole sweep of history is covered, from prehistoric times to the present day, although by page 52 we have already reached the fourteen century. In a tremendous feat of compression and organization, all the highlights are here, such as Greater Angkor ("a bustling capital of one million people, comparable to all but the largest Chinese and Arab cities of that era," p. 40), Borobudur ("the world's largest human-made monument," p. 1), and Ayutthaya, followed by the Melaka sultanate and the rise of Islam. The period 1300-1750 is identified as an age of "new cultures and connections," 1500 to 1750 as a time of "Christians, spices, and Western expansion," while chapters six to eleven cover the colonial epoch and its aftermath from 1750 onwards. The turbulence of the post-independence era is discussed in the latter stages of the book; but, in an Abode of Peace, "Bruneians live as if in a medieval sultanate but with modern conveniences" (p. 191).

The author's principal thesis appears on page 92: "The West did not come into a decaying and impoverished Southeast Asia but rather a wealthy, open, and dynamic region. But conditions changed significantly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as a growing European interest in obtaining minerals and growing crops for export began to overshadow other commercial activity." Lockard is a fierce critic of colonialism, or of European colonialism at any rate; and US involvement in the Second Indochina War (pp. 156-62) is not viewed as the brightest idea, either. Furthermore, Southeast Asians were more tolerant in matters of religion than Europeans (p. 59). Fortunately, the Western colonial record was not totally barbarous: the US administration in the Philippines, for example, "fostered education, literacy, and modern health care" and "did not produce the general tyranny, so common in many other colonies, which would prompt massive rebellion and hatred of the colonizer" (p. 117).

Southeast Asian autonomy is emphasized, whether from China and India prior to 1500, or, later, from Europeans: "From earliest times Southeast Asians blended outside influences with local creativity. Traditionally, China and India provided political, religious, and cultural ideas, although the impact of these varied greatly from society to society.... But, despite centuries of borrowing and sometimes foreign conquest, Southeast Asians were never passive beneficiaries and rarely became carbon copies of the cultures influencing them. Like the Japanese and Europeans, they took ideas that they wanted from outsiders and adapted them to their own use, creating in the process a distinctive synthesis" (pp. 34-5).

Telling quotation is made from Malay proverbs (pp. 2, 5, 8, 36, 100, 197) and, more generally, from poetry, song, short stories, novels, and even nursery rhymes. Reports of voyagers such as Ibn Battuta are a good source. Cultural forms, such as wayang kulit (p. 47), kundiman (p. 84), joget (p. 133), kroncong (ibid.), and dangdut (pp. 174-5), are not neglected. We even have the effects of climate change, although in this instance the culprit was cooling rather than warming (pp. 91-2). There are several helpful maps. Terms are translated and explained. The index is thoughtful. The acknowledgements section (pp. 225-6) reads like a veritable who's who of Southeast Asianists.

Some minor errors were detected. Tom6 Pires, for example, was surely a bit more than a mere "Portuguese visitor" to Melaka (p. 67); was he not based there, at the very least, between 1512 and 1515? (1) The Seria oilfield was discovered in 1929 rather than "in 1920" (p 102), which might be a mere typographical error, given that the symbols for "nine" and "zero" are usually placed next to each other on a keyboard; the downfall of Sukamo took place in 1965 rather than in "1964" (p. 173); the Bali bombing occurred on 12 October 2002 (2) rather than "in 2003" (p 177); the calamitous tsunami took place on Boxing Day 2004, rather than "in 2005" (p. 208). And the statement that "only Brunei [read "Negara Brunei Darussalam"] remains an absolute monarchy" in Southeast Asia (p. 204) would be somewhat misleading if the implication is, therefore, that this was the traditional polity of the sultanate. On the contrary, as Dr. (later Professor Emeritus) D.E. Brown has pointed out, "to a certain extent succession to the throne, similar to matters of state, was a matter in which many parties believed they had some right to determine the outcome." (3) The sultan was "not a despot" in the nineteenth century, and even less so in the first half of the twentieth; several monarchs were unable to win sufficient consensus to ensure their coronation as Yang Di-Pertuan. (4)

Finally, an apparent conundrum. It might be supposed that people would flee from tyranny, rather than flock towards it. Yet, "Fueled by immigration," Professor Lockard relates, "the 20 to 25 million people who lived in Southeast Asia by 1600 grew to 30 or 35 million by 1800, and to 140 or 150 million by the 1930s" (pp. 130-1, emphasis added). So, during the heyday of colonial rule, the population of Southeast Asia increased at least fourfold in less than a century and a half. Presumably all the immigrants went to Siam or to the US-controlled Philippines.

(1) Article by John Villiers (p. 1091), in Ooi Keat Gin (Editor), Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia from Angkor Wat to East Timor (Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford: ABC Clio, 2004).

(2) Southeast Asian Affairs 2008 (Singapore: ISEAS), p. 130.

(3) D.E. Brown, Brunei: The Structure and History of a Bornean Malay Sultanate (Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei Museum, 1970), p. 102.

(4) Ibid., p. 95.

A.V.M. Horton, Bordesley, Worcestershire, United Kingdom
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Author:Horton, A.V.M.
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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