Six or seven years ago I blogged about an interesting report on the use of beads by Maccassar fishermen to buy access to trepang beds of the coast of Arnhem land from the local population.
The interesting thing about these beads is that they were not South East Asian in origin and were either of Dutch, Czech or Venetian manufacture and have been found in eighteenth century sediment deposits.
At the time I supposed that the Macassar trepang traders had acquired them from Dutch or Portuguese merchants as part of the spice trade.
I’ve recently been reading My Life in Sarawak by Margaret Brooke.
Margaret Brooke, was the wife of the second Brooke Rajah – the white Rajahs – in Sarawak describes how, on a visit to Sibu in the 1870’s, seeing poly coloured glass beads from Venice for sale in the bazaar.
Sarawak was, of course a wild and untamed place still, and despite (or perhaps because of) the Brooke Rajahs in Kuching, was not seriously exposed to European traders, although Chinese merchants had been present well before the Brookes arrived on the scene.
The local Dayak population apparently were very fond of them and would trade forest products with the local Chinese merchants to acquire them.
This suggests that there must have been quite complex trading networks in place by which the Chinese merchants acquired the glass beads to trade on …