Lecture 9. Borneo and the River Longhouse Worlds

This lecture covers the longhouse cultures of Borneo. Unlike the palace-based elites who dominated the cross India-China trade in SE Asia, and which we have discussed in earlier lectures, Borneo never developed a palace-based system. Instead traders stayed on the shore to develop shore-based trading stations. They traded with inland communities – the longhouse cultures – who dominated the forests. Much of the goods that the shore communities wanted came from the forest, and that included gold, from upstream river beds, camphor and various scented barks and diamonds. The longhouse communities became very wealthy in their own right. But they wanted in return jars, beads and salt, among other things. These commodities had sacred status for them and as long as the exchanges were made in the longhouse, both parties were content. Naturally it was easy for the shore communities, supplied by China and India to provide jars, salt and beads at extremely low cost. So it was a win-win situation for both sides. I discuss the design layout of the longhouse and its social network. The system of exchange worked well until the 18th century, when various entities slowly began to chip away at the longhouse control of the forest. The Chinese took the gold, in the 18th century the English called them savages and forced them to convert to Christianity and so forth until nothing was left for the longhouse to live on. A massive die-off due to disease wiped out about 80 percept of the population. Today there is little left except tourist performances. And what is left is being taken by loggers.

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Lecture Notes