Southeast Asian Consumption of Indian and British Cotton Cloth, 1600-1850
It was Indian cloth, more than any other single article of import, which opened up Southeast Asia to the long-distance trade. A local trade was of course more ancient and always more substantial in terms of bulk. Rice, dried and pickled fish, salt, earthenware and metal tools were traded between upland and lowland communities from very early times. But long-distance traders sought some of the unique products of Southeast Asia – spices such as cloves, mace and nutmeg, birds of paradise, aromatic woods and resins such as camphor and sandalwood, tin, and above all gold. To persuade people to accumulate such goods for sale there was nothing so useful as cloth in superior quality. Hence Indian merchants learned to bring cloth with them to Southeast Asia, and before long Southeast Asian merchants themselves learned to seek out such cloth by loading their own cargoes of tropical and forest produce.