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What makes the chapters on Monsoon Asia unique is the analysis of the Dutch Empire from the point of view of Asian societies. First of all, it is stressed that, from a global point of view, the rise of the Dutch seaborne empire is part of a much wider and earlier coastal turn, which in Asia has been described as an Age of Commerce. It is not only European, but also Chinese and Islamic, expansion that characterises this phase of increasing maritime globalisation. Those Eurasian empires that continued to exploit the nomadic horsepower of the Eurasian Arid Zone were soon able to incorporate this maritime dynamic. In these empires, the Dutch retained a marginal presence as meek merchants subject to the whims of indigenous brokers and local governments. In other, more tropical parts of Asia, the aggressive operations of the Dutch prevented indigenous states such as Mataram and Kandy from incorporating the booming coastal regions of Java and Ceylon, respectively. In these insular areas, the Dutch were able to create territorial power and impose their monopoly on the production and sale of cloves, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon. In Maluku we can even speak of a Dutch ‘heart of darkness’ as much of its population was decimated, to be replaced by colonists and slaves. In almost all cases, the Dutch could sustain territorial power only with the help of overseas Chinese communities which offered both a vital urban middle class (primarily in the Dutch colonial headquarters of Batavia) and access to extensive commercial networks. So far completely ignored is the case of Ceylon. In this early-modern laboratory of colonial rule, the reformist policies of enlightened Dutch governors had a deep impact on the local society through mapping, law and education. One of the first revolutionaries in the late eighteenth-century Netherlands was a Tamil intellectual raised in Dutch schools in Ceylon.
This chapter charts the major changes in trading and navigation patterns in the Indian Ocean as well as the concurrent shifts of political power in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries that ultimately led to the closing of the maritime frontier. Recognizing the importance of new developments in naval warfare associated with artillery and other innovations introduced by the Portuguese and the Dutch, English, and French East India Companies, this chapter argues that the maritime frontier remained an open frontier, like the nomadic frontier, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but that it closed in the eighteenth century. What happened in these centuries is by no means a simple story of Indo-Muslim trade not being able to compete with European trade, or being overwhelmed by superior European naval force. For two more centuries, Indian Ocean trade flourished and expanded significantly in most parts of the Indian Ocean. The ultimate closing of the maritime frontier in the eighteenth century, and as early as the final two decades of the seventeenth in Java, resulted from the interplay of many different factors.
Beginning with the Javanese verb diselongaké - to be “ceyloned,” i.e. exiled - this chapter investigates a set of questions related to Javanese documentation and memorialization of exile to Ceylon. As a start, it asks whether Javanese authors indeed wrote about exile to Ceylon, a question that has to date not been pursued despite the large number of exiles from Java, and even more so their social and political prominence. Drawing on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Javanese manuscripts of the historical babad genre, the chapter argues that, although depictions of exile to Ceylon are relatively few and far between, mining local chronicles for references yields a body of insights on how life in exile was imagined and understood in Java, how exile affected those left behind as well as those returning home from Ceylon, and what meanings, tensions and creative possibilities infused narratives of exile.
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