IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > D. South and Southeast Asia, 1500–1800 > 2. Southeast Asia, 1500–1800
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Southeast Asia, c. 900–1557) (See Southeast Asia, c. 900–1557)
2. Southeast Asia, 1500–1800
Southeast Asia played a pivotal role in the changes that mark the early modern world. It was a maritime region, already to a large extent organized around long-distance trade and located in the midst of crucial trade routes. It encountered and interpreted in distinctive local ways the consolidation of the Islamicate world accomplished during the previous, postclassical period, and the following shift from that world system to one shaped by European expansion through trade and technology. Consequently, this part of Asia suffered most quickly and directly the impact of European intrusion; by 1650 Europeans had gained control of most of the vital ports and products through which the region had been connected to an expanding world economy.  1
Four major kinds of change marked these three centuries in Southeast Asia. The first was the rise of a number of new states, fostered in part by external factors—new military techniques, the presence of Islamic models of state organization, and the expansion of commerce, which helped dynamic new leaders to emerge. Internal factors also facilitated these new state configurations, particularly the capacity of origin myths and political theories to be reinterpreted in defining commonalities and identities that fit new circumstances. The second change also related to ideology: between about 1400 and 1700, three universalist faiths based on sacred scripture became firmly entrenched in the region. An Islamic arc in the south; a Confucian orthodoxy in Vietnam and a Theravada Buddhist region in the rest of mainland Southeast Asia; and a Christian presence in the Philippines (See 1571) were consolidated in the early modern period and are still the important configurations today. In the midst of the commercial and political changes altering the region, a preference emerged for textually based belief systems with sources of authority beyond the localities.  2
The third major change related to a dramatic expansion of commercial activity in the region. This activity predated the appearance of Europeans, relating instead to the linkages forged as the Islamicate world system emerged. In the 15th century, significant activity by Chinese and Indian merchants had increased the circulation of silver and other metals in the area and initiated a demand for Indian cloth in exchange for spices grown for export. Before 1650, tons of pepper, cloves, and nutmegs were carried by Muslim traders (of various nationalities) across the Indian Ocean to markets in Egypt and Beirut. There Italian merchants bought and shipped them back to Europe. At the peak of early-17th-century commercial activity, the Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Indians all competed for the region's produce. During the second half of the century, however, many of these players withdrew and a small number came to dominate international markets in the region, most particularly the Dutch East India Company. These external changes around the dividing line of 1650 may also be seen as the point at which promising capitalist economic developments atrophied in the face of massive European domination.  3
Accompanying important economic changes were technological and scientific innovations, particularly in military techniques—the fourth major change. The increasing presence of firearms marked the opening of this period and influenced other military practices, including naval technologies and land-based fortifications for establishing permanent, defensible enclaves. Foreign traders proved especially adept in this new technology and, over the 16th century, were often impressed into the service of the most ambitious claimants to royal power in the region. In areas now known as Burma and Thailand, new states were established with the capacity to exercise unprecedented power. Relatively centralized powers also emerged in Java and Aceh, and in Makassar and Ayutthaya (Siam) in the early 17th century. Similarly, new naval techniques proved crucial for Aceh and Maluku.  4
Before 1750, the region had a low population density except in concentrated areas of Java (the northern coastal plain and the Mataram area), south Sulawesi, and Bali. Periods of strong rule and security would foster dramatic population growth in, for example, Aceh in 1550–1640, Makassar in 1600–1660, and areas of Java after 1650. By contrast, devastating contractions of numbers may be attributed to the practice, during warfare, of large-scale forced relocation of captured populations. For example, the Malayan population was dramatically depopulated by the conquests of Sultan Iskander Muda of Aceh from 1618 to 1624. (See Southeast Asia, 1753–1914)  5
a. The Malay Peninsula and Archipelago
JOHOR Sultanate (Malay). The power structure in Johor reflected many features that originated in the Malacca kingdom. Johor continued the Malacca tradition of a maritime state dependent upon the rivers and the sea; Johor built, as well, on Malaccan perceptions of a state, perceiving in the presence of a ruler with an illustrious and impeccable lineage the distinction between a “state” such as the Kingdom of Johor and any number of the small, individual kampung under the leadership of a minor chieftain which existed along the rivers, estuaries, and coasts of the Malay world. Court literature, such as the Sejarah Melayu (a work begun in the 15th century in Malacca containing later interpolations, including the early history of Johor) expounded the ideal of the ruler responsible solely to God.  6
The importance of the ministers' role, in efficiently handling mundane affairs of state, is shown by rivalries between Bendahara and Laksamana families in the 16th and early 17th centuries. The Orang Kaya, or Council of Nobles, consisted of these most powerful families, who formed individual centers of power within the kingdom. They performed services for the ruler, including assembling their men and leading them as a group in battle when the kingdom was at war, and acted as an intermediary between their people and ruler. They also played an essential role in international trade under a system of patronage to traders (offering protection and providing capital to traders in return for commission and share of profits).  7
Orang Laut, a broad term referring to seafaring peoples in the Malay world, in reality referred to numerous tribes and status groups inhabiting the islands and estuaries in the Riau-Lingga Archipelagos, the Pulau Tujuh Islands, the Batam Archipelago, and the coasts and offshore islands of eastern Sumatra and southern Malay Peninsula. They gathered sea products for the China trade; performed special services for the ruler at weddings, funerals, or on a hunt; provided transport for envoys and royal missives; and manned ships to act as ruler's naval fleet and to patrol the waters.  8
Early 1530s
Sultan Alauddin Riayat Syah, successor to the last ruler of Malacca (Sultan Mahmud Syah, who died between November 1527 and July 1528), moved his residence to the Johor River and became the first ruler of the Malacca dynasty to establish a permanent settlement in Johor.  9
1564 and 1613
Ruler of Johor was taken prisoner during the repeated destruction of Johor capitals in 16th and 17th centuries by Portuguese and Acehnese. Both times the conquerors made a point of setting on the throne another ruler from the same royal family in order to fulfill expectations about how a kingdom could be perpetuated.  10
Capture of Malacca by the Dutch, who thenceforth dominated the East Indies. The Dutch extended free passes to all Johor Orang Kaya to trade in areas restricted to other kingdoms; this enabled these traders to fly the flag of their patrons while conducting a lucrative trade under Dutch protection.  11
Johor had lost some of the areas that traditionally had been dependencies of Malacca, but it still controlled extensive areas, including Johor; Selangor; areas on the Kelang, Linggi, Siak, Kampar, Muar, and Batu Pahat Rivers; and the islands of Ungaran, Karimum, the Riau-Lingga Archipelagos, and Singapore.  12
Resilience of kingdom shown when Dutch takeover of Johor Lama counterattacked by Johor's Orang Laut–manned fleet.  13
Having successfully challenged power of Laksamana family by gaining control of young ruler and through the ruler using the royal drums and reedpipes (nobat and nafiri) as symbols to legitimize authority, Bendahara Tun Habib Abdul Majid nevertheless refused to sign any written agreements with Dutch until ruler reached his majority.  14
Assassination of Sultan Mahmud Syah, last male ruler of Malacca dynasty in Johor, significantly undermined traditional values, especially the sacredness of the ruler; the depth and extent of loyalty accorded to him; and the special nature of his position within society. Many Orang Kaya, including Bendahara family, implicated in assassination, which served to undermine subjects' loyalty to succeeding Bendahara dynasty. Orang Laut had a strong reaction against assassination, refusing to recognize the new Bendahara dynasty, which subsequently was forced to rely on apparent and visible manifestations of power and on close, personal ties with powerful individuals within kingdom, a significant change from the traditional concept of power.  15
Bendahara ruler moved capital to Riau to meet an invading Siamese force; about a quarter of entire population moved to assist Siamese against Bendahara ruler because of questionable legitimacy of new ruler.  16
Raja Kecil, Minangkabau adventurer, claimed to be son of the last male heir of the Malacca dynasty, gaining mass support among Malay subjects and among almost all Orang Laut in Johor.  17
Sultan Sulaiman Syah, new Bendahara ruler of Johor, regained throne with help of Buginese, warriors and seamen from southwest Sulawesi. Buginese regained control of coronation regalia, possession of which was key to ruler's legitimization.  18
Raja Kecil, accompanied by some of his loyal Orang Laut groups, such as the Orang Suku Bentan and the Orang Suku Bulang, established a new kingdom in Siak following his expulsion from Johor.  19
Major shift in power relationships in Johor resulted when the Buginese became an effective power bloc: replaced the Orang Laut role (in trading, patrolling, and military functions) and the Orang Kaya role (in the principal decision-making functions).  20
The ongoing tensions between Bugis and Malay ministers and officials is described in the Tuhfat al-Nafis, a Malay history primarily of the kingdom of Johor-Riau-Lingga (but also in other areas, e.g., West-Kalimanta, Siak, Kedah, and Terengganu) covering the early 18th century until 1864.  21
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.