Two Book Nerds Talking Presents


8 Books. Discussions. Interviews. In-Class Activities.

Ep 1 | What Does It Mean To Be A ‘Perfect Girl’? 


Iban Woman by Golda Mowe (2018)

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Adventure

In Golda Mowe’s Iban Woman we meet Ratai, a young girl who lives the traditional Iban hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Ratai is good at hunting and longs to seek adventure beyond their tribal territories, both traits that mark her as tomboyish to others in her tribe. But feminine arts such as planting a bountiful rice harvest, or weaving skirts and mats don’t come easily to her. When Ratai’s love interest turns away from her because of her “unwomanly” ways, her determination to show she is everyone she is every bit a woman curses her to ill health. It takes an encounter with Kumang, the goddess of weavers and headhunters to show Ratai that there isn’t one way to be a perfect woman, but embracing one’s uniqueness is the path to self realisation and greatness.

In our discussion we will talk about life in contemporary society where the pressure to conform to unrealistic and non-inclusive ideals of how we should look, how we should act, what we should strive for and aim for in life. How are girls affected by mass and social media ideals of beauty and markers of success? And how can girls reclaim the meaning of being a ‘perfect girl’?

Content Warnings:  These are stories of headhunters so there are descriptions of a battle and how to make shrunken heads in case there are some that are squeamish.

Additional Materials

5 Discussion Questions

1/ After listening to the episode what do you think of Ratai? How do you relate to what she is going through?

2/ What do you think of the Iban mythology that has a creator god that assigns gender? 

3/ What is your reaction to the phrase a ‘perfect girl?’ 

4/  How do you think social media affects the way we view ourselves? Do you think the standards are unrealistic?

5/ Give some examples of other books and movies that has a girl going on a hero’s journey? eg. Mulan. How does she encounter and adapt to the rules of her world?  

For questions based on the book excerpts in the episode click here.

For Iban Woman book excerpts to perform click here.

Check out the other two books in the Iban Dream trilogy. 

Iban Dream is about Ratai’s grandfather Bujang Marais, the great headhunter who was raised by apes.

Iban Journey is about her father Nuing’s adventures in the invisible world.

Other historical fiction set in Malaysia, check out the YA books of Ninot Aziz.

Kirana, Dreams After The Rose is about a girl who goes back in time and meets Tun Fatimah during the last days of Melaka.

Siti, Queen of the Eastern Skies is on the historical Kelantanese Queen, Cik Siti Wan Kembang.

Want more local mythological retellings?

Check out our interview with Tuttu Duta on her reimagining of Raja Bersiong in The Blood Prince of Langkasuka

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