Edges of worlds: Torres Strait Islander peripheral participation in ancient globalizations

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In September 1606, ocers and crew of the San Pedrico and its launch Los Tres Reyes Magos, a Spanish expedition under the command of Captain Luis Vaéz de Torres, became the rst recorded Europeans to sail through Torres Strait and to meet Torres Strait Islanders (Figure 4.4.1). According to Don Diego de Prado y Tovar, who chronicled the voyage, they named one of the islands Isla de los Perros (Island of Dogs) on account of local howling dogs (Hilder 1980: 74). On this same island, the expedition came across a cache of turtle shell plates used to make masks, a valuable product which Prado commented could fetch 300 ducats per hundredweight in Malacca to the west in Island Southeast Asia (Hilder 1980: 74). At the nearby island of Iama, named by the expedition Isla de Caribes, eight Islanders in two large outrigger canoes were encountered (Hilder 1980: 76). Here in central Torres Strait, 420 years ago, two groups of people with homelands on opposite sides of the globe, met for the rst time over the course of a couple of days. While such encounters are usually couched singularly in terms of European globalization of the modern era, the circumstances and events of the meetings expressed the results of what I dene as ancient globalizations stretching back thousands of years. The presence of dogs was an expression of an Aboriginal Australia globalization that emerged c.4,000 years ago; the presence of outrigger canoes was an expression of a Melanesian New Guinea globalization that emerged c.3,300 years ago; while the presence of valuable turtle shell plates was an expression of a Southeast Asia globalization that commenced only a century prior to the Spanish expedition. This chapter explores the involvement of Torres Strait Islanders in the dynamic peripheries of these three globalizations prior to the well-documented transformative impacts of British globalization and colonization commencing in the nineteenth century. Employing Jennings’s (2011, this volume) conceptualization of globalizations, I argue that the impact of the two ancient (Australia and New Guinea) globalizations on Torres Strait Islander society was equally as transformative as the impact of nineteenth-century British colonization.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization
EditorsTamar Hodos
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315449005
ISBN (Print)9780415841306
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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