Slaving, Colonial Diplomacy, and Resource Extraction in Seventeenth-Century Maritime Asia

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Hans Hägerdal


This study combines perspectives of social change and resource exploitation from two angles: the intercultural diplomacy conducted by the VOC in early modern maritime Asia, and the trajectories of slavery, slave routes, and zones of coerced labour in this macro-region. The use of enslaved people by European polities for production of cash crops and domestic work in maritime South and Southeast Asia has been widely researched. The local consequences of the widespread slaving need however to be better understood, not least in terms of the exploitation of natural resources and their entanglement with social change in the affected areas. The article discusses how early colonial diplomacy and treatymaking with indigenous societies in the period 1600-1700 had a role in shaping slave circuits while impacting on local economic systems. A combination of slaving and extraction of commercial items of ‘luxury’ type is often found in the diplomatic instruments. The study highlights the possibilities of Dutch contracts and agreements to trace historical processes in combination with other types of sources. By looking at negotiating practices, we can better understand the structures of geographical distribution of slaving activities, trading practices, forced deliveries of manpower, and resistance to enslavement. In sum, the consequences of enforced movement of people in the contact zones between colonial and indigenous groups.

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