The amorphous nature of coastal polities in Insular Southeast Asia: Restricted centres, extended peripheries
By  Pierre-Yves MANGUIN, École française d’Extrême-Orient
Published in Moussons 5, 2002, 73-99
In the past two decades, authors writing on the history and the archaeology of
Southeast Asia have often dealt with the concepts of centre and periphery, within
the overall structure of space during the state formation process, with emphasis put
either on the construction of their landscape or on that of a functional model. The
following essay purports to supplement the evidence presently at hand by examining
the way in which local textual sources from coastal or pasisir societies express the
spatial relationship between the various components of Malay World polities. There
are significant limits to the availability and the scope of such local (i.e., mostly
Malay) sources for the pre-17th century period, and to the kind of information that
may be extracted from such literary or epigraphic texts. Rather than start from a pre-
ordained model and try and fit into it whatever evidence there is, I will therefore
remain deliberately empirical in my approach: I shall present here a medley of cases
where concepts of space are either clearly signified or simply suggested in the
available texts, or again where centripetal forces that epitomise processes of socio-
spatial structuring are shown in operation. Whenever possible, other historical or
archaeological data will be summoned to provide a context for such textual
statements. The functional models submitted by earlier authors will be examined
when necessary in the light of the evidence brought to light.

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