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Piracy itself has also evolved; it has taken on westernised, globalised shapes. Nevertheless, the patron—client type of power consolidation and the marginal position of poor fishermen within these networks have changed very little. For these marginalised communities trapped in an ongoing and increasingly difficult struggle for survival, the pull factors into piracy largely remain as relevant today as they were during colonial and pre-colonial times.

Indeed, this very practice can and should never be disconnected from more general socio-economic developments, in Southeast Asia and in other parts of the world alike. In addition, the ways in which local maritime networks are influenced by and incorporated into global networks—through joint navy operations, pan-Islamic terrorist organisations, economical networks expanding across the Pacific Rim, human trafficking syndicates, and tourism—fall beyond the scope of this study.

These communities continue to display considerable internal differences in terms of lifestyle, ethno-linguistic affiliation and socio-political status. The cultural-historical dynamics highlighted in this article explain how entire groups of people can evolve from peaceful traders to fearsome pirates and from fearsome pirates to elusive boat-dwellers. To be a part of them involves being a part of their maritime universe, actively participating in their cultural practices, and appreciating their conceptualisation of life and the environment.

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That being said, truly nomadic maritime hunter—gatherers are on the verge of extinction, not only in Southeast Asia but everywhere in the world. Consequently, their moribund maritimity should motivate and compel us to learn more about these people and their unwritten past, before their inevitable assimilation into the land-bound mainstream has reached completion.

See Sopher , Andaya , Sather and Lapian and Kazufumi for more detailed elaborations. Other terms include sea folk, sea hunters-and-gatherers, sea gypsies, people of the sea, aquatic populations, orang laut Malay , suku sampan Malay , orang suku laut Malay , wong kambang Javanese , turijene Makassarese , chaaw lee Thai and hsa loun Burmese cf.

Occasionally, one may argue that ethnicities in Southeast Asia continue to be fluid to date. My translation; the original Dutch text is quoted from Lapian , pp. Mahdi , p. This term would include the abovementioned Southeast Asian communities, but also the historical Vikings. In addition, it may be argued that communities had to be shore-dwelling, rather than boat-dwelling, in order to manufacture large ships and become successful pirates cf.

Dia pergi naik lah tetetetetet! Oh bukan! Kalo dia mo kerja bukan begitu, dia ambil satu kapal itu untuk mo sandera. Itu… kalo pirate di Somalia tu pirate yang bodoh itu. Itu tidak dengan kelas kami. Itu kelas—kelas kecil itu Somalia, ya. This study has greatly benefitted from valuable discussions I was privileged to have on many of the topics addressed.

Boats of South Asia (Routledge Studies in South Asia)

Further, I would like to specially thank Helen Brunt, Nicole Boivin, Waruno Mahdi and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this article and suggestions for improvements. I am also indebted to the European Research Council for their financial support.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author s and the source are credited. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Open Access. First Online: 19 July Even today, Southeast Asia is home to communities for whom life is predominantly spent ashore and afloat. At the same time, many of these aquatic populations face challenges similar to those of indigenous peoples in general: poverty, social exclusion and external pressures from neighbouring communities and, indeed, from the wider world.

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Several contemporary relevant issues in Southeast Asia—such as globalisation, maritime transportation, piracy, and the complex relations between coastal and inland populations—have a long and increasingly well-understood history in this part of the world. Nevertheless, a lot of what happened on the seas and oceans has gone unnoticed by many conventional historians focusing on terrestrial events.

Boomgaard It examines their social hierarchies, notions of ethnicity and adaptations to societal change from a diachronic perspective. Open image in new window. The present study is largely based on the insights gained during my linguistic fieldwork among the maritime communities of southern Thailand, Sabah, Kalimantan and Sulawesi in March , November and December , July and March With little proficiency in the local vernaculars researched, I used Malay as a means of communication throughout this vast area.

The limited amount of time I was able to spend in southern Thailand and the Strait of Malacca did not enable me to obtain a satisfactory, first-hand impression of respectively the Moken and the Orang Laut populations, so that I rely mostly on the work of others in comparing their situation with that of the Sama—Bajau communities, in particular those of Sabah Kota Belud, Kuala Abai, Semporna, Pulau Omadal, Fig.

Everywhere I went, their nomadic habits were discouraged by the national governments, resulting in large-scale, ongoing processes of semi-compulsory sedentarisation. This transformation seems to be complete in western Sabah, where the vast majority of formerly boat-dwelling communities have settled down in villages allocated to them by the government. Despite the increasingly complex challenges of modernity, their illegal status leaves them with little choice but to continue their highly mobile lifestyle deprived of landownership, healthcare and education.

Maritime communities can be defined as societies with a dependence on the sea. They often inhabit littoral settlements or even houseboats.

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The reasons for their orientation towards the sea may differ; some communities inhabit small islands and rely on inter-insular trade to sustain their livelihood, while others have resorted to a maritime lifestyle on account of unfavourable conditions in their homeland. The famous Phoenicians of Mediterranean antiquity form a well-known example of the second group. Some maritime communities rely on the sea for subsistence, some for trade, and some for both. In view of the fact that there is often an overlap between maritime, semi-maritime and seasonal maritime orientations, Yesner et al.

Earlier, the renowned Dutch maritime anthropologist Prins , p. They are different from sedentary maritime-oriented communities, such as the Buginese from southern Sulawesi, the coastal populations of Zanzibar, or, for that matter, the historical Vikings, as these groups have a homeland and maritime voyages are almost exclusively undertaken by men.


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The communities in this study, on the other hand, typically spend their entire life afloat and ashore. As a result of their semi- nomadic lifestyle, such groups exhibit a very rudimentary material culture. Acknowledgments This study has greatly benefitted from valuable discussions I was privileged to have on many of the topics addressed. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author s and the source are credited.

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