The long distance trade spanning the whole of Asia from the Mediterranean to Japan was organized as a peddling trade of many merchants carrying small loads of valuable goods over long distances. The economic mentality of the traders and the organization of their international trade must be thought of in terms of handicraft forms. Access to trading networks and inclusion in the market system became a major stimulus for state formation throughout Southeast Asia, giving rise to powerful states like Aceh, Melakka or Makassar and a multitude of rich coastal principalities like Passai, Lingga, Banten, Buton and Ternate. Throughout the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago the local ruler had a prominent share in trade and shipping or at least promoted his interest with the help of foreign traders. an evaluation of Asian trade leads to a number of rather farreaching questions. How are we to explain the world of Southeast Asia up to the eighteenth century? Was precolonial Southeast Asia caught between two world-systems, China and India? or was there an independent Southeast Asian world-system at least during certain periods? When did Southeast Asia become the periphery of the emerging European world-system? It appears that "world-system" analysis is hard to apply to the diversity of Southeast Asia though it might help to put analysis of trading networks into a wider perspective. The persistence of the Southeast Asian peddling trade, similar to the persistence of Asian peasant production, can convincingly be demonstrated by the existence and even growth of contemporary trading networks.
Trading networks are social processes of exchange. They are social processes in the sense that social interaction takes place between persons with the primary purpose of exchanging goods over more or less greater geographical distances. Market places can be the nodal points of trading networks. The interrelation of these more or less permanent market places can be called a «market system». Trading networks can span «world-systems», but also «local systems». It is important to note that these intermediate trading networks or market systems do not have to be bounded by national boundaries. The criteria that define a trading network can be provided as follows :
- there is usually an ethnic or religious homogeneity of traders, but diversity of partners,
- a regular interaction between trading partners along definite trade routes,
- an evolution of the trading networks over time,
- a typical inventory of trading goods,
- the development of distinctive trading practices, customs and types of exchange, including typical ways of travelling and typical means of transport,
- the utilization of a market place system.
Trading networks can vary in extent without necessarily forming a hierarchy. In Southeast Asia thousands of small traders peddle fish directly from the fishermen to nearby villages or peasants trade agricultural pro ducts on weekly village markets. Intermediate trading networks extend over long distances but traders transact business in small lots and individually. Their trade would be classified as part of the so-called informal sector in contrast to the commerce of trading companies.
Taking only Islands of Southeast Asia, the «Nusantara», into consideration, we should like to identify the following intermediate trading networks that are still active or have been active until recently in the Malay world : Nusantara intermediate trading networks
(1) The northern straits of Malacca (Aceh)
(2) The Riau-Singapore network
(3) The Buginese network
(4) The Butonese network
(5) Minangkabau petty trade
(6) The Sulu network
(7) The Trengganu/Kelantan-Thai network
(8) Networks of the Java Sea
This list is by no means exhaustive and there are many other examples of small scale and intermediate (i.e. intra Southeast Asian) networks.
The very existence of interregional maritime peddling trade appears to give credence to van Leur's theory. Some of the features we could observe today are remarkably similar to those described by van Leur for early Asian trade up to the seventeenth century. The maritime peddlers receive their capital from rich villagers, government officials, or from their families. The proceeds are distributed according to fixed proportions, and the maritime peddlers part after a trading expedition. Relations with trading partners are long-lasting and an enduring trading network has evolved. But despite these social relations, regulated by custom and long-term communicative interaction, the impingement of other forces is occasionally felt. When the traders arrive at a major market place they may have to contend with prices determined by the world market or by government exchange regulations. The long established network of moneylending may be severely curbed by new banking laws. In short, the social organization of the trading network meets the constraint of the market system, which in turn is part of a modern world-system. The persistence of local trading networks over long periods of time, in fact through several «world-systems» speaks, however, for their relative autonomy