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The Indies, on the display globe of the ,
The Indies, on the display globe of the Field Museum, Chicago

The Indies or East Indies (or East India) is a term used to describe lands of South and Southeast Asia, occupying all of the former British India, the present Indian Union, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and also Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, which was last called the Dutch East Indies before independence.

The East Indies also include Iranian Baluchistan, Indochina, the Philippine Islands, Brunei, Singapore and East Timor. It does not, however, include Irian Jaya (West Papua), which is part of Melanesia.

The inhabitants of the East Indies are called East Indians, especially in the Caribbean. Anthropogists also call them Indic.

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

Exploration of these lands by European powers began in the 16th century and they became important sources of trade 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 as a more precise version of Indian, to avoid the potential confusion as to whether one means people from the country of India or Native Americans. Asian Indian is a similar alternative term.

East Indian is also 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 forced on 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.

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Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46