Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Iranun and Balangingi: Globalization, Maritime Raiding and the Birth of Ethnicity. (Research Notes)

Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Iranun and Balangingi: Globalization, Maritime Raiding and the Birth of Ethnicity. (Research Notes)

Article excerpt

Introduction: An Ethnohistorical Enigma

The aim of this paper is to explore ethnic, cultural, and material changes in the transformative history of oceans and seas, commodities and populations, mariners and ships, and raiders and refugees in Southeast Asia, with particular reference to the Sulu-Mindanao region, or the "Sulu Zone" (Warren 1998a: 9-13; 198]: xix-xxvi). The oceans and seas of Asia, East by South, from Canton to Makassar, and from Singapore to the Bird's Head Coast of New Guinea, crossed by Iranun and Balangingi raiding and slaving ships, Southeast Asian merchant vessels and colonial warships, have been the sites of extraordinary conflicts and changes often associated with the formation of ethnic groups and boundaries, political struggles and national histories. Examining the profound changes that were taking place in the Sulu-Mindanao region and elsewhere, this paper creates an ethnohistorical framework for understanding the emerging inter-connected patterns of global commerce, long-distance maritime raiding and the formation and main tenance of ethnic identity. I begin by tracing the evolution of Iranun maritime raiding from its late eighteenth century origins to support the English supplies of tea from China, into the nineteenth century's systematic, regional-based slaving and marauding activity (Warren 1981: 149-214). I then draw out the implications of that evolution for colonial systems of domination, development, and discourse in the context of trans-oceanic trade, cross-cultural commerce, and empire building.

For several centuries, the Sulu-Mindanao region has been known for "piracy." In the early nineteenth century, entire ethnic groups--Iranun and Balangingi--specialized in state-sanctioned maritime raiding, attacking Southeast Asian coastal settlements and trading vessels sailing for the fabled Spice Islands, or for Singapore, Manila and Batavia. When people think of slavery in Southeast Asia, they rightly imagine tens of thousands of people stolen from their villages across the region and sent directly to work the large fisheries and wilderness reserves of the Sulu Sultanate. The insatiable demands of the sultanate for labor to harvest and procure exotic natural commodities, such as sea cucumbers and birds' nests, reached a peak in the first half of the nineteenth century as the China trade flourished (Warren 1998a: 39-45). In this new globalized world, Job, Balangingi, Canton and London were all intimately inter-connected. A major feature of this emerging global economy was that over two hundred years ago, Eu rope and the then-emerging markets of East and Southeast Asia were tangled in a commercial and political web that was in many ways just as global as today's world economy. Yet, another characteristic of late eighteenth and nineteenth century globalization was that it went hand in hand with degeneration and fragmentation. Even as economies of traditional trading states, such as Sulus, integrated, others, for example, the Sultanates of Brunei and Cotabato, disintegrated, while regional populations across Southeast Asia were fragmented, scattered and re-located in the process. This paper takes note of the massive forced migrations of the unfortunate mass of captives and slaves caught in the cogs of the Sulu economy, which shaped the destiny and demographic origins of the Iranun and Balangingi; and the overall population trends and settlement patterns of much of the Philippines and Eastern Indonesia well into the end of the nineteenth century.

Lanun. The name struck fear into the hearts and minds of riverine and coastal populations across Southeast Asia nearly two centuries ago. Also, recently, ethnohistorical research has shown that where Iranun or Lanun maritime raiding is concerned, old traditions die hard. The terrors of the sudden harsh presence of these well-armed alien raiders live on in the oral recollections, reminiscences, popular folk epics and dramas of the victims' descendants in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, to this day (Frake 1998: 41-54; Sandin 1967: 63-65, 127; Warren 1998a: 44). …

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