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Looking back on 'The Sulu Zone': State formation, slave raiding and ethnic diversity in Southeast Asia

Warren, J.F.ORCID: 0000-0003-0055-6730 (2019) Looking back on 'The Sulu Zone': State formation, slave raiding and ethnic diversity in Southeast Asia. In: Hamzah, B.A. and Forbes, V., (eds.) Maritime Security in the Sulu Zone: readings on History, Peacemaking and Terrorism. Centre for Defence And International Security Studies (CDiSS), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pp. 63-72.


My initial encounter with the Sulu Zone, located between the Asian mainland and the large islands of Mindanao, Borneo and Sulawesi, began twenty-eight years ago.1 I first learned of the Sulu Archipelago and the maritime world of the Samal Bajau Laut when I received my Peace Corps posting in 1967, assigning me to Semporna, Sabah, on the east coast of Borneo I lived for two years in Semporna (1967- 69). The period from January to November, 1969, spent in Kampong Bangau, a Samal Bajau Laut village comprising a flotilla of boat dwellers and a semi-sedentary population of Bajau Laut in varying stages of adaptation to a house dwelling way of life was particularly memorable. It was the rapid abandonment of sea nomadism, a life-style which has characterised the Samal Bajau Laut as a people and from which they drew their sense of identity and purpose, that first motivated my interest in Southeast Asian History. The search for historical antecedents to contemporary social change among the Samal Bajau Laut, whose maritime nomadic culture was being inexorably extinguished by political and economic development involved me in a study of the interaction between a relatively weak quasi-colonial agency, The North Borneo Chartered Company, and the maritime nomadic people of the northeast coast of Borneo between 1878 and 1909. Much of the research was performed during vacation periods while I served in Sabah as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Despite its limitations in wealth and power, the Chartered Company's administration presided over the emergence of a new social and political order at the beginning of the twentieth century. This transformation affected the Taosug of the Sulu Sultanate, the overlords of the coast in earlier periods; the Chinese, most of whom came to Semporna as a result of Chartered Company rule; and had an even more profound impact on the Samal Bajau Laut.2

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: Centre for Defence And International Security Studies (CDiSS)
Copyright: © 2019 by the Centre for Defence and International Security Studies (CDiSS)
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