In both South and Southeast Asia, many upland groups make a living, in whole or part, through some combination of gathering and hunting, activities which produce not only subsistence goods, but, critically, commodities destined for regional or even world markets. The emergence of such specialized foraging and trading has been responsive to many factors, including local environmental contexts, regional political economies, and contingent historical circumstances; processes and conditions which are complex and interconnected but which still admit the construction of more generalized understandings of cultural, biological, and ecological processes. In this volume we present perspectives on South and Southeast Asian forager-traders which are both comparative and historical, which work toward integrating functional/organizational perspectives on hunting, gathering, trading, regional interaction, politics, biology, and social and power relations with nuanced views of the long-term histories of such strategies.
What are the stakes of such an analysis? If, as we argue they should, gathering and hunting in the Holocene are seen as viable, persistent, and widespread strategies – strategies variably interpretable in terms of continuity of historical lifeways, responses to economic and political pressure, resistance to sedentarization or peasantization, encapsulation, specialization, or simply efficient and agreeable modes of survival – then we need to integrate the analysis of foraging, including foraging for exchange, into more general analyses of the recent past, recognizing the importance of both long-term historical experience and immediate environmental and sociopolitical contexts in shaping human action.