An overarching thesis in Peter Boomgaard’s seminal synthesis of Southeast Asia’s environmental history over 2000 years is that global commerce and demographic shifts have dialectically interacted to accelerate environmental change in the region. The textbook offers a new historical periodization that emphasizes phases of globalization rather than moments of political change. This paper asks: How do we locate the uplands of the Malay world in this history? It examines this question through the lens of camphor, a commodity that had been harvested and traded in the highlands of North Sumatra since the end of the 11th century. Used in medicine and religious rituals across Asia, camphor was an important export commodity although the tree from which this substance was extracted generally resisted cultivation. Paying particular attention to the rituals and myths surrounding camphor extraction found in Malay manuscripts and accounts from Dutch naturalists, I argue that these tales were not merely superstitions stemming from animist traditions. Rather, they play an important role in regulating the production of camphor and keeping the production relatively sustainable, in self-exile from a cash-based economy until the late 19th century. The story of camphor – at the periphery of a global periphery - complicates the chronology of Southeast Asia’s environmental globalization while also re-opening some provocations that Boomgaard had raised in his use of Wallerstein’s world systems model to explain Southeast Asia’s present ecological crisis.