Indies: see East Indies; West Indies.

The Indies or East Indies (or East India) is a term often used to refer to the islands of SE Asia, especially the Malay Archipelago. In a wider sense, the Indies is also used to describe lands of South and Southeast Asia, occupying all of the present Indian Union, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and also Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, Singapore, the Philippines, East Timor, Malaysia and Indonesia. (Dutch-held colonies in the area were known as the Dutch East Indies before Indonesian independence).

The East Indies may also include Indochina, the Philippine Islands, Brunei, Singapore and East Timor. It does not, however, include western New Guinea (West Papua), which is part of Melanesia.

The inhabitants of the East Indies are sometimes called East Indians, distinguishing them both from inhabitants the subcontinent of India, the Caribbean which is also called the "West Indies," and from the indigenous peoples of the Americas who are often called "American Indians." (In North America however, the term East Indian may be used for people originating India living in North America.) However, the peoples of the East Indies comprise a wide variety of cultural diversity, and the inhabitants do not consider themselves as belonging to a single ethnic group. Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are the most popular religions throughout the region, while Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism and various other traditional beliefs and practices are also prominent in some areas. The major languages in this area draw from a wide variety of language families, and should not be confused with the term Indic, which refers only to a group of Indo-European languages from South Asia.

The extensive East Indies are subdivided into two sections (from a European perspective), archaically called Hither India and Further India. The first is the former British India, the second is modern Southeast Asia or the ASEAN Bloc.

Regions of the East Indies are sometimes known by the colonial empire they once belonged to, hence, British East Indies refers to Malaysia, the Dutch East Indies means Indonesia, and Spanish East Indies means the Philippines.


Exploration of these regions by European powers first began in the late 15th century and early 16th century, led by the Portuguese explorers. These regions became important sources of trading goods, particularly cotton, indigo and spices after the establishment of European trading companies designed for the specific purpose: the British East India Company and Dutch East India Company, among others, in the 17th century.

The New World was initially thought to be the easternmost part of the Indies by explorer Christopher Columbus, who had grossly underestimated the westerly distance from Europe to Asia. Later, to avoid confusion, the New World came to be called the "West Indies", whilst the original Indies came to be called the "East Indies".

The racial designation East Indian was once primarily used to describe people of all of the East Indies, but more recently it has been used widely as a more precise version of an Indian from India, to avoid the potential confusion from the term American Indian (alternately: Native Americans) who were once simply referred to as Indians (see the Native American name controversy for more information).

East Indian is also a designation for an ethnic or sub-ethnic group, based in and around the city of Bombay or Mumbai. These people, part of the original Konkani ethnic group, had been evangelized under Portuguese auspices, and had partly Lusitanized. Later, the area was conquered by the Maratha Empire, and the Marathi language was adopted by the people. Under British rule, they were known as Bombay Portuguese, but, when immigrants from Portuguese-ruled Goa began to enter Bombay, in order to distinguish themselves from the Goans (whom the British also called Portuguese), they renamed themselves "East Indians", purportedly after the British East India Company, in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the British, and as locals of Bombay as distinguished from the Goans.

See also


{{Regions of the world}

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