Trajectories of the early-modern kingdoms in eastern Indonesia: Comparative perspectives


  • Hans Hägerdal Institutionen för kulturvetenskaper, Linnéuniversitetet



As well known, a considerable development of statecraft in Southeast Asia took place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, what Victor Lieberman has termed post-charter states (i.e., replacing older, culturally defining realms). Historical research has so far focused on the principal mainland kingdoms, and the newly Islamized maritime and insular polities. The present paper compares the larger Southeast Asian kingdoms (ca fifteenth-seventeenth centuries) with polities that arose in eastern Indonesia, east of Java. Four regions of political development are defined. These include the indianized kingdoms of Bali and Lombok, the Muslim kingdoms of Sumbawa, the Islamic spice sultanates of North Maluku, and the loosely structured polities of the Timor region. These areas are compared from a set of variables, and the paper asks what parallels may be discerned between local polity-forming processes and the dynamics of the mainland kingdoms and Java. Eastern Indonesian realms were all fairly decentralized though sometimes containing symbolisms and organizational features that were miniature versions of the larger realms. They had strong links to long-distance trade, thus connected to the Age of Commerce spoken of by Anthony Reid. State-building was however complicated by the very fragmented ethnic-linguistic picture. It is argued that maritime Southeast Asia's transition to a “vulnerable zone” after the arrival of the European powers (post-1511) had important repercussions for the maintenance of the smaller realms of eastern Indonesia and set the maritime world apart from the mainland. A trajectory of state integration in maritime Southeast Asia was underway, where new Muslim kingdoms were in the process of threatening or subjugating the smaller realms east of Java. This process was halted by European sea power that weakened the major archipelagic realms and provided chances for the smaller polities of survival under modest and sometimes subdued conditions. The minor principalities of eastern Indonesia were thus able to survive as archaic entities until the twentieth century.


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Hans Hägerdal, Institutionen för kulturvetenskaper, Linnéuniversitetet

Docent i historia






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