In the latter half of the nineteenth century, European colonial powers established economic and political control over most of Southeast Asia. The entrenchment of colonialism affected the lives of coastal merchants as well as those of peasants in interior villages. Yet how indigenous coastal merchants responded to the new situation has been a relatively neglected question in studies of this region. Based on the autobiography of Muhammad Saleh, a self-made Minangkabau merchant, this paper details the world and distinctive outlook of Minangkabau coastal merchants, and how Saleh successfully responded to changing political and economic conditions in West Sumatra in the late nineteenth century. Far from being the story of a helpless native merchant at the mercy of the Dutch governing power and Chinese merchants, the life of Muhammad Saleh reveals the adaptability of a certain sector of the indigenous merchant class in the Dutch East Indies. It also reflects the profound changes taking place within the world of Minangkabau merchants.

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