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The other side of a maritime frontier pearl-shelling in Aru, 1870-1942

Giay, Ligia Judith (2022) The other side of a maritime frontier pearl-shelling in Aru, 1870-1942. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis studies pearl-shelling activity in the Aru Islands, Southeast Moluccas (Netherlands Indies) from the 1870s to the outbreak of World War II. The Aruese have traditionally searched for pearl-shell and traded with foreigners since the 1600s. Their marine procurement activities remained largely undisturbed until the second half of the 19th century. From the 1870s, Australian pearl-shellers entered Aru waters to assess the potential of its pearl-banks, intent upon expanding their pearling activities in the archipelago.

This thesis focuses on Aru which was situated at the far side of this expanding maritime frontier. Responding to Australian incursions, in the 1880s the Dutch installed their administration there, establishing their authority without consulting the Aruese. The Aruese organised resistance movements but the Dutch crushed them. The Dutch used their expanding administrative reach to regulate traditional Aruese marine rights through the pearl fishing ordinances. In creating the Ordinances, the Dutch wanted to preserve traditional pearl-shelling activities, and foster the growth of modern NI pearlshellers. The ordinance facilitated Sech Said Baadilla's activity in Aru, and later allowed the Australian pearl-sheller James Clark and his multiethnic workforce to operate from Dobo in 1905. His company, the Celebes Trading Company, operated in Aru for four decades. However, by the 1930s it was in trouble, due to repeated crises in the global pearl-shelling industry. The company's failure to modernise led to a situation from which it never recovered due to the outbreak of war.

This thesis uses Dutch colonial records and oral history materials to describe and analyse the transitions and transformations of pearl-shelling in the Aru archipelago between 1870 and 1940 and it highlights the role of foreigners, especially Australians, within the context of an expanding colonial state and a maritime resource frontier.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Asia Research Centre
Supervisor(s): Warren, James, Christensen, Joseph and Warren, Carol
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