This paper explores the ocean produce trade that connected maritime East and Southeast Asia between 1780 and 1860. The essay explicitly concentrates on two “arenas” of action where politics, commerce, and the trade in sea produce combined in powerful ways: the Straits of Melaka, and the waters of Northern Borneo. In both of these regions, the collection of marine goods became big business. More importantly, however, the organized funneling of these objects helped keep disparate political projects alive and running. This was the case in the Straits of Melaka, where the collection of such bounty supplied one rationale for British expansion in Penang (1786) and Singapore (1819), in the decades on either side of the turn of the nineteenth century. In Northern Borneo, the collection of these commodities from shallow local seas was also tied to empire-building, in this case via the Sultanate of Sulu. Sulu used North Borneo's waters as a vast collecting-ground for sea-produce to be shipped to China. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, North Borneo's coasts became a major source for these products geared toward international trade, linking East and Southeast Asia in increasingly vigorous ways.
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