First published in 1981, The Sulu Zone has become a classic in the field of Southeast Asian history. The book deals with a fascinating geographical, cultural, and historical “border zone” centered on the Sulu and Celebes Seas between 1768 and 1898, and its complex interactions with China and the West. The author examines the social and cultural forces generated within the Sulu Sultanate by the China trade, namely the advent of organized, long distance maritime slave raiding and the assimilation of captives on a hitherto unprecedented scale into a traditional Malayo-Muslim social system.
How are entangled commodities, trajectories of tastes, and patterns of consumption and desire that span continents linked to slavery and slave raiding, the manipulation of diverse ethnic groups, the meaning and constitution of “culture,” and state formation? James Warren responds to this question by reconstructing the social, economic, and political relationships of diverse peoples in a multi-ethnic zone of which the Sulu Sultanate was the centre, and by problematizing important categories like “piracy,” “slavery,” “culture,” “ethnicity,” and the “state.” His work analyses the dynamics of the last autonomous Malayo-Muslim maritime state over a long historical period and describes its stunning response to the world capitalist economy and the rapid “forward movement” of colonialism and modernity. It also shows how the changing world of global cultural flows and economic interactions caused by cross-cultural trade and European dominance affected the “little people”—forest dwellers, highlanders, and slaves—both men and women, who worked in everyday jobs as fishers, raiders, divers, farmers, or traders. Often neglected by historians, the responses of these ordinary members of society are a crucial part of the history of Southeast Asia.
Fortieth Anniversary Edition
Published in 2021.