Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrantsby Sunil S. Amrith
The Indian Ocean was global long before the Atlantic, and today the countries bordering the Bay of BengalIndia, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysiaare home to one in four people on Earth. Crossing the Bay of Bengal places this region at the heart of world history for the first time. Integrating human and environmental history,/i>
The Indian Ocean was global long before the Atlantic, and today the countries bordering the Bay of BengalIndia, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysiaare home to one in four people on Earth. Crossing the Bay of Bengal places this region at the heart of world history for the first time. Integrating human and environmental history, and mining a wealth of sources, Sunil Amrith gives a revelatory and stirring new account of the Bay and those who have inhabited it.
For centuries the Bay of Bengal served as a maritime highway between India and China, and then as a battleground for European empires, all while being shaped by the monsoons and by human migration. Imperial powers in the nineteenth century, abetted by the force of capital and the power of steam, reconfigured the Bay in their quest for coffee, rice, and rubber. Millions of Indian migrants crossed the sea, bound by debt or spurred by drought, and filled with ambition. Booming port cities like Singapore and Penang became the most culturally diverse societies of their time. By the 1930s, however, economic, political, and environmental pressures began to erode the Bay’s centuries-old patterns of interconnection.
Today, rising waters leave the Bay of Bengal’s shores especially vulnerable to climate change, at the same time that its location makes it central to struggles over Asia’s future. Amrith’s evocative and compelling narrative of the region’s pasts offers insights critical to understanding and confronting the many challenges facing Asia in the decades ahead.
The central premise of Amrith's (modern Asian history, Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London) work is that the countries in the littoral of the Bay of Bengal have been "shaped by migration" and are ethnically diverse. His focus is on migrations from the eastern coast of India, particularly the Tamil migration to Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Trade links between India and Southeast Asia flourished from the sixth century onward, but the period of the greatest traffic was between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, when Tamil and Chinese migrant laborers cleared the forests of Malaysia for rubber plantations. The numbers of this diaspora were comparable to the migrations from Europe to the United States during the same time. In this extensively researched book (it includes almost 50 pages of notes), Amrith covers the historical background, the political and social world of the migrants, and the human suffering: the inhumanity of plantation life, disease and high mortality rates, and the aftermath of the crumbling of the European empires. VERDICT This title would be an appropriate choice for South Asia and South East Asia collections in academic libraries.—Ravi Shenoy, Naperville, IL
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Meet the Author
Sunil S. Amrith is Mehra Family Professor of South Asian Studies and Professor of History at Harvard University.
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