The Orang Laut and the Realm of the Straits (Negara Selat)
1819 and Before: Singapore’s Pasts
A special series of lectures commemorating Singapore’s bicentennial anniversary
About the Lecture
When Raffles visited the island of Singapore in 1819, he found only a few scattered houses of the Orang Laut and some Malay followers of the Temenggung of Johor. Still heavily forested, there was no evidence the island could ever rival the port city of Penang, established by the British in 1786. However, it was not the island but the seas around it that were its key geographical feature.
The straits off Singapore were the major thoroughfares for trading ships from Europe, Middle East, and India in the west, and China, Japan, Korea, and Ryukyu in the east. The Malays, who occupied both sides of the Straits, were the primary beneficiaries of this trade, but they relied heavily on the services of their allies, the Orang Laut or Sea People.
Yet the role of the Orang Laut has been largely forgotten or ignored. A contributing factor is the historian’s gaze which has been largely landlocked and unable to comprehend that the “few scattered houses of the Orang Laut” masked the reality of a thriving community pursuing a maritime lifestyle.
This presentation will examine the historical evidence in an effort to restore the Orang Laut to their rightful place as major players in the history of the world of the Straits from early times to the nineteenth century.
About the Speaker
Leonard Y. Andaya received his BA from Yale University and his MA and PhD from Cornell University. He is at present Professor of Southeast Asian History at the University of Hawai’i, and has written extensively on the early modern period, particularly of Indonesia and Malaysia. His most recent publications are Leaves of the Same Tree: Trade and Ethnicity in the Straits of Melaka (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008); (with Barbara Watson Andaya) A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); and (with Barbara Watson Andaya) A History of Malaysia, Third Edition (London: Palgrave, 2017). He was the Tan Chin Tuan Professor in Malay Studies at NUS in 2011-2012 and is currently the inaugural holder of the Yusof Ishak Chair in the Social Sciences at NUS. He is currently writing a history of eastern Indonesia in the early modern period.