This text was copied from Wikipedia on 15 September 2017 at 6:00AM.

An 1801 map of the East Indies.

The East Indies or Indies are the lands of South and Southeast Asia.[1] In a more restricted sense, the Indies can be used to refer to the islands of Southeast Asia, especially the Malay Archipelago.[1][2] The name "Indies" is derived from the River Indus and is used to connote parts of Asia that came under Indian cultural influence (except Vietnam which is in the Chinese cultural sphere).

Dutch-held colonies in the area were known for about 300 years as the Dutch East Indies before Indonesian independence, while Spanish-held colonies were known as the Spanish East Indies before the US conquest and later Philippines' independence. The East Indies may also include the former French-held Indochina, former British territories Brunei and Singapore and former Portuguese East Timor. It does not, however, include the former Dutch New Guinea western New Guinea (West Papua), which is geographically considered to be part of Melanesia.

The inhabitants of the East Indies are almost never called East Indians, distinguishing them both from inhabitants of the Caribbean (which is also called the West Indies) and from the indigenous peoples of the Americas who are often called "American Indians." In colonial times they were just "natives". However, the peoples of the East Indies comprise a wide variety of cultural diversity, and the inhabitants do not consider themselves as belonging to a single ethnic group. Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism are the most popular religions throughout the region, while Sikhism, Jainism, Chinese folk religion and various other traditional beliefs and practices are also prominent in some areas. The major languages in this area draw from a wide variety of language families, and should not be confused with the term Indic, which refers only to a group of Indo-Iranian languages from South Asia.

The extensive East Indies are subdivided into two sections (from a European perspective), archaically called Hither India and Further India. The first is the former British India, the second is Southeast Asia.

Regions of the East Indies are sometimes known by the colonial empire they once belonged to, hence, British East Indies refers to Malaysia, the Dutch East Indies means Indonesia, and Spanish East Indies means the Philippines. Today, the term Indies might be considered pejorative, patronizing and oppressive by some[3].

Historically, the king of Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) was identified with "Prester John of the Indies", since that part of the world was imagined to be one of "Three Indias".


  East Indies
  Countries sometimes included in West Indies

Exploration of these regions by European powers first began in the late 15th century and early 16th century led by the Portuguese explorers.[4] The Portuguese described the entire region they discovered as the Indies. Eventually, the region would be broken up into a series of Indies. The East Indies, which was also called "Old Indies" or "Great Indies", consisting of India, and the West Indies, also called "New Indies" or "Little Indies", consisting of the Americas.[5]

These regions were important sources of trading goods, particularly cotton, indigo and spices after the establishment of European trading companies: the British East India Company and Dutch East India Company, among others, in the 17th century.

The New World was initially thought to be the easternmost part of the Indies by explorer Christopher Columbus, who had grossly underestimated the westerly distance from Europe to Asia. Later, to avoid confusion, the New World came to be called the "West Indies", while the original Indies came to be called the "East Indies".

The designation East Indian was once primarily used to describe people of all of the East Indies, in order to avoid the potential confusion from the term American Indian who were once simply referred to as Indians (see the Native American name controversy for more information).

See also


Coordinates: 1°00′N 103°00′E / 1.000°N 103.000°E / 1.000; 103.000

5 Annotations

Jenny Doughty  •  Link

Pepys' casual comment on April 8th 1660, about seeing two merchantmen bound for the East Indies, conceals a wealth of excitement and adventure. The English and the Dutch had fought for decades over the immensely valuable nutmeg trade with these islands. Eventually, the English ceded control of them to the Dutch in return for a valueless piece of land on the other side of the world: Manhattan.

Further details here:

Wim van der Meij  •  Link

Sorry Jenny, I am afraid you got this wrong: Manhattan (at that time "Nieuw Amsterdam") was traded for Suriname on the north coast of South America, next to Guyana.

Wim van der Meij  •  Link

Further to the above: the Dutch VOC (East Indian Company - maybe the first Company that could call itself "Limited") started to take the islands of the East Indies in the beginning of the 17th century. The English have disputed the Dutch control over the area but they were chased away time and again. The English concentrated on India instead.

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Colony trading

In the 1667 Treaty of Breda, the Dutch ceded the New Netherlands colony to England (including Manhattan), and England ceded BOTH Suriname and the island of Run in the East Indies to the Dutch.

In fact, England even gave Guyana (abutting the western boundary of Suriname) to the Dutch (the English didn't get it back until 1815).

So both Wim and Jenny are right. Really, with so much real estate changing hands, who's to say which colony was traded for which other colony? It was a package deal.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


  • Apr