Southeast Asian Geographical Context:
The Land Below the Winds

Geographical Attributes
Major Geographical Contrasts
Upland vs. Lowland Contrasts

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Geographical Attributes:


Southeast Asia
was once called
"Further India" or "East Indies," 
reiterating
the overshadowing influence of
China and India on Southeast Asia. 

   As a region,

Southeast Asia was first defined
during World War II
to outline the area of
Allied military concern
due to the fact that Japan overran
the whole region during the war.  

Nationalism
emerged after the liberation
of countries in the region from
the ashes of World War II.

 

philippine.mountain1.jpg (7389 bytes)
from Heaney and Regalado, Jr's book,
Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Rain Forest, 1998

philippine.mountain2.jpg (6435 bytes)
from Heaney and Regalado, Jr's book,
Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Rain Forest, 1998

 

Southeast Asia consists of
Brunei, Burma,  Cambodia,
Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia,
the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

   The Association of
Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN)
is made up of
all the above countries
except Cambodia. 
It is expected that
Cambodia will become
a full member of ASEAN
before the end of 1998. 


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Major Geographical Contrasts

The countries in the region
may be classified into
mainland and insular Southeast Asia. 

The mainland countries
are Burma, Cambodia,
Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

Except for Vietnam
which was mainly influenced
by Mahayana Buddhism,
the rest of the mainland countries
were influenced by Theravada Buddhism. 

Malaysia
is mainly continental,
with Sabah and Sarawak
being the insular part of the country. 

The insular (or maritime)

countries -- Brunei, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Singapore, and
the Philippines  -- are a mix of
Islamic and Christian Malay world
(with the exception of Singapore
which has a predominantly
Chinese population). 

    Unlike much of

China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea,
all of Southeast Asia
straddles the equator and is comprised
within the humid tropical zone.   

philippine.rainforest1.jpg (19525 bytes)
from Heaney and Regalado, Jr's book,
Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Rain Forest, 1998



philippine.forest1.jpg (25110 bytes)
from Heaney and Regalado, Jr's book,
Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Rain Forest, 1998

 

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The high mountain border
along the north mainland made
Southeast Asia more insulated from
large human migrations
compared to India and China. 
Instead, it was exposed as
a great maritime crossroads,
subject to Eastern and Western
sea-borne invasions. 

Its continental isolation meant a
lower population density
historically for Southeast Asia
compared to China and Japan.

   Long coastlines meant

Indonesia and the Philippines
suffered earlier and more drastically
from the effects of Western colonialism
by Holland, Spain, and the US. 

   Southeast Asia
is an area of rugged mountains,
fertile deltas, and river plains,
which are areas of original empires.  
It also has areas of unstable geology
(volcanic eruptions and earthquakes)
throughout the Philippines and Indonesia,
extending north through Taiwan and Japan. 

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Upland versus Lowland Contrasts


The contrast between
the uplands and lowlands
of Southeast Asia
is important in understanding
ethnic diversity in the region.  

   In the upland parts of Southeast Asia,

there is greater ethnic diversity.  

In general, tribal peoples
in the uplands are
politically fragmented,
and they practice
slash and burn agriculture
(with a notable exception of
parts of the Cordillera in the Philippines).  

The population in the uplands are
sparse, and they have
greater language and religious diversity. 

philippine.forest2.jpg (27826 bytes)
from Heaney and Regalado, Jr's book,
Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Rain Forest, 1998

philippine.island2.jpg (51202 bytes)

from Heaney and Regalado, Jr's book,
Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Rain Forest, 1998


In contrast,
the lowlanders
of Southeast Asia
are more homogenous
in terms of culture and language. 
The lowlands
also become the seat of
great past and primary cities
of today. 

Moreover, the lowlands
are united by
one dominant religion
and more politically unified.  
There is also
higher population density and
agriculture is predominantly based on
irrigated wet rice complex.
  

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