Madurese Seafarers: Prahus, Timber and Illegality on the Margins of the Indonesian State

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By Kurt Stenross

The Madurese are one of the great maritime and trading peoples of the Indonesian Archipelago. This remarkable study takes readers into the coastal villages of Madura, where the distinctive traditional vessels were powered by sail until the late twentieth century. It examines informal-sector economic niches, notably the cattle, salt and timber trades and the carriage of people. The author argues that the ecology and demography of Madura, the nature of village society, cultural traditions of frugality and self-reliance, and an appetite for risk all contributed to the success of the Madurese as maritime entrepreneurs. During Suharto's New Order, Madurese seafarers prospered through their role in the booming timber trade between Kalimantan and Java, adopting quasi-legal methods and exercising great ingenuity to circumvent state-imposed laws and regulations.

Based on data collected during visits to remote ports and unlicensed sawmills in Kalimantan, prahu harbors in Java, and 'wild' beach ports in Madura, Madurese Seafarers explores the inner workings of Madurese maritime trade during a critical period of change that brought these village-based maritime transporters and traders into conflict with the modern Indonesian state.

"Madurese Seafarers is the kind of solid research--undertaken over decades--that shows us how the lived experience of others can function literally right outside of our sight. Not many people probably know of the Madurese contribution to the Indonesian economy, or to its shadow equivalent (the black market in illegal transited wood). After reading this book, however, we all will have a better idea of how the economy of the world's largest archipelagic nation functions, and the people at the graophical center of it who help make it all run." - Eric Tagliacozzo


Kurt STENROSS has been studying the sailing craft of Indonesia since 1974. Holder of a PhD from Murdoch University and a skilled carpenter, he lives in Banbury, Western Australia.


Asian Studies Association of Australia: Southeast Asian Publications Series
Publication Year: 2011
316 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-520-0, Paperback

NUS Press