NUS PressSeaways & Gatekeepers


The Eastern Archipelagoes from 1600-1906 CE

This was a water-centred world, as broad as the entire Mediterranean, yet harbouring during the period under consideration a mere handful of states. These were, most notably, the seafaring Sultanates of the Southern Philippines, the riverine polities of East Borneo, the spice-trading kingdoms of Ternate and Tidore, powerful Makassar on Southwest Sulawesi (the Celebes) and Bali’s Indian-influenced realms. But much smaller, yet often complex societies were more typical of the region: apparently isolated beachfront settlements, raiders’ strongholds and coastal rajadoms. These centres, large and small, connected fishing communities, inland foragers and shifting cultivators to exchange systems stretching as far as Europe, India, China and Japan.

The Seaways book grew from my intrigue at the enduring paradoxes in these archipelagoes, between separation and connection, between exchange and autonomy, and between low levels of political organisation and ties to transoceanic commercial networks. Despite the diversity of scholarly categorisation, and the borders imposed by colonial regimes, I also wanted to illuminate the common underlying patterns that extended from the Sulu to Timor Seas. At the same time, I sought to convey a sense of the specific characters of individual islands and settings.

While working on the book, I realised how unfamiliar the many islands and settings were to me, even after decades of interest in Indonesia and Malaysia. I found that images – drawings, maps and photographs – were indispensable in building some understanding of the region's diversity. I knew that this would be even more true for most of my readers. A book could not encompass a fraction of the material I wanted to present. So this website — consisting of images and maps — serves as a kind of annex to the main text.

Seaways and Gatekeepers: Trade and State in the Eastern Archipelagos of Southeast Asia, c.1600–c.1906, is now available, in print and electronically, from NUS Press. If you are in North America you may find it more convenient to order the book from the University of Chicago Press website.

You can access the visual material from two main axes - via broad themes, as well as by geographic area. Read here for a short essay on visualizing Indonesia, and here for more on my experience of searching the visual record.

Heather Sutherland