Social Reciprocity Facilitated Overseas Exchange in Early Austronesian Cultures
Archaeological investigations reveal voyaging networks involving the exchange of stone artifacts among early Austronesian-speaking communities in Taiwan and surrounding areas. Two case studies of maritime trade are presented: (1) the case of nephrite jade (used for making prestige goods such as lingling-o ear ornaments) which was exchanged from Taiwan to various locations across Southeast Asia around 500 BC to AD 500; and (2) the case of utilitarian tools, made of high quality basalt, that were mass-produced in the Penghu Archipelago (Taiwan Strait) and transported to Taiwan during the Neolithic era. Evidence from historical linguistics and comparative ethnography helps explain the social and economic context in which jade ornaments, basalt tools and other objects changed hands. It is argued that, in the absence of “true money,” which was unknown among early Austronesian communities, social reciprocity played a formal role in facilitating exchange. The manner in which social reciprocity may have facilitated exchange is illustrated by Polynesian gift exchange, a form of reciprocity where the primary value lies in creating and maintaining social bonds rather than in immediate economic gain. Ferdinand Braudel’s “tramping” and destination-conscious commerce models offer a useful framework for interpreting early Austronesian maritime trade.
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