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Sea Nomads of Southeast Asia

From the Past to the Present

Sea nomads have been part of the economic and political landscape of Southeast Asia for millennia. They have played many roles over the longue-durée: in certain periods proving central to the ability of land-based polities to generate wealth, by sourcing valuable maritime commodities, facilitating trade, forming a naval force to secure and protect vital sea lanes and providing crucial connectivity. They have existed in complex, codified relations with different sedentary populations, as pirates, guardians of the sea-lanes, merchants and explorers. Paradoxically, as modern states emerged, the sea-nomads became progressively marginalized and impoverished.
For many years, the sea nomads were assumed to be without history, and even without archaeology. This has proven far from the case, and recent archaeological findings allow us to more closely describe sea nomadism from the Pleistocene through the early Holocene up to the present. Integrating these findings with the latest in historical research, linguistics, ethnography and historical genetics allows us to better understand sea-nomad ways of life over a scale of millennia and to appreciate the diversity and flexibility of this sea-nomad world. This in turn enriches our understanding of nomadism and mobility as ways of life more generally,  and of the sea not only as a landscape of resources, but as a home and spiritual landscape.

448 pages | 56 halftones, 36 maps, 20 tables | 6 x 9

History: Asian History

Sociology: Social History

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“For a long time, archaeologists believed that the sea nomads left no material evidence to history, but this joint publication by Galipaud, Bellina-Pryce and Blench is a first attempt to refute the claim. . . Contributors to the book track down sea nomads through archaeology and historical sources, and uncover their  contribution in regional socio-political landscapes, past and present.”

Asia Media Centre

“The volume presents plenty of interesting facts that counter the rugged and simplified image of sea nomads as modern primitives or lawless outcasts. Careful ethnographic, archaeological and historical research highlights their indispensable role in the development of trade networks in insular Southeast Asia. Sea Nomads of Southeast Asia is also a valuable addition to woefully scarce literature on the topic.”

Nikkei Asia

"While it may be challenging for general readers, Sea Nomads of Southeast Asia is nevertheless an important work that could shift opinion on a group of Southeast Asian peoples who have often, and unjustly, become scapegoats for perceived ills in terrestrial communities. After all, it was the sea nomads who predicted and escaped the Asian tsunami that battered the coastlines of 14 countries on Dec. 26, 2004, killing more than 200,000 people on land, according to most estimates. Sea Nomads of Southeast Asia helps to highlight such diverse natural sensibility, locate its origins in time, language and history, and give it an academically sound base on which mainstream readers can gain a valuable understanding of this little-known group."

Nikkei Asia

Sea Nomads of Southeast Asia is a welcome addition to a growing body of literature concerned with the seafaring peoples of maritime Southeast Asia. . . . [it] offers much that is certain to interest, challenge and inform serious students of maritime Southeast Asia.”

Borneo Research Bulletin

“[This book] offers impressive studies from an array of disciplines—archaeology, anthropology, history, linguistics, genomics— to piece together the longue-durée of 'sea nomad' cultures in the Southeast Asian region… The editors and contributors to this volume have made a major contribution to our knowledge of the peoples of the island Southeast Asian world and the extraordinary richness of the socio-ecological environment and heritage they have pioneered for what we now know to have been millennia. The stage is set for a genuine effort to turn that heritage into rights.”


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Sea Nomadism from the Past to the Present
2. Communities of Practice in a Maritime World: Shared Shell Technology and Obsidian Exchange in the Lesser Sunda Islands, Wallacea
3. Late Pleistocene to Mid-Holocene Maritime Exchange Networks in Island Southeast Asia
4. Southeast Asian Early Maritime Silk Road Trading Polities’ Hinterland and the Sea-nomads of the Isthmus of Kra
5. The Orang Suku Laut: Movement, Maps and Mapping
6. The Linguistic Background to Southeast Asian Sea Nomadism
7. A Genomic Perspective of the Origin and Dispersal of the Bajaw Sea Nomads in Indonesia
8. Ship Construction and Navigation in the early South China Seas
9. “The Muscles and Sinews of the Kingdom”: The Sama Bajo in Early Modern Eastern Indonesia
10. Nomads in the Interstices of History
11. Ethno-archaeological Evidence of “Resilience” Underlying the Subsistence Strategy of the Maritime-adapted Inhabitants of the Andaman Sea
12. Sea People, Coastal Territories and Cultural Interactions? Tetun Terik and Bunak in theSuai District on the South Coast of Timor-Leste
13. The Bajau Diaspora: Origin and Transformation
14. Maritime Diaspora and Creolisation: a Genealogy of the Sama-Bajaw in Insular Southeast Asia
List of Contributors

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