The Straight of Malacca – A Dark Passage

NG Mallaca Straights Cover

For centuries, this sliver of ocean has captivated seamen, offering the most direct route between India and China, along with a bounty of resources, including spices, rubber, mahogany, and tin. But it is a watery kingdom unto itself, harboring hundreds of rivers that feed into the channel, miles of swampy shoreline, and a vast constellation of tiny islands, reefs, and shoals. Some inhabitants made their living as pirates, preying on foreign vessels that dared to ply their waters. Armadas of these skilled sea raiders in light, maneuverable craft regularly plundered passing ships and retreated upriver to fortified villages. Their raids yielded troves of gold, gems, gunpowder, opium, and slaves, which they used to build powerful sultanates that dominated much of the Sumatran and Malaysian coastlines.

An extract from this month’s excellent National Geographic cover story “The Straight of Malacca – Dark Passage