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Posted @withregram • @letmereadthis First #DeepDiveLSBC experience with the wonderful @literasea.Bookclub folks (in Nov). We discussed Iban Woman by Golda Mowe capturing the Iban people’s experience in Sarawak Malaysia and Borneo. Steeped in Iban culture and spirituality, we follow Ratai, a woman who defies standard conventions. Adept in the domain of hunting and battle, but weak in the traditional “female-dominated” realm of weaving or rice-planting, Ratai faces her own challenges of coming to terms with her natural inclinations. Why was she made this way? Why couldn’t she be “like other people”; people who fit neatly within a pre-confined box?
On first read, this felt like a conventional narrative of a woman who refused to stick by traditional gender norms. Ratai is loud when femininity is soft, and more comfortable with weapons than she is with weaver’s tools. But this is a false conclusion. We noted an equal weight and importance given to weaving and dyeing versus the skills of war. Both are equally “dangerous and strenuous”, but they are not the same skills. Such a refreshing perspective to a pervasive cultural narrative elsewhere where ‘feminine’ skills are at times perceived as less valuable.
This isn’t a book I will usually pick up and I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore beyond my comfort zone! I appreciated the rich homage and representation of Iban culture in prose; with a deep emphasis on spirituality, gods and community. I loved the nagayap courtship rituals described in the book - so interesting to see how courtship is done in other cultures beyond our own. Also noteworthy was the practice of bejalai; where an Iban departs their longhouse to acquire knowledge, skills and prestige from the wider world. They then bring it back to their longhouse, which enables them to evolve to adapt to modern culture today. But therein lies the struggle of choosing which cultural elements to preserve and which modern elements to adopt. (Cont in comments) #monsoonbooks

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Meet author Sue Paul on Zoom as she talks about researching the extraordinary life of Captain Thomas Bowrey, a 17th/18th-century maritime trader in Southeast Asia and the author of the first English-Malay dictionary, whose papers lay undisturbed for 200 years.

11.30am (UK) / 7.30pm (Malaysia), Monday 1 March 2021

All welcome. Register at

#monsoonbooks #biography #meettheauthor #malaysia #penang #authorevent #malaysianhistory

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Posted @withregram • @be_yourshelf Iban Woman tales the story of a heroine, Ratai, who becomes warrior and headhunter that represents her people and to avenge her loved one. It expands my knowledge on the status of women in the aboriginal group of Iban as this book explores in depth the topic of whether Iban maintains a patriarchal or matriarchal structure in their society.

From what I've observed in this story, men have more say in managing household, hunting and war. Good hunter will be highly respected by their people and shouldered the duty to lead the rest.

On the other hand, the reputation of an Iban woman is built on her skills in planting, weaving as well as whether her suitor continues to court her until they marry. With such interesting premises, the clashes between Ratai's personality as a lover of freedom and the traditional societal Iban values add powerful ambience to the overall story. This plot-driven story reminds me of Mulan to some extent.

I enjoyed the meticulous account of Iban cultures and mythology so much here. It's like the expanded fictionalised story of what I've learned from my highschool textbook. Also, Iban Woman teaches me about a new way to think about feminism. We often see from contemporary social media that the leading women must be strong and women with such personality will be regarded as more superior than the soft feminine females. I think the author observes such a scenario in our society nowadays and put forward a meaningful argument in the thought process of Ratai that both types of women should be deemed as equal and none of them should be deemed as inferior than each other: "She had grown up believing that weaving and planting were inferior to hunting. But now, sitting before the goddess, she realised that her role as a woman was to support life, to grow life. Planting, birthing and weaving were in no way inferior to any other role."

The execution of this story is absorbing and insightful. It is a meaningful novel that provides useful knowledge on the Iban culture. 4.5🌟

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Posted @withregram • @be_yourshelf Cocos Keeling Island, the only Muslim island in Australia. To be honest, I didn’t even know the existence of Cocos Keeling Island before reading Nigel Barley’s The Man Who Collected Women.

The Man that collected women here is the infamous Alexander Hare (based on true historical figure). Being an English Merchant adventurer in nineteenth century and with the establishment of his trading houses in India and Indonesia, he took the chance to exploit local women in South East Asia region and collected female slaves as his harem. Due to his controversial lifestyle as a polygamous man and political tension between Dutch and British, he was forced to leave Borneo by the British authority. Hare and his concubines, mostly Malay decent and a number of Chinese, Papuan and Indian heritage settled in a remote island and became the first settlers of Cocos Keeling Island.

Well I appreciate the steep and specific coverage of Hare as the historical figure that briefly gained his fame during 1810s, I feel that the overall characterisation is flat though readable. Overall, 3🌟.

“How had Hare become such an avid collector in the first place? He found himself attracted by different features in many different women yet despaired of finding perfection in any single individual, so that his collection was a sort of jigsaw composite person. Or perhaps it was the equivalent of the rijsttafel, invented by the Dutch, who- when faced with the overwhelming story of traditional Asian food - create a meal that consisted of dozens of little dishes, all different and so removed the need for a definitive choice that would have reduced it to a proper meal of meat and two vege.”

Thank you for the review copy @monsoonbooks ! @wayanmelayu

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