Bibliographic data

Pearn, Bertie Reginald: An Introduction to the History of South-East Asia. Kuala Lumpur: Longmans Malaysia, 2nd ed., 2nd repr. [2. Aufl., 2. Nachdr.], 1969 [1963], 3,5,6.

"The Peoples of South-East Asia"

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I The Peoples of South-East Asia

The term 'South-East Asia' is generally understood to mean the countries lying roughly between India on the west and China on the east. It thus includes Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Portuguese Timor, and the Philippines.

Geographical Features

The region consists of two major parts: the mainland and the archipelago. The mainland part is traversed by great river-valleys, most of them running from north to south. The major rivers are the Irrawaddy, the Salween, the Menam Chao Phya, the Mekong, and the Red River. The states of mainland South-East Asia have grown up in these valleys. The heart of Burma is the Irrawaddy; Thailand centres on the Menam Chao Phya; Cambodia and Laos lie in the Mekong basin; South Vietnam is based on the Mekong delta and North Vietnam on the Red River Delta.

The archipelago is different in character. It contains thousands of islands scattered over many square miles of sea. So in the archipelago large empires could be formed only by people who were willing to cross the seas between one island and another; thus seamanship has played a vital part in the history of these archipelagic states. The archipelago includes Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Sarawak, Sabah, and Portuguese Timor; but Malaya and Singapore may also be included in the group, for the long peninsula running southwards to Singapore resembles the islands more than it does the mainland.

Southward Movement of Population

On the mainland the areas between the great valleys consist of high mountains and plateaux, usually forested. Movement from one valley to another is possible, but it is not so easy as movement along the valleys themselves. Also, the valleys are more fertile than the hills and therefore men prefer to

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live in them; and most of the rivers form at their mouths vast deltas of good land, so that the lower reaches can support a larger and more prosperous population than can the upper reaches.

The result is that there has been for centuries a drift of population southwards. People have left the highlands and entered the lowlands, and have left the less hospitable lands of the north and moved southwards down the valleys into the deltas. Some, having reached the sea, have crossed it to the islands of the archipelago.

Early Inhabitants

Skulls found in Java show that thousands of years ago there were in South-East Asia creatures much like men, though of a very primitive type, and a human skull found in 1958 at Niah, in Sarawak, is believed to be at least 35,000 years old. Later, perhaps ten thousand years ago, the region was inhabited by forest-dwellers, living by hunting and elementary cultivation and fishing. They had tools which they made from stone, and so are said to have lived in the Stone Age. From them are descended the Sakai of Malaya, for example. Later still the region was inhabited by negrito peoples, whose descendants survive in the Semang of Malaya and other similar peoples. They too were Stone Age people. Then, perhaps four thousand years ago, the people often called Indonesians came into South-East Asia from south-west China. The Indonesians lived at first on the mainland of South-East Asia, but some of them took to the sea and entered the islands of the archipelago. They appear to have come in two migrations. First came the Proto-Malays or First Malays, from whom are descended, for example, the Bataks of Sumatra and the Dayaks of Borneo. Afterwards came the Deutero-Malays or Second Malays, whose descendants are the Malays of today, the Javanese, the Balinese, and indeed most of the present inhabitants of the archipelago.

The Indonesians brought with them the use of metals; they made implements, mainly from bronze but also to some extent from iron.

Later Immigrants

After the Indonesians, other peoples also moved southwards from western China. The Vietnamese reached the Red River delta two thousand or more years ago. In the following centuries the Khmer people settled in the Mekong valley and delta. The Mons, akin to the Khmer, arrived in the Menam Chao Phya valley and spread westwards into what is now Lower Burma. In the Irrawaddy valley appeared a people known as the Pyu. These races of

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people to a great extent displaced the former Indonesian inhabitants. Later, the Burmans came from the north into the Irrawaddy valley. The Tai, from whom the inhabitants of Thailand and Laos and the Shan area of Burma are descended, came from Yunnan later still.

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