Paper Abstract

Melaka in the Long 15th Century Conference

2-4 AUG 19

Barbara Andaya

University of Hawai'i


Prof. Barbara Watson Andaya (BA Sydney, MA Hawai‘i, PhD Cornell) is Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawai’i. Between 2003 and 2010 she was Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and in 2005-06 she was President of the American Association of Asian Studies.

Teaching and Research Interests

Prof. Andaya’s specific area of expertise is the western Malay-Indonesia archipelago, on which she has published extensively, but she maintains an active teaching and research interest across all Southeast Asia.

Recent Research Projects

Prof. Andaya’s most recent books are The Flaming Womb: Repositioning Women in Early Modern Southeast Asia (University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2006) and (co-authored with Leonard Y. Andaya) are A History Early Modern Southeast Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and A History of Malaysia. Third edition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).  Her present project is a history of religious interaction in Southeast Asia, 1511-1900, with a particular focus on gender and Christianity.

Melaka in the 15th Century Conference


Rethinking Melaka as “Empire”

It is not uncommon to find references to the “empire of Melaka” in general studies of Southeast Asia, but as numerous authors of early modern history have argued (for instance, in Empires: Perspectives from Archaeology and History, Cambridge 2001) establishing definitions and defining characteristics are problematic, especially in Asia.  Although there are examples of states that most would agree do qualify as “empires” (Ottoman Turkey, Mughal India, Ming China) there are many other cases, such as Melaka, that claimed authority over extensive territory but where governance followed a different path.

This paper will investigate the various ways in which Melaka extended its authority, generally amicably but at times through force, and the nature of the relationship between the centre and its component parts.  In exploring these connections it will give particular attention to the symbolism of installation through the nobat, the importance of marriage relationships, the rationale for warfare and the ruling style of governance in a polity where vassal rulers could have considerable independence.

The paper will argue that these vassal rulers were generally willing to accept subordinate status because of the benefits of trading access and heightened status that came from acknowledging a wealthy overlord.  On the other hand, despite the practical and symbolic advantages of the Melaka connections, force was necessary to subdue some areas, such as Pahang and east coast Sumatra.  However, although tensions periodically surfaced the use of force was to some extent ameliorated by royal marriages, which created a network of family connections bound together by a shared Melayu culture and a common religion.