16 – 22 November 2009

Going back to this idea of inland versus coastal settlements, is it possible that Indianization could have only been occurring on the coasts, not really penetrating the interior, if Indianization occurred at all?  Also, what if Indianization occurred with luxury trade rather than more utilitarian trade? So Indian objects may be present at sites in Southeast Asia, but only in elite contexts?

If we can find Indian influence only in luxury items in the interior, it would support the idea that only luxury trade was coming in from India.  Then Indianization would have been largely of the elite and not the general population.  This isn’t really a new idea; it’s been floating around discussions of Southeast Asian archaeology since the 1960s.  The idea from the 1960s, though, is that the elites of India migrated to Southeast Asia and brought their culture with them.  Another related idea is that elites of Southeast Asia engaged in luxury trade with India in order to legitimize their rule.

But the elites may not have obtained Indian goods to legitimize their role or to intentionally create a government based on Indian models (as is suggested by some scholars), but more because those were the luxury goods available.  Also, what about potential luxury goods coming from China?

Also, if interior powers as well as coastal powers could switch alliances as some scholars propose, then rulers are not necessarily legitimizing themselves as rightful rulers, but are instead trying to convince the various trade groups that they (the ruler) are better than another ruler or power.  Otherwise, all of their contributors would leave them.  They would be trying to convince the inland groups that they are a good business partner, not that they have a legitimate right to rule over them.  In which case it would almost be better for them to encourage the exchange of luxury goods to people other than themselves…

This probably also means that they would likely ‘rule’ on an achievement-based system, not an ascribed status.  They are only allowed to rule because the people let them rule, not necessarily because they were born with this status.  Inland groups can change their alliances if it suits them, and there is little the coastal powers can do about it.

But this is all highly speculative, since I mentioned the lack of data earlier.  I’m not even sure I’ve articulated any of this well, but they’re just brainstorming notes, so I suppose it’s ok.  They are incredibly interesting theoretical questions, though…

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About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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