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South East Asia in General


By Alex Brown




This area called South east Asia has been described by anthropologists as a `chaos of races and languages'. In the mountains and jungles, there are many examples of great varieties of people who existed since the early stages of its ethnological history. A great deal of intermixture has taken place in history between its earlier inhabitants and later arrivals.


Because this region is made up of inaccessible mountains and jungles, fertile and infertile plains and archipelagos, communities existed and survived by many means, evidenced by the different types of remains and implements found throughout South East Asia. Thus we had cultivators, weavers, hunters and seafarers.


Through archaeological investigations, it was ascertained that the early civilisations had the following characteristics :


1.    Material Conditions          


a)      cultivated l

b)      domesticated animals

c)       used metals rudimentary

d)      navigated the seas


2.    Socially              


a)      matriarchal in nature

b)      organised their society due to cultivation which was permanent in nature.


3.      Religions                      


a)      practised animism

b)      worshipped ancestors and spirits of the soil

c)      located shrines in high places (e.g. hills)

d)      buried their dead in jars of dolmens

e)      believed in cosmological `balance' between mountain and sea, winged beings and water beings, mountain men and water men.




This term South East Asia came about after the Second World War to describe the territories of Eastern Asia encompassing the Indo-Chinese peninsula, and the  archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines.


The countries include Myanmar (formerly called Burma), Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea (formerly called Cambodia), Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia. With the exception of Thailand, all the other countries are republics.


The Philippines however, did not come clearly (culturally) under South East Asia until the Spanish invasion during the 16th century. And even after that, the country was much under the influence of Mexico which was under the Spanish, and the United States.


The rest of South East Asia was intensely under the influence of India and China. In fact for many centuries in history, there was much struggle for supremacy between the two powers in the area which is now Vietnam (formerly called Annam and Cochin China).


In terms of cultural influence, the Indians contributed art and architecture comparable to anywhere in the world for its time.  After the 15th century, there was Chinese dominance around Tongking, Annam and Cochin China.


Influences by India and China were not exclusive. If anything at all, they were absorbed by native societies living in South East Asia which already had their own artforms. This blending manifested itself into some of the most beautiful examples of art and architecture of the region. The `external' influences which eventually shaped S.E.A. while significant in certain aspects, helped to reinforce existing artforms in these vastly diverse region. For example, before the Indians arrived in Java, artforms like the wayang kulit, gamelan orchestra and batik were already existing.


The influences however were strong because politically and culturally, South East Asia was overshadowed by India and China which were great powers with established civilisations. The absorption of these influences were however non-political in most cases. Through India and Chinese cultural fertilisation, the indigenous races began to develop and achieve their own complex culture.














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