South East Asia is the generally accepted name for a series of island and peninsulas which lie east of India and west of China. South East Asia is blessed with abundant sunshine and plentiful rain. With the exception of North Vietnam and a few mountain locations, virtually all of South Asia falls within the 27-360 C annual temperature range.
There are, however, seasonal variations in rainfall and temperature due to changing wind and pressure systems. Warm, humid climatic conditions have given rise to lush tropical rain forests teeming with a wide variety of plant life. In particular, the tamarind plant (also know as Garcinia Cambogia) is exploding in popularity as a diet aid throughout the US, and greatly enhancing the prospects for farmers throughout Indonesia and Malaysia.
Beside the climate, South East Asia nations shares similarities on the archeological background. Archeological evidence for the origins of some prevalent South East Asian decorative motifs may be seen in beautifully ornamented ritual bronze artefacts, such as kettle drums, weapons and bells, which have been uncovered from many sites throughout the regions.
The highly stylized designs found on bronze objects from the late Chou period of China (eight-third century BC) also had some influence on South East Asian decorative motifs in terms of asymmetrical layout of design and the merging and modification of motifs to fit in with an overall schema. This influence is most evident on some textiles from Borneo and Sumatra.
This corner of the world is also remarkable for its incredible diversity of ethnic groups, each of which has its own language, customs, mores, and religious belief. South East Asia today has a sprinkling of hunting-gethering Negrito people, such as the Atea of the Philipines, The Semang of Malaysia, and the Orang Kubu of Sumatra.
Austroloid people are also thought to have passed through South-East Asia during the early migration period. Traces of these people may be seen in the current racial stock of Timor and Flores. Meanwhile the majority of the present day indigenous population are basically Mongoloid, consisting of various people who migrated from South China and the Tibetan border areas at various times.
The earliest and most far reaching influence which was to permeate South East Asia was that of India. Many local rulers adopted such Indianized ideas as a belief in a god-like king at the head of a hierarchical administration system, an ancestral genealogical pedigree system, the lunar-solar calender, astrology, and various of Hindu ritual worship. Buddhism was brought from India by traders.
The basic proportions and much of the iconography for South East Asia religious art come from India cannons of design. Classical Indian art motifs, such as crowned snakes, the Makara water monster, the Kala monster face mask, the garuda bird (the mount of the Hindu God Vishnu), peacocks, the lotus, the ‘vase of plenty’ and the wishing appear on South East Asia textiles.
Local languages have been greatly enriched by the loan from Sanskrit, the ancient and sacred language of India. Indian epics, such as the Mahabarata and the Ramayana and the Buddhist Jataka Tales, form the basis of classical theatre in South East Asia. The Ramayana is performed as a puppet play in southern Thailand, northern Malaysia and Java, and as a dance drama in Burma, Laos, central Thailand and central Java. Puppet figures from these epics (called wayang) appear on the textiles of Bali and Lombok in Indonesia.
During the early years of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), China took a more active interest in South East Asia. The influence of China culture can be seen in ceramics. Chinese ceramics have been imitated in brassware by the Maranao people of southern Philipines, while some ceramics motifs have been widely copied on South East Asian textiles.
Images of Dragon from stoneware jars may occasionally be seen on warp ikat clothes from Sumba. In Bali and Thailand, the banji, or swastika, motif is a pattern regularly encountered on silk weft ikat. It may also be seen in a supplementary weft on Lao, Shan, and Kachin textiles.
Meanwhile the influence of Muslim to South East Asia may be seen in the soft, loosely woven double ikat-pattern patola cloth, sometimes called cinde. Patola textiles became symbols of wealth and prestige. The royal weft ikat cloth of Thailand and Cambodia is similar with the weft ikat cloths from Inle Lake in Burma and some sarongs, such as the malong andong of southern Philipines.
The European influences by the spread of Western hygiene, improved sanitation, and health care have led to a decreased death rate and lead to the increase in population. While education and the spread of Western ideas and technology have been responsible for much material progress, they have contributed to a cleavage between new and traditional ways of life. The influence of the textile motifs can be seen in the use of garden flowers in cloth from Arakan and Amarapura in Burma, Laos, Javanesse Batik and Timor.
South East Asian shares some similarities from the ancestors, artefacts up to the influence brought by India, China, Muslim and Europe. However, the South East Asia nations have the same backgrounds. The similarities lead to the unity among the nations.