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Piracy and surreptitious activities in the Malay Archipelago and adjacent seas, 1600-1840.

Piracy and surreptitious activities in the Malay Archipelago and adjacent seas, 1600-1840

Edited by Y.H. TEDDY SIM

Singapore: Springer, 2014. Pp. 189. Maps, Glossary, Bibliography, Index.

This provocatively titled volume is timely given that piracy and associated maritime violence is an ongoing concern in Asian waters. This edited volume sets out two key aims: first, to explore the phenomenon of piracy and surreptitious activities (such as smuggling or raiding) and the linkages between these activities and war and the economy; the second aim is to examine piracy and surreptitious activities with direct reference to subregions of the Malay Archipelago and the adjacent seas. In the introductory chapter, editor Y.H. Teddy Sim provides a good overview of existing scholarship relating to piracy, and more broadly, to violence and lawlessness at sea in Asia, and this helps to situate this volume within existing scholarly discourse on maritime violence in Asian waters. The pre-nineteenth-century focus of this volume is valuable as each chapter makes the case that the local and regional forces at play are just as significant as the interplay with external forces (such as the Iberians and East India companies). What is particularly commendable is that multiple perspectives on piracy are presented, with European sources often interplayed against indigenous sources (such as the Hikayat Siak and letters from Sultan Bayan of Maguindanao to Dutch officials) to great effect, bringing new voices to the fore, hence developing our understanding of the history and context of piracy in the archipelago.

Several chapters explore the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) and the Portuguese presence in Southeast Asia. In a chapter on early modern Malay warfare, Timothy Barnard includes the VOC as part of the Siak and Johor sultanates' statecraft and regional rivalries. Here is a tightly framed study of the power play between the rival Malay states, culminating in an attack on the Siak capital of Mempura (p. 19). In a chapter on Dutch privateering, Peter Borschberg explores why this practice quickly became essential to the VOC's survival. Borschberg describes the VOC as behaving 'like a drug addict' (p. 48) in its compulsion for privateering. His analogy aptly captures the intensity of the VOC's connection to revenues gained from privateering as well as its dependency on these revenues. This observation is provocative but also insightful as too often scholars tend to generalise that the lure of profits drove the East India companies without examining the juncture at which the decision to embark on privateering took place. Ariel Lopez also provides a commendable chapter on the political background of Maguindanao piracy with particular reference to the harnessing of the VOC in a bid to bolster the sultanate; trade and accusations of piracy became a 'weapon' in regional struggles (p. 106).

Sandy Liu's chapter on the Chinese begins with some general premises which could have been better refined (the stereotype of the Chinese as 'industrious', for instance), but then goes on to provide a good survey of Chinese involvement in regional violence--which encompassed dealing in weapons as well as the relatively well-documented secret societies.

Manuel Lobato's chapter on Maluku, the VOC and spices is an intriguing piece. Each paragraph is rich in information, and herein is a potential weakness; I was left with the impression that the author was attempting to cover too much ground at the expense of a clearly focused argument. For instance, the idea of raiding or trading in particular goods that had spiritual properties is raised at least twice (for instance, p. 101) but never fully developed, and an anthropological approach to how maritime raiding is remembered in local rituals is tantalisingly short (pp. 88-9). These are both areas that would be fascinating to have seen developed further, and indeed, could be chapters in their own right. The chapter by Teddy Sim on the fluid identity of the Portuguese and their engagement in both legal and illicit maritime trading makes the compelling argument that this shifting legality was part and parcel of not only a region in flux, but symptomatic of individuals who were operating in the wake of a waning Estado da India. Sim's chapter explores how issues surrounding local identity, trade and commodities were all interwoven with piracy; Chung Ming Chin's chapter teases out similar themes in an assessment of power and statecraft in the Sulu Sultanate.

Overall, this is an engaging and well-crafted volume that delivers its two main objectives by providing fresh insights and potential avenues for further research into piracy and other illicit maritime activities in the Malay Archipelago in the pre- 1800s. This volume will be of interest to scholars and students of Southeast Asian history as well as maritime and imperial historians, among others.

doi: 10.1017/S0022463415000508


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Author:Brunero, Donna
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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