Seaways and Gatekeepers: Trade and State in the Eastern Archipelagos of Southeast Asia, c.1600–c.1906

$48.00 SGD

Finalist, EuroSEAS Humanities Book Prize 2022

by Heather Sutherland

The eastern archipelagos stretch from Mindanao and Sulu in the north to Bali in the southwest and New Guinea in the southeast. Many of their inhabitants are regarded as “people without history”, while colonial borders cut across shared underlying patterns. Yet many of these societies were linked to trans-oceanic trading systems for millennia. Indeed, some of the world’s most prized commodities once came from territories which were either “stateless” or under the very tenuous control of loosely structured polities. Although individual regimes sought to control traffic, exchange between trans-regional or even trans-oceanic shippers and local communities was often direct, without mediation by overarching authorities.

In Seaways and Gatekeepers, trade provides the integrating framework for local and regional histories that cover more than 300 years, from the late 16th century to the beginning of the 20th, when new technologies and changing markets signaled Western dominance. The introduction considers theories from the social sciences and economics which can help liberate writers from dependence on states as narrative frameworks. Southeast Asian specialists can learn from this book, which ignores conventional geographic and temporal boundaries. It will also appeal to those working on wider themes such as global history, state formation, the evolution of markets and anthropology.

"From Mindanao to Timor, Bali to New Guinea, Sutherland finds new linkages and discovers fresh fractures down the centuries. A brilliant re-imagining of how people thought and lived, with a dazzling command of the sources. The book transforms the way we see the past of island Southeast Asia." 

Campbell Macknight, Australian National University

"This is a scholarly tour de force: a brilliant historical exploration of the lively trading world of the islands of the Sulu, Sulawesi and Arafura seas, a region in Southeast Asia that, for centuries, poured forth exotic products to the capitals of the world. It distils a lifetime of research into a revealing account of a vitally important part of our planet." – James Fox, Australian National University

Heather Sutherland is a retired professor, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

See for a preview of the book and 250 archival images of the eastern archipelagoes.

Publication year: 2021
556 pp / 
254 x 178mm
47 b/w images, 23 b/w maps