'The Malay Road': Evolution in connectivity and the range of products sourced by Southeast Asia and China from Northern Australia, with or without Indigenous agency, from the sixteenth century until World War I

Author: Kellie Clayton

Clayton, Kellie, 2021 'The Malay Road': Evolution in connectivity and the range of products sourced by Southeast Asia and China from Northern Australia, with or without Indigenous agency, from the sixteenth century until World War I, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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The objective of this thesis is to progress the debate beyond the particularism of the Macassan trepang industry and ‘the Malay Road’ towards a richer understanding of the role played by the Indigenous economy across the whole of northern Australia in wider Southeast Asian (SEA) and East Asian (EA) trade networks, from the mid-sixteenth century to World War 1 (WW1), potentially assisting a World Heritage nomination. Ongoing work and knowledge gaps have been classified into nine thematic steps of a cyclic process telling the story of early trade in Australian forest and sea products. These are reviewed, and the conclusions of previous authors re-evaluated. New data has been gathered, and existing data used elsewhere has been applied to this problem for the first time, using a multidisciplinary approach including trade data and history, cultural anthropology, ethnography, Indigenous and SEA and EA contact archaeology, maritime archaeology and linguistics. Historical research found that SEA visitors took native beeswax from northern Australia, in perahu that had cargo space available for 31 forest and sea products. Linguistic evidence indicates that up to nine products were collected by Indigenous people participating in a hybrid economy. The trade goods they received in exchange were tailored to a small degree, giving them broadly equivalent status to other paid commodity collectors of the periphery of the eastern Indonesian archipelago. ‘The Malay Road’ was broader than the Chinese financing of the collection and shipping of Chinese-sought northern Australian products to China. It involved SEA and Indigenous people, and Australian-based Chinese immigrants. The products sought and the way in which ‘the Malay Road’ connected northern Australia to SEA and EA changed across four distinct periods. Emerging in the sixteenth century, it sporadically transported forest products (e.g. sandalwood) and seed pearls traded by South Sulawesians for Chinese ceramics in Mainland or Maritime SEA. By WW1, it was characterised by maximum product and visitor diversification involving a hybrid economy, multiple trade centres and the decline of Makassar’s and the Seram Laut Islands’ central roles. Recommendations for further research include: ground-truthing of commodity habitats and processing sites, including survey of native bee populations associated with Macassan archaeological sites; a comparison of Internal Colonialism with Hybrid Economic Model approaches to Asian-Indigenous culture contact; research into Japanese and Filipino culture contact; a comparison of ceramics at Macassan sites with samples from Lesser Sunda Islands, particularly Flores; and linguistic analysis to confirm Austronesian sources (e.g. Solorese, Jama Mapun, Butonese) and the chronology of trade product inclusion in the hybrid economy.

Keywords: Macassans, Seram Laut, contact, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Arnhem Land, Kimberley, Cape York, Australia, commodities, trade, loan words, perahu, chronology

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Daryl Wesley & Associate Professor Wendy van Duivenvoorde