Nor were they connected centrally in a political or economic way with any place or government. Islam was different in its outlook toward other religions and toward the state in general. Techically, Muslims were required in many ways to favor other Muslims, and in theory, all Muslims pledged their allegiance to the caliphate.
If we look at the 10th century records, the empire of Zabag, which I believe represented the core of the Dragon and Bird Clan during this period, we could say that it was in a golden age. Maybe never before had it attained such power and wealth. Still, there is no real indication despite all this wealth of a strong move toward urbanization.
There is mention in Chinese texts of a brick wall linked with the capital of the empire, but this may have referred to the king's residence instead. About the only mention of opulence mentioned with connection to the island empires is the royal palace.
Still, we often see in excavations of this period, rich burials loaded with pricely Sung dynasty celadons, gold and other precious items.
Often empires reach their height just before the fall. This is the nature of cycles.
For all its great size and wealth, Zabag/Sanfotsi, still had problems to deal with. Not only with the expansion of Islam, but in a powerful neighbor to the south -- the kingdom of Toupo/Wakwak.
The thousand strong fleet of Toupo demonstrates the type of naval power this empire could project across the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. If the people of Zabag had become fat through success, then their empire must have been very attractive to the mighty fleets of Toupo.
Indeed, according to the annals of the Sung Dynasty, the nation of Sanfotsi (Zabag) sent an emissary in 992 AD to the Chinese emperor with news that his country had been invaded by Toupo and was seekng assistance. Apparently that invasion was not completely successful but it may have been the beginning of a gradual decline for the empire of the Clove Route.
The sending of the emissary to China occured about 150 years before contact was made between Prester John and the kingdoms of Europe. In the most popular of the letters of Prester John, we read of a peculiar mention of certain Templars who were thought to be conspiring with the Muslims:
There are Frenchmen among you, of your lineage and from our retinue, who hold with the Saracens. You confide in them and trust in them that they should and will help you, but they are false and treacherous...may you be brave and of great courage and, pray, do not forget to put to death those treacherous Templars.
Note that Prester John here mentions Templars in his own "retinue." Not only that, but the historical records show that at least two letters brought to the Holy Roman and Byzantine emperors were brought by emissaries of Prester John himself. And in 1177, Philippus the physician of Pope Alexander III claimed to have met with Prester John's ambassadors who had a letter for him to deliver to the Pope.
The connection with the Templars is of particular importance. As we related, when the Templar order ended in other parts of Europe it continued in Portugal under a new name: the Knights of the Order of Christ. Prince Henry the Navigator was grand master of this order.
Antonio Galvão mentions a map found in 1528 that was made 120 years earlier, or in 1408. The map was found in the abbey of Alcobaza, which belonged to the French Cistercian Order of Saint Bernard de Clairvaux. This order wrote the Rule for the original Poor Knights of Christ, aka the Templars. The Templar oath has also been found in the archives of the Alcobaza.
I would submit that the maps found by Don Pedro in 1428 and by Don Fernando in 1528 both had Templar origins and that the information was linked directly to their contacts with Prester John, i.e., the ruler of Sanfotsi/Zabag.
When Don Pedro and his brother Prince Henry the Navigator set up their School of Navigation in Portugal they had several goals including gaining spices and gold in the East Indies and seeking an ally against the Muslims in the legendary "Christian" king Prester John.
They initially saw Prester John in the Christian emperor of Ethiopia possibly as he was the only powerful Christian king outside of Europe. However, this did not prevent them from continuing east towards the lands where the spices originated.
From the testimony of the Chinese and Muslim historical texts, we find that Sanfotsi/Zabag had declined markedly at the time of these early Portuguese explorations. Near the end of the Yuan dynasty, the kingdom was know as Lusung.
By this time, key areas in Africa and along the Strait of Malacca were in or falling into Muslim hands. For Lusung, it may have seemed the only hope was adding new elements into the game. The two obvious choices would have been China and Christian Europe. Much of India had already been lost to Islamic advances and the south had all it could handle holding its own.
It was during this time that we see the new maps coming into play. However, if these maps really had the origins I suggest, the result may have not been quite what the Nusantao thalassocracy had desired. The Chinese used their new geographical knowledge mainly for tribute missions. They showed no interest in getting into direct competition as long as they received presents for the emperor. The Muslim admiral Zheng He was perfect for this job.
Indeed, they showed more interest in conquering Lusung than in attempting to gain control of the spice routes. In 1404, Ming emperor Yung Lo sent Zheng He with 60 ships to reduce Lusung, but the latter failed after three attempts. Four years later, Zheng He would set out on the first of his tribute voyages.
The Europeans on the other hand were more than willing to take on the Islamic empire for the spice routes. However, here again the results may have not been what the Nusantao desired. The carnage was great and the contest eventually led to the genocidal conquests of the Americas.
A magnitude 5 eruption of Mt. Pinatubu in 1450, give or take 50 years, probably was the beginning of the end for Lusung as a major power. Muslim Malays had control of much of insular Southeast Asia and the Christians of Europe were not far off.
To a great extent, this result though, I believe, had been expected centuries before. Indeed, it had become part of their prophetic belief.
Paul Kekai Manansala
Laufer, Berthold, “The Relations of the Chinese to the Philippines,” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collection, Vol. 50, Pt. 2, Publication No. 1734, p. 258.
Some articles on Austronesian influence in West Africa (authors have some different conclusions than myself)
Roger Blench's Article on West Africa, especially Indo-Pacific cultigens
Modern recreation of Cinnamon Route and West African voyages