The Naning War, long dismissed by historians as a ‘little war’, was part of a more expansive drama in the history of the Malay world. The war expressed traditional modes of power-broking and opposition, as well as anticipated later political developments in Malaya. From the wider perspective of imperial history, this important but neglected episode of British expansion in the East merits a modern treatment. This article seeks to rectify deficiencies of existing histories of the Naning War by exploring the nature of indirect rule and formal control from the metropolis, and authority and conflict at the ‘periphery’. It sets the war both within the cultural context of Malay warfare, and within the regional context of indigenous resistance and Islamic protest against British incursions.