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British Constructions of Indigenous Piracy in the Eastern Arabian Sea

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Maritime and Oceanic History Graduate Workshop

Through their hereditary title of surkhail, or admiral, of the Maratha state, the Angria challenged effectively and menacingly, European and Mughal claims to sovereignty along the Konkan littoral and the waters surrounding Bombay from the period c. 1690 to 1756. Considered pirates by early English East India Company (EIC) chroniclers, later historians of the colonial period carried forward these misconceptions and added to them, a viewpoint that most historians of our period have uncritically adopted. What has occurred is the creation of a distorted historiography that delves much deeper than polemics on who or what constitutes a pirate. More importantly, it has led to an erroneous understanding of how political sovereignty was articulated in the maritime areas of northwestern India. Despite a wealth of contrary archival evidence pertaining to the EIC and the Angrias, the old historiography continues to persist. My paper will trace the historiography of the Angrias beginning in the earliest periods through to the present day. In doing so, not only will the fallacy of relying on a few select biased accounts will be demonstrated, but I will shed light on the reality of the complex and inter-related political contestations that took place in the region. In this manner a more nuanced and thoughtful approach to indigenous Indian polities will be undertaken that enables a better understanding of the rise of the EIC as the eventual ruler of the subcontinent.

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