The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘Iban Dream’ Borneo Headhunting Fiction by Golda Mowe

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 04•14

MoweIbanMalaysian author Golda Mowe has written one of the more outstanding books we’ve encountered, the beautiful, at times shocking, and endlessly fascinating Iban Dream (2013, ISBN 978-981-4423-12-0). Through 288 pages, Mowe weaves an Iban fantasy that encompasses Dayak rituals, myths, and realities. First, a little background.

Visitors to the Sarawak state in Malaysian Borneo will encounter the Iban culture, in museums, antiquities and crafts shops in Kuching, and in small talk with Iban acquaintances. Go on a longhouse tour, and you’ll see trophy heads in each longhouse. Mowe’s mother is Iban. She knows her stuff.

In Iban Dream, Mowe tells the fascinating tale on an orphaned boy who becomes a great warrior and leader, defeating other tribes, pirates who have kidnapped loved ones, and a startling list of mythological half-human beasts that form the basis for Iban mythology. She offers breathtaking prose on the nature of the forests and animal life of Borneo and provides important background information on Iban culture and taboos. But we liked her writing on headhunting perhaps best of all.

It’s difficult for westerners to get their heads around headhunting. Borneo-based author James Ritchie has written some magnificent documents on the practice of headhunting, including a primer on how heads are smoked. But Mowe takes another approach, incorporating the practice into a mythological story by taking an insider’s perspective that, we think, can only be revealed in this manner by an Iban. From felling a tree to create a warrior’s shield, to describing how a longhouse is built and outfitted, to the relationships of generations, Mowe hasn’t missed anything.

The story is filled with high drama, too, and the author has the craft of adventure writing down to a fine art. This may not be the book you’ll take with you on your flight to Borneo, but it’s certainly the one you’ll want to bring home with you for the flight home. It unveils countless mysteries and keeps the reader riveted. It serves as an anthropological book, a mythological tale, and high adventure. It’s not to be missed by any reader desiring to read intimate details of native culture and is an important book on Borneo. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

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