Southeast Asia: the Islands

The vast archipelago comprising Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes, Java, the Philippines, and western New Guinea among thousands of other lesser islands.  It's companion page will detail the mainland, comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Vietnam.

Presently this covers: Ambawang, Asahan, Atjeh, Bali, Bandjarmasin, Banten, Bima, Bone, Brunei, Cocos Islands, Demak, Djakarta, Dompu, Galuh, Jambi, Java, Jogjakarta, Kan-t'o-li, Kediri, Kubu, Kupang, Kutai, Labuan, Macassar, Madura, Maguindanao, Majapahit, Mangku Negaran, Mataram (Elder), Mataram (Younger), Netherlands East Indies, New Guinea, Pajang, Paku Alaman, Palembang, Paracel Islands, Philippines, Pontianak, Sailendra, Sabah, Sarawak, Siak, Singhasari, Sintang, Spratly Islands, Srivijaya, Sulu, Sunda, Surakarta, Tambora, Tarumanagara, Ternate, Tidore, Timor, and Yeh-p'o-ti.


ASAHAN A district on the northeast coast of Sumatra along the Straits of Malacca, the eastern lowlands below the mountain lake of Toba.

ATJEH (Aceh) The northern end of the island of Sumatra, and one of the first Indonesian districts to be Islamicized, in the 13th century.

BALI An island off the east coast of Java, within Indonesia. Long a center of civilization in the archipelago, Bali became a refuge for the dislocated Hindu intellegentsia and aristocracy during the Muslim expansion into Indonesia during the 14th and 15th centuries. The island today is the last survival of the old Hindu culture in the islands, and is famous internationally for it's lush temples and the stately dance rituals still practiced there.

BANDJARMASIN A city on the south coast of Borneo, overlooking the Java Sea. In the 17th century,
Banjarmasin claimed to be the overlord of large coastal areas of West, South and East Borneo. Even given that there may have been more rhetoric than substance to some of those claims, it was certainly one of the most important early states on the island, together with Brunei.

BANTEN Also known as Bantam, by which name it is remembered as the source for a famous breed of fighting cocks, and by extension anything powerful yet small in size. This sultanate in western Java once controlled parts of Sumatra and Borneo as well. The modern town of Banten is located in the far northwest corner of Java

BIMA A sultanate existing from the 17th century on Sumbawa island, within the Lesser Sunda Group in Indonesia.

BONE (Watampone)
A sultanate in southern Celebes, the large island east of Borneo.

BRUNEI A sultanate on the northeast coast of Borneo, and one of the wealthiest states on Earth, due to oil revenues. Formerly in control over much of the island, it became a British Protectorate 1888-1984.

COCOS ISLANDS An isolated group of small islands in the East Indian Ocean, roughly 500 miles (800 km.) southwest of Djakarta, Indonesia.

DOMPU Among the Lesser Sunda Group in Indonesia.

JAVA The island of Java has hosted important states within the Indonesian archipelago longer than any other locale. It's historical development is complex, and made more so owing to the fact that the island has seldom been held by a single government. The following sequences are intended to point out the most important phases of Javan history, but should not be regarded as definitive or complete.

JOGJAKARTA A vassal state of the Netherlands, located in central Java. Independent under Dutch influence from the partition of Younger Mataram during the succession War of 1749-1755.

KUBU A lordship (Tuan) in western Borneo, situated near the mouth of the Terentang River, about 42 miles (67 km.) southeast of Pontianak. Like Pontianak, Kubu was founded by a group of south Arabian (Hadramauti) adventurers, intent on carving out a kingdom in the South Seas. Ambawang A settlement about 10 miles (16 km.) northwest of Kubu, briefly a seperate lordship created by a younger son of Sayyid Idrus in the early 19th century.

KUTAI A sultanate in eastern Borneo, situated within the Mahakam River basin in what is now southern Kalimantan Timur Province. The seat was at Tenggarong, now a sleepy village a short distance west of the largest city of the region, Samarinda, at the head of the delta about 30 miles (48 km.) from the coast. The region has hosted perhaps the oldest Hindu state in Southeast Asia, possessing epigraphic evidence from c. 400 CE.

MACASSAR (Gowa) A Sultanate in the southwest corner of the island of Celebes, the large landmass just east of Borneo.

MADURA An island off the northeast coast of Java.

MAGUINDANAO An Islamic sultanate set up by Malaccan noblemen fleeing the Portuguese conquest of Malacca. They settled in the southern part of the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Maguindanao is famous for its violent resistence to Spanish conquest. It was only subdued towards the end of the 19th century, just before the Spanish lost control over the islands to the United States. The current Sultans of Maguinidao are merely figureheads with no real political power. Nonetheless, Maguinidao is much in the news lately due to an ongoing Islamic insurrection. The Islamic seperatists have resorted to a campaign of terrorism, kidnapping and murder to achieve an independent fundamentalist state in Maguinidao and the neighboring Sulu archipelego. It is believed that they receive aid from al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's international terror network.

MANGKU NEGARAN The Dutch established this state in 1757 as a sop to a turbulent junior prince of the royal house of (Younger) Mataram. The original intention was to create a minor palatine lordship in the city of Surakarta (eastern Java), but it's usefulness as a buffer state inmcreased in the 19th century and, by the end of colonial rule, it had absorbed close to half of the lands of the old Surakartan regality.

NETHERLANDS EAST INDIES Here follow the various governors of Dutch possessions in southeastern Asia. They include not only the Governors of the Dutch East Indies Company, but also the colonial administrators and governors who followed that establishment after the beginning of the 19th century.

NEW GUINEA The western half of this huge island. For the eastern half, see Papua-New Guinea, in Oceania.

PAKU ALAMAN A palatine lordship established within the city of Jogjakarta, in central Java, by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles during the British occupation of Java during the Napoleonic era. It's purpose was to act as a check on possible subversive activities by the sultan of Jogjakarta - this was a strategy that had served the Dutch well, in places like Surakarta. The British eventually left, but the principality remained until the independence of Indonesia and the establishment of the republic.

PARACEL ISLANDS and SPRATLY ISLANDS Two widely scattered archipelagos of tiny coral islands and reefs, located in the South China Sea. The Paracels are roughly 250 miles (400 km.) east of Vietnam and about the same distance southeast of Hainan Island in China. The Spratlys are about 250 miles (400 km.) west of the Philippines, and roughly 280 miles (450 km.) north of northeastern Malaysia. Both groups sit amidst rich fishing grounds and natural gas reserves of unknown size.

The PHILIPPINES An archipelago on the eastern edge of southeast Asia, facing the western Pacific and lying south of Taiwan.

PONTIANAK A city on the west coast of Borneo, almost exactly on the equator, and some 390 miles (627 km.) east-southeast of Singapore. Like its neighbour to the southeast, Kubu, Pontianak was founded by a group of south Arabian (Hadramauti) adventurers, intent on carving out a kingdom in the South Seas.

SABAH The far eastern end of Malaysia, constituting the northeastern corner of the island of Borneo.

SARAWAK Northern Borneo. Granted by the Sultan of Brunei to a British adventurer who used it as a base from which to eradicate piracy in the South China Sea, and headhunting in the interior. His successors continued as Rajahs until the conclusion of the Second World War.

SIAK (Siak Sri Indrapura) A sultanate in the swampy lowlands of Riau province, eastern Sumatra. The chief town is located about 18 miles (30 km.) from a coastal estuary of the Straits of Malacca, and about 130 miles (208 km.) west-southwest of Singapore.

SINTANG A sultanate located in the interior of western Borneo, directly on the equator and about 155 miles (250 km.) east of the port of Pontianak.

SRIVIJAYA An important Buddhist state located in Sumatra, and based upon modern Palembang. At it's zenith, it controlled much of the island of Sumatra, coastal Malaya, western Java, and portions of Borneo. Definite information about this place is sparse, and documentation poor; it will be noted, for example, that a few of the sovereigns mentioned have Chinese, rather than Sanskrit names - this is simply because they are not otherwise attested to beyond what few Chinese commercial records survive of the era. Local kings after the collapse of  Srivijaya in the 1370’s:

SULU An archipelago in the extreme southwestern corner of the Philippines, just east of Sabah (Malaysia), the northeast corner of Borneo. The region is the home of a people outsiders call Moros, a feroce and deeply independent sea-going nation; it was never conquered by the Spanish authorities in the Philippines.

SURAKARTA A vassal state of the Netherlands, located in central Java, continuing the (Younger) Mataram succession from the time of the succession war of 1749-1755.

TAMBORA A Muslim sultanate on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. Sumbawa is in southern Indonesia, three islands east of Java and two of Bali. Tambora's greatest claim to fame is that it, along with much of the island, was destroyed in 1815 by the eruption of the Tambora Volcano. This massive eruption was one of several which occurred within a few weeks of each other. The resulting ash clouds lowered the Northern Hemisphere's temperature enough to lead to famine and abnormally cold summers throughout North America and Eurasia. Though the cause of this ecological crisis was at the time unknown, the effects did not go unnoticed - in American history 1815-16 was long remembered as the coldest year in recorded history, dubbed "eighteen hundred and froze to death".

TERNATE One of the Spice Islands, a small island located just west of Halmahera in the Northern Moluccas, modern Indonesia. It has been a Muslim Sultanate from the 13th century and before.

TIDORE A small island in the Northern Moluccas, a short distance southeast of Ternate and a bit west of Halmehera.

TIMOR An island off the southeast corner of the Lesser Sunda chain, about 325 miles (525 km.) northwest of Australia, with a very complex history of interaction between native, Portuguese, and Dutch rulers. Before the Europeans arrived, there were numerous petty kingdoms - about 15-20 in West Timor, 50 in East Timor. There was a ritual structure with a high sacral lord in the center of the island (Belu) called Maromak Oan ("child of God"). Under him were three temporal lords, namely Sonbai in the west, Wehale in the center, and Likusaen (Liquiça) in the east. The actual authority of these sovereigns was not great, for the system was symbolical-ritual rather than built on conventional political power.