Journal of Southeast Asian History

Research Article

Some Notes on the Dutch in Malacca and the Indo-Malayan Trade 1641–1670

S. Arasaratnam


The trade between India and the Malay Peninsula was an important link in the inter-Asian trading system. It took in a wide assortment of goods, embracing not only the produce of these two countries but also serving as a vehicle for the transhipment and distribution of goods from neighbouring and even distant regions that are assembled at these centres of trade. Thus the import trade from India to Malaya had cotton piece-goods as its staple and other produce of India in lesser quantities such as rice, wheat, butter, sugar, oil, hemp, leather and sometimes slaves. Among the items of import, goods that have an obviously non-Indian origin are Arabian incense, amber, red corals, rhinoceros horns and most of the elephant tusks. The articles exported show an even wider area of distribution. From the Malay peninsula itself and neighbouring regions there was tin, pepper, cloves, tortoise shells, sandal wood, sappan wood, benzoin, gumlac, coconut fibre, white and brown sugar, diamonds, besoar stones, quick silver and elephants. Chinese porcelain and copper were obviously brought from the far east. Even allowing for some exaggeration in Tome Pires's figures of Gujerati merchants in Malacca and of his account of the trade from Coromandel, Malabar and Bengal, there seems no doubt of the economic importance of the trade to societies on the two ends of the Bay of Bengal. Indeed the Bay seems to have formed a wellknit commercial unit exchanging surplus produce from its various regions for which the Indian traders were an invaluable medium. The main participants of this trade were the Muslims of the Gujerat ports, Muslims of Bengal and Golconda and Hindu and Muslim traders settled in Coromandel and Malabar coasts.