Managing a Tropical Environment: State Development in Early Historical-Era Kedah, Malaysia



A coastal, trade-based state flourished in Kedah, Peninsular Malaysia, between approximately A.D. 700 and 1500. The structure of that state grew primarily out of redistributive economic structures that had been developed to control internal and external exchange across a very heterogeneous landscape of inland forests, mountains, hills, wooded stream interfluves, and coastal estuaries. Internal and then external exchange developed as a dendritic, bulking and redistributive network along the area's streams, which provided the best transportation routes between inland forests and the coast. This redistributive economic system was closely controlled from the coastal trade center, which became the state's political center, the base from which the ruler and permanent officials closely controlled trade, other internal activities, and also relations with foreign visitors. The system was heterarchical, with unranked interactions at the upstream end of the network and peer polity relations between Kedah and foreign polities; in between these endpoints, the redistributive exchange system and the state that developed out of it formed a closely integrated hierarchy.