The University of Arizona

Slavery, Dependency, and Obligation in the Early Modern Malay Archipelago: Towards a Refashioned ‘Slave Mode of Production‘

Dean Messinger


This article explores slavery, bondage, and systems of dependency in the early modern Malay Archipelago, with a focus on the transformations of local slavery systems upon the arrival and expansion of Dutch colonial and mercantile interests. The Dutch East India Company, which operated the largest and most expansive slaving network in the Indian Ocean world, was but one of many different slavery systems in the Malay Archipelago that included Chinese, Indian, Arabic, and indigenous forms of slavery. In this article, I argue that the uses and forms of slavery and bondage in the Malay Archipelago during the heights of Dutch East India Comapny influence represents a refashioned Slave Mode of Production, drawing on cultural and social histories to revise and modify Paul Lovejoy's widely circulated and largely economic concept of a 'Slave Mode of Production'. I argue this refashioned mode of production was heavily based on indigenous social systems of bondage and dependency, and focused on socio-cultural forms of production (and reproduction) like familial structures, political status, and social norms.

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