The Making of the "Malay Pirate" in Early Modern European Thought

Stefan Eklöf Amirell
2020 Humanities  
This article traces the long historical background of the nineteenth-century European notion of the Malay as a human "race" with an inherent addiction to piracy. For most of the early modern period, European observers of the Malay Archipelago associated the Malays with the people and diaspora of the Sultanate of Melaka, who were seen as commercially and culturally accomplished. This image changed in the course of the eighteenth century. First, the European understanding of the Malay was
more » ... to encompass most of the indigenous population of maritime Southeast Asia. Second, more negative assessments gained influence after the mid-eighteenth century, and the Malays were increasingly associated with piracy, treachery, and rapaciousness. In part, the change was due to the rise in maritime raiding on the part of certain indigenous seafaring peoples of Southeast Asia combined with increasing European commercial interests in Southeast Asia, but it was also part of a generally more negative view in Europe of non-settled and non-agricultural populations. This development preceded the notion of the Malays as one of humanity's principle races, which emerged toward the end of the eighteenth century. The idea that Malays were natural pirates also paved the way for several brutal colonial anti-piracy campaigns in the Malay Archipelago during the nineteenth century.
doi:10.3390/h9030091 fatcat:4jenrtwkebcuhifz7qdykqt5yq