Despite the existence of about a thousand ethnolinguistic groups in Southeast Asia, very few historians of the region have engaged the complex issue of ethnicity. Leaves of the Same Tree illustrates how historians can use it both as an analytical tool and as a subject of analysis to add further depth to understanding of Southeast Asian pasts. The Straits of Melaka offers an ideal testing ground for understanding the process of ethnic formation, and the author examines ethnic groups along the straits to document the manner in which they responded to the vicissitudes of the international marketplace.
Earliest and most important were the Malayu (Malays), whose dominance in turn contributed to the “ethnicization” of other groups in the straits. By deliberately politicizing differences within their own ethnic community, the Malayu encouraged the emergence of new ethnic categories, such as the Minangkabau, the Acehnese, and, to a lesser extent, the Batak.
Leaves of the Same Tree demostrates how problematizing ethnicity can offer a more nuanced view of ethnic relations in a region that boasts one of the greatest diversities of language and culture in the world. Creative and challenging, the book uncovers many new questions that promise to revitalize and reorient the historiography of Southeast Asia.
“Andaya’s work reminds us that we can learn a lot about our present by understanding our past…Leaves of the Same Tree is an important and timely contribution to the discussion on ethnic history and, consequently, to contemporary ethnic politics. Accessibly written, this is an excellent example of how the study of history can be pressing and relevant for a wider audience.” — Rusaslina Idrus, Universiti Malaya
“This review cannot do justice to the intellectual stimulation that this volume provides. It is to be hoped that it will intiate a debate in which historians and anthropologists can both participate.” — John Miksic, National University of Singapore
About the author: Leonard Y. Andaya is Professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Hawaii.