Daily Archives: 25 August 2007

Outburst of Piracy in Southeast Asia, 1754-1838

From Iranun and Balangingi: Globalization, Maritime Raiding and the Birth of Ethnicity, by James Francis Warren (Singapore U. Press, 2002), pp. 53-56:

The Iranun burst quite suddenly into Southeast Asian history in the second half of the eighteenth century with a series of terrifying raids and attacks on the coasts and shipping of the Philippines, the straits of Malacca and the islands beyond Sulawesi. Their primary targets were unprotected coastal settlements and sailing boats that travelled throughout Southeast Asia bringing valuable commodities from China and the West back to the most remote parts of the archipelago. Many of these marauders were sponsored by rulers from the trading states of Cotabato, Sulu, Siak, and Sambas. They were soon described as ‘Lanun’ or ‘Illanoon’—‘pirates’—by those who suffered their depradations or either travelled with or hunted them and wrote about their widespread impact on the Southeast Asian world.

It is estimated that during the last quarter of this century (1774–1798) of maritime raiding and conflict against the Dutch and Spanish, between 100 and 200 seaworthy raiding prahus set out from the Mindanao-Sulu area each year. The sheer size of the vessels—the largest joanga measuring upward of 130 feet in length—and the scale of the expeditions dwarfed most previous efforts, marking a significant departure in the naval strategy of Malay maritime raiding as it had been traditionally understood. The Iranun were far more than mere ‘pirates’ or brigands. The colonial powers and precolonial Malay trading states had to reckon with a dominant force in their own right; a force that was capable of inflicting major defeats on the Spanish and Dutch and toppling local kingdoms. The huge numbers of these skilled sea raiders and slavers that the sultanate of Sulu could mobilize during the heyday of the China trade would henceforth have a profound impact upon Southeast Asia’s history.

The geographical range of Iranun-Balangingi slave raiding activity was enormous, spanning all of Southeast Asia and beyond. Until the latter part of the eighteenth century, the joanga of the Cotabato and Sulu Sultanates were more or less integrated into fleets belonging to the respective sultanates, but by the end of the century many Iranun vessels were also operating independently. Iranun prahus sponsored by both states had their own target areas but inevitably, there was some overlap. Cotabato and Sulu raiding vessels cruised between the Visayas and Luzon, and out into the South China Sea. Those from Tempasuk, on the northwest coast of Borneo, harassed shipping to the west of the huge island itself. Samal Balangingi, situated midway between the Iranun communities in Mindanao and those on Borneo, operated vessels throughout the Philippines and in the central and eastern parts of the Netherlands Indies.

Iranun maritime raids affected virtually the entire coastline of Southeast Asia, and even stretches of New Guinea and the Bay of Bengal were not secure from slave raids. In the east, the Iranun sailed down the Makassar Strait to cross the Java Sea and South China Sea to attack the north coast ports on Java and the large tin mining island of Banka. Iranun raided extensively in the Sangir Islands, Halmahera and, to a lesser extent, in the Moluccas. They also pushed beyond the defended limits of the Southeast Asian world, crossing the South China Sea to attack undefended stretches of the coastlines of Thailand and Cochin China. At the opposite extremity they also raided, but failed to dominate, the dangerous coasts of New Guinea. In the 1790s, Iranun slave hunters in search of captives extended the limits of their known world even further, sailing far into the waters of the Bay of Bengal, touching at the Andaman Islands and perhaps exploring the southern coast of Burma. There seemed no practical way for the colonial powers to link their respective ‘dominions’ together in an island-wide network of defense and communication, and consequently the Iranun made the most of the ill-defended seas and ravaged the coastal populations and commerce….

In the second half of the eighteenth century many Philippine ports, towns, shipyards, and monasteries were not adequately defended while others were totally defenseless. From the mid-1750s onward, the scale, ferocity and unexpected nature of the initial wave of Iranun attacks were deeply disturbing. Thousands of Filipinos perished or were seized as captives; the more so as the Iranun were Muslims and recognized none of the accepted conventions and taboos that were meant to protect the property and personnel of the Catholic Church in times of war between Christians…. This terrifying period of Iranun slave raiding activity, which lasted more than 70 years from roughly 1752 to 1832, severely hampered the overall social and material well-being and growth of the Philippine island world and the colonial state.


Filed under economics, Philippines, piracy, Southeast Asia, war

Marmot’s View of Islam in Medieval Korea

Robert Koehler at The Marmot’s Hole offers his summary of early relations between the Islamic world and Korea, based on a 2005 Korean-language piece in the Hankyoreh Shinmun by Professor Jeong Su-il. Here are a few excerpts.

Following the establishment of the Goryeo kingdom, the Muslim presence in Korea would reach new heights. At first, it was mostly Arab traders flooding into the kingdom, but in the late Goryeo era, when Korea was dominated by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, Muslims would come to Korea as soldiers and administrators, and the Muslim faith would begin putting down roots in the country.

Historical records show that in the early years of the Goryeo era, large Muslim — probably Arab — tribute delegations came to the Korean capital of Gaegyeong (present day Kaesong) in 1024, 1025 and 1037, presenting such rare gifts as mercury and myrrh. The Goryeo king prepared for these travelers special lodging and presented them with gold and silk upon their return to their homeland….

Professor Jeong noted the historic irony that Islam was brought to Korea on the (horse)back of non-believers. This irony could be taken even further by noting that the afore mentioned non-believers were not just your garden-variety infidels, but the very same enemies of God who that year had single-handedly stuck a fork in the Islamic Golden Age with the “Mother of All Sackings” of Baghdad.

Following the Mongol conquest of Goryeo, the saengmokin, regarded by the Mongols as highly cultured and educated (many Central Asians, particularly Uighurs, served as administrators for the empire — even the Mongol script was invented by a Uighur), came to Korea as guards, military aide-de-camps and attendants to the Mongol princesses sent to Korea to marry the Goryeo princes. At the same time, many Muslims came to Korea in a civilian capacity as traders, with many settling down for good.

An update links to another article in English by Don Baker in Harvard Asia Quarterly entitled Islam Struggles for a Toehold in Korea. Here’s the abstract.

This paper explores the history of Islam in Korea from its first introduction on the peninsula in as early as 11th-century to the present day. Although Korea is rightfully perceived as a country whose religious landscape has been traditionally dominated by Buddhist temples, Confucian study halls, and shrines for Korea’s own folk religion, Islam has also secured a foothold in this East Asian country. The author reveals the traces of the early contacts with the Muslim civilization in Korea’s own culture, ranging from the adoption of advanced calendrical techniques to the import of a sophisticated distillation technology that came to be used for the production of soju, Korean rice wine. Against the backdrop of this historical overview, the paper goes further to analyze why Islam has not made more headway in Korea. This research concludes suggesting that Islam’s failure to adapt itself to local customs accounts for its status as a minority religion that attracts primarily foreign residents of Korea and has only a small number of Korean adherents.

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Filed under Islam, Korea

Hans Rosling on Global Trends Since the 1960s

Dr. Hans Rosling, cofounder of the Swedish branch of Doctors Without Borders, has a fascinating video presentation about how much the world—especially Asia—has changed since the days of Mao and Nehru, when many of today’s world leaders (and my generation of baby boomers) formed their increasingly obsolete impressions of global trends.

What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.

via Belmont Club

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Filed under Africa, Asia