PhD defended at:
This dissertation is devoted to slave gathering warfare from the 18th to mid-19th centuries with a focus on the great reshuffling of human populations in mainland Southeast Asia due to the rise of the Konbaung Dynasty. Beginning soon after its founding in 1752, this powerful, expansionary kingdom conquered kingdoms and principalities far afield from its homeland in Upper Burma. Among these conquests were the distant kingdoms of Ayutthaya, sacked in 1767, and Manipur, raided repeatedly until its eventual depopulated between 1819 and 1826. The cumulative effect of these wars with Ayutthaya and Manipur was that many tens of thousands of foreign captives were forcibly relocated to Upper Burma. My research attempts to understand captives taken in mainland Southeast Asia’s campaigns of slave gathering warfare as potent historical actors capable of effecting artistic, cultural and political changes both minor and sweeping in their respective locations of captivity. Interstate slave gathering warfare was an endemic feature of pre-colonial Southeast Asian statecraft. Kingdoms rose and fell throughout Southeast Asia based on their ability to accumulate some portion of their rivals’ populations and to protect the people in the territories under their control from seizure and forced relocation. Numerous studies have been devoted to this subject, but in nearly all of them war captives are understood as something we might call “labor inputs” that are crucial for understanding the vicissitudes of power in the Southeast Asian context. Yet, in most of these studies the “input” of captives remains abstract—large populations equal economic power, ergo the introduction of additional captured people increase the state’s wealth and security. Yet, we know that communities of skilled artisans ranging from dancers and astrologers to metal workers and elephant veterinarians (to name just a few) were often valued objects of slave gathering warfare. Kings and their military generals targeted these artisans precisely because they hoped to utilize the skills and knowledge of these captives. For this reason, we can productively deepen our understanding of cultural development in mainland Southeast Asia by analyzing slave gathering warfare as a crucial vector for intra-regional cultural exchange; and to shift our analysis of captive people and their descendants from reductively simple “labor inputs” to historical agents with the potential for effecting transformative cultural changes in the land of their captivity. This thesis is predominantly focused on captives that were incorporated into the royal service system as skilled artisans, royal advisors, and high-level military personnel. It is among this stratum of captives that the most discernible kinds of cultural exchange took place. This is largely due to the survival of their material culture and/or the vitality of these communities that has sustained into the present day. My research will combine analysis of conventional textual sources with a more unconventional use of “cultural” sources to uncover the complicated history of multilateral cultural exchange that occurred in Upper Burma due to the forced relocation of war captives from Ayutthaya and Manipur.