My recently-published paper, Monsoon Asia and Melanesia presents a comparison between two ‘stylised’ historical entities. ‘Monsoon Asia’ represents Southeast Asia and particularly the Malay Archipelago – present-day Malaysia and Indonesia. ‘Melanesia’ is representative of the island of New Guinea, though the discussion revolves mostly around west New Guinea (in modern Indonesia). The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua are seen as the historic meeting ground, or zone of transition, between Monsoon Asia and Melanesia. This is where ‘tributary’ relationships, imposed by Moluccan sultanates, were confronted by the ‘ceremonial exchange’ which typifies the ‘big-man’ political systems of Melanesia. West New Guinea also marked a dividing line where Asian ‘wet rice’ agriculture gave way to Melanesian production of starchy staples, such as tubers and sago. This divide had implications for social structure and political organisation, as well as for long-distance trade… [read more].
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