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Faculty Publication: Dr. Barbara Watson Andaya

Recording the Past of “Peoples Without History”: Southeast Asia’s Sea Nomads

by Barbara Watson Andaya

“This essay has been developed from the conviction that scholars of all disciplines, particularly from Southeast Asia, must work together to prioritize the task of recording the traditions of “marginalized peoples” before practices, beliefs and memories disappear completely. Although anthropologists dominate contemporary studies, historians have much to offer, especially in dealing with the relationship between such groups and the state. Here I provide a background to historical work on sea peoples, tracking the evolution of the now accepted view that, traditionally, they were respected by land-based states and that this relationship was mutually beneficial. However, the demise of reciprocity combined with state pressure for the adoption of a sedentary existence led to a decline in regard for the maritime skills of sea peoples and the services they once provided. In seeking to resurrect a past that emphasizes indigenous
agency, there is a need to break out of disciplinary confines and develop methodologies and approaches that more effectively link the past with the present.”

Barbara Watson Andaya is Professor in the Asian Studies Program at the University of Hawai’i and former Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. In 2005-06 she was President of the American Association of Asian Studies. Educated at the University of Sydney (BA, Dip.Ed.), she received an East West Center grant in 1966 and obtained her MA in history at the University of Hawai’i. She subsequently went on to study for her Ph.D. at Cornell University with a specialization in Southeast Asian history.