By P Boomgaard

Water, in its many guises, has continuously performed a robust position in shaping Southeast Asian histories, cultures, societies, and economies. those essays signify a huge diversity of techniques to the learn of Southeast Asia with water because the principal topic. because it was once uncovered to the ocean, the zone used to be extra obtainable to outdoor political, fiscal and cultural impacts than many landlocked components. quick access via sea routes additionally prompted alternate. even if, an identical easy accessibility made Southeast Asia susceptible to political regulate by way of powerful outsiders. the ocean is, in addition, a resource of meals, but additionally of many risks. even as, Southeast Asian societies and cultures are faced with and permeated by way of "water from heaven" within the type of rain, flash floods, irrigation water, water in rivers, brooks, and swaps, water-driven strength crops, and pumped or piped water, as well as water as a provider of sewage and pollutants. ultimately, the quantity bargains with the position of water in type platforms, ideals, myths, disease, and therapeutic.

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This cleared the way for a surge in Chinese trade with Southeast Asia, as merchants from Fujian, Guangdong and Zhejiang (Chekiang) competed with the European companies for products such as pepper. 30 The 1700s have attracted considerable attention from historians of Asia, and interpretations reflect the preoccupations of the times. From a European perspective it all seemed fairly straightforward. There was an undoubted shift mid-century, with the Dutch East India Company and Indian shippers losing ground to English (or Scots) and, somewhat later, American, country-traders.

The Burmese kingdom of Arakan imported cloth and pepper, in exchange for rice and slaves, while Ava was an even larger textile market. Tenassarim, to the south, fed Coromandel goods to its overlord Ayutthaya and to Cambodian ports. Similarly, Bengal’s commerce with Southeast Asian boomed from the 1640s on, with foodstuffs, textiles, saltpeter and opium being exported in exchange for elephants, gold, tin and spices. In fact, as observes, the ‘trade to mainland Southeast Asia remained an Indian preserve until the end of the century’ (Arasaratnam 1987:120), despite Dutch and English attempts at infiltration.

It helps us to discover the almost imperceptible movement of history, if only we are prepared to follow its lessons and accept its categories and divisions’. Drawing on the long French tradition of social geography, Braudel’s famous work on the Mediterranean traces the patterns of interaction between setting, structure and events. Because of its sea-focussed physical structure, its diversity of cultures, and rich and multi-layered trade, the Mediterranean has been a favoured model for historians seeking the underlying patterns of Southeast Asian history.

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