Theravada Buddhist polities in ancient Southeast Asia comprised kingdoms located in present-day Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Theravada Buddhism became influential in mainland Southeast Asia in the 11th century. Little information exists on the economy of daily life during that period; existing records from 1100 until 1600 mainly deal with administrative and religious affairs, from which some information about the economy can be extracted. These mainland Buddhist polities are typically described as practicing “redistributive economic systems,” a term that Karl Polanyi used to refer to geopolitical entities in which the primary source of subsistence is agriculture, and an administrative center, usually located in the capital, collects revenue from taxes on agricultural production, trade, and other specialized activities that are owned or controlled by the central government or other designated authorities, such as religious orders. The redistributive model is contrasted with the market economies of maritime port polities such as those in insular Southeast Asia. This binary opposition is, however, overstated, as demonstrated by diversity found in mainland Southeast Asia, where some polities relied both on agriculture and maritime trade. Polanyi’s model does not satisfactorily account for the diversity of the Theravada Buddhist polities of Myanmar and Thailand. Some scholars from Redfield and Singer to Miksic have constructed more elaborate models including the orthogenetic versus heterogenetic spectrum, on the basis of Polanyi’s thought but which attempt to utilize polythetic rather than monothetic concepts and scalar rather than stadial classifications.
Commercial Networks and Economic Structures of Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia (Thailand and Myanmar)
Geok Yian Goh
Ships and Shipwrecks in the Pre-Modern Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean and its adjoining seas, from the Middle East and East Africa to Southeast Asia, have been witness to the nautical ventures of most, if not all, major sea powers of world history. Progress in nautical archaeology in the past few decades has brought about a much better understanding of shipbuilding traditions of the Indian Ocean, until then limited to textual and ethnographic sources. Only a few shipwreck sites and terrestrial sites with ship remains have been studied so far along the shores of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, or the Indian Ocean proper. Many more were found in recent excavations in the Southeast Asian seas, which were built along Southeast Asian or Indian Ocean shipbuilding traditions. Two main technical traditions can now be clearly identified for pre-modern times: the Arabo-Indian sewn-plank ships of the western Indian Ocean, which survived into our times, and the Southeast Asian vessels that evolved from a distinctive sewn-plank technology to fully doweled assemblages, as could still be observed in Indonesian vessels of the late 20th century. The still limited number of shipwrecks brought to light in the Indian Ocean as well as the considerable imbalance in archaeological research between the Indian Ocean proper and the Southeast Asian seas have hindered the advancement of the discipline. Considerable difficulties and interpretation problems have moreover been generated by biased commercial excavations and subsequent incomplete excavation records, not to speak of the ethical problems raised in the process. Such deficiencies still prevent solid conclusions being drawn on the development of regional shipbuilding traditions, and on the historical role of the ships and people who sailed along the essential Indian Ocean maritime networks.