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Crisis and Reformation in a Maritime Kingdom of Southeast Asia: Forces of Instability and Political Disintegration in Western Burma (Arakan), 1603-1701

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This study of the initial collapse, revival, and finally a resumption of decline in the seventeenth century of the maritime kingdom of Arakan (in western Burma) attempts to establish a special place for Arakan in the general historiography of the seventeenth-century crisis in Southeast Asia. The unusual experience of Arakan in the seventeenth century was in large part due to both the blockades by autonomous Portuguese freebooters in the first two decades of the seventeenth century and the peculiar nature of a new trading relationship from the 1630s until the 1660s between the Arakanese and the Dutch, based on the Arakanese supply of slaves and rice to Dutch port-cities and plantations. The ebb and flow of Arakanese fortunes throughout the century were thus tied to the fortunes of the Dutch. Expanding Asian empires in Bengal and Burma also influenced the decline of the Arakanese maritime polity after the Dutch withdrew from Arakan in the 1660s. Afterwards, as the material resources of the Arakanese central court declined, the Arakanese littoral became politically fragmented, characterized and sustained by the rise of rival political centers and the rebellions of non-Arakanese ethnic groups who had been captured abroad and resettled in the Arakanese littoral. Arakan thus experienced its “own” crisis in the seventeenth century, a watershed that gives it a peculiar niche in the seventeenth-century history not only of Southeast Asia as a whole, but of the mainland in particular.

Affiliations: 1: University of Michigan


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