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Colonial Contractions: The Making of the Modern Philippines, 1565–1946  

Vicente L. Rafael

The origins of the Philippine nation-state can be traced to the overlapping histories of three empires that swept onto its shores: the Spanish, the North American, and the Japanese. This history makes the Philippines a kind of imperial artifact. Like all nation-states, it is an ineluctable part of a global order governed by a set of shifting power relationships. Such shifts have included not just regime change but also social revolution. The modernity of the modern Philippines is precisely the effect of the contradictory dynamic of imperialism. The Spanish, the North American, and the Japanese colonial regimes, as well as their postcolonial heir, the Republic, have sought to establish power over social life, yet found themselves undermined and overcome by the new kinds of lives they had spawned. It is precisely this dialectical movement of empires that we find starkly illuminated in the history of the Philippines.

Article

History of the Banda Sea  

Hans Hägerdal

The Banda Sea is a watery landscape in eastern maritime Southeast Asia, encompassing much of the present Maluku Province of Indonesia. Historically, its hundreds of islands include the economically vital Banda Islands and Ambon, as well as the outlying islands of Wetar and Kisar, and the Kei and Tanimbar archipelagos. In spite of its relative remoteness in relation to the historical centers of Indonesia, the sea evolved as a vibrant economic crossroads from about the 14th century, mostly because of the trade in cloves and nutmeg that attracted visitors and settlers from various parts of Asia. The islands also delivered sea and forest products of some consequence. The potential commercial profits made the Banda Sea an early priority for colonial encroachment after the arrival of Europeans in Asian ports. The Portuguese established a presence after 1512, followed by the Dutch and English in 1599. European powers strove to impose monopolies in the spice trade. The contest for the islands was eventually won by the Dutch East India Company, whose dispositions turned the sea into a colonial backwater. This it remained during the Dutch Colonial State of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Indonesian Revolution in 1945–1949 was followed by an unsuccessful attempt to establish an independent South Malukan state in 1950. The relative neglect and the transmigration policies of the successive Indonesia governments led to local civil war in 1999–2002.

Article

Connectivity across the Bay of Bengal in the 19th and 20th Centuries  

Jayati Bhattacharya

The Bay of Bengal has had long history of commercial and cultural circulation across its maritime space, a lesser-studied region in the emerging discourse of Indian Ocean Studies, and extended much beyond, in both eastern and western directions. However, this maritime space has conventionally been regarded as separating contours of peoples, cultures, and economies, particularly in the realm of area studies which has been deeply embedded in academic scholarship as well as political discourses. On the contrary, the region presents us with fascinating stories of integration through family trees, kinship networks, family firms, financial exchanges, intra-community and inter-ethnic bonding, and other facets of circular movements around the Bay. The political and economic narrative of Asia transformed into one of Western colonial dominance in the 19th century, a process that had begun about almost two centuries earlier. The British emerged as the most powerful of the Western powers in this space having gained strong political footing in India, their most prized possession in the East. The long years were marked by consolidation of their political conquests and economic prowess not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in and around the Bay of Bengal region. The technological innovations and inventions further facilitated their economic aspirations. The 20th century brought about different kind of changes. The ideal of laissez-faire along with the geopolitical discourse on rising maritime powers unleashed a new direction of policies, collaboration, conflicts, and negotiations. An important feature of the century was the dynamic rise of the ideology of nationalism, which worked differently in Europe and Asia. While it led to the world wars in Europe, for Asian powers, it opened doors of opportunity to break the fetters of several years of colonial domination. In the framework of a narrative of subjugation and domination, a macro-view of the Bay brings forth several circuits of circulation in the maritime space. While some of these circuits had been visible and dominant, others existed on the margins, connecting to the larger circuits obliviously, or existing in independent and almost invisible circulatory loops that did not find any place in Western historiography. This article attempts to provide a broad overview of different circulatory movements under four subthemes—acquisition and development of port cities that facilitated the circulatory process, merchants, banians, and capitalists—as both visible and also invisible actors of circulation in the Bay. It also discusses communities that were displaced, integrated, or acculturated around the rim of the Bay, and intellectual exchanges that motivated, influenced, and incorporated participation of a large number of people all over Asia. There is a focus on the mobile Indian communities in particular, both voluntary and involuntary migrants who were the dominant participants in the colonial economic narrative on both sides of the Bay. The legacy of these long years of exchanges and interactions has often been undermined in the postcolonial nation state centric discourses and needs to be revisited with a fresh perspective in view of the increasing geopolitical significance of the Bay in the 21st century.

Article

Kachin Communities in Myanmar  

Mandy Sadan

The term “Kachin” is an exonym that references several subcommunities, all of which have traditionally resided in the northernmost region of Burma (modern Myanmar). The name “Kachin State” for this region evidences this historical connection. Kachin communities are identified as comprising six main subgroups, but the boundaries of these are often contested. Identity politics in Myanmar is complex and highly sensitive, given the ongoing conflicts in which many communities, including those identified as Kachin, have been involved for many decades; it is also ongoing. Kachin communities also have strong cross-border relations with cognate groups of people residing in northeast India, Yunnan, and Thailand, as well as a globally dispersed diaspora, which is particularly large in the United States, Japan, and Thailand. Kachin communities were impacted directly by the experience of British colonial rule from its beginnings in Burma in 1824, even though they were not brought under any administrative system until after full British control over the Burmese kingdom was established after 1885. However, neither British nor Burmese (later, Myanmar) administrations have been able to bring the Kachin region fully under their control. At independence from British rule in 1948, many Kachin elites hoped that there would be a federal system, but as hopes for this diminished with the emergence of a military dictatorship, the movement for resistance gained ground. As many other parts of the country fell into civil war, so too did the new Kachin State. The Kachin Independence Army was founded in the early 1960s and by 1963 had declared open conflict with the Burmese military regime. A ceasefire was signed in 1994 and provided some respite, but as the situation again deteriorated through exploitative resource extraction, environmental degradation, and the social harms caused by the widespread availability of narcotics and opiates, considerable popular support for a return to war was felt. The ceasefire collapsed in 2011 leading to more active conflict. This social and political upheaval over many decades has resulted in dramatic changes to Kachin communities and has impacted their tangible and intangible heritage irreparably. There is a great deal still to learn about the histories of Kachin communities in Myanmar, but to do so will require creativity and long-term support for and engagement with local scholars and researchers.

Article

Religion and Migration in Rakhine  

Michael W. Charney

The historical migration and religious development in Rakhine (Arakan) up to the end of the second decade of the 21st century is complicated. This region was a crossroads for South and Southeast Asian civilizations and existed at the overlap of the frontiers of Islam and Theravada Buddhism. Existing in an ecological niche with a difficult topography and climate and a low population base, Rakhine social and state formation was built around inclusivity and tolerance. Although for much of its history the dominant religions of the population of the region were animism and then Brahmanism, successive waves of immigrants from both Bengal and Myanmar meant that Islamic and Theravada Buddhist influence was very strong. The early modern kingdom that emerged at Mrauk-U, its main political center, was built on maritime connectivity with the Indian Ocean world and developed a court culture that was both Muslim and Buddhist and ruled over a population that was religiously heterogeneous. Toleration was challenged, however, by the conquest of Rakhine by Myanmar in 1785 and efforts to eradicate local religious autonomy. Things did not improve under British rule after the British annexation of 1826. The Myanmar and British rulers of Rakhine politicized the region’s history and tried to retell the history of the region in ways that excluded some populations and included others, leading to efforts to force the Rohingya out of Rakhine from August 2017.

Article

The Chinese in Colonial Myanmar  

Yi Li

Exchanges of people and goods between Myanmar (formerly Burma) and China have a long history spanning over a millennium. However, it was during the British colonial era in Burma (1824–1948) that substantial and consistent migration of ethnic Chinese occurred, laying the foundations of Sino-Burmese communities in present-day Myanmar. Two distinct migration routes were initially taken by Chinese immigrants: the overland route between northern Burma and Yunnan, predominantly used by southwestern Chinese since precolonial days; and the overseas route connecting the southern coast of China with port cities in Southeast Asia, including Rangoon. The latter forms part of the Nanyang Chinese network and was primarily used by immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong provinces. Over time, regional differences between different Chinese immigrant groups blurred, and Chinatowns or Chinese quarters in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other major towns across the colony emerged with distinctive Chinese characters. In colonial Burma, migrants from China constituted a smaller population, were less influential commercially and socially, and were generally less visible than their Indian counterparts. Nonetheless, they were recognized as a distinct ethnic group in the colonial state. Given colonial Burma’s geographic and administrative position, Chinese immigrants, while maintaining strong connections with other Southeast Asian Chinese communities, experienced a unique trajectory under colonial rule, navigating through internal tensions and World War II, and, alongside their multiethnic fellow residents, in British Burma, declared the independence at the beginning of 1948.

Article

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Southeast Asia  

Peter Borschberg

The Dutch East India Company, also known by its historic initials VOC, was a chartered trading company that was active between 1602 and 1795. Formed by a merger of six smaller trading firms that traded in the East Indies and backed by a monopoly of trade, this proto-conglomerate emerged as a driving force in globalization, transregional investment, and early European colonization in Asia and Africa. The VOC operated as a profit-driven shareholder corporation and at the apex of its power, around the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, maintained a series of factories and settlements stretching from Cape Town in Southern Africa, the Malabar and Coromandel coasts of India, Bengal, to insular and mainland Southeast Asia and as far as Taiwan (Formosa) and Japan. Chartered companies possessed considerable investments and infrastructure outside Europe, especially with their administrative apparatus, contacts, business networks, and trading knowledge. This in turn laid the foundations for Dutch imperialism during the 19th century.