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Victorious Wives: The Disguised Heroines in 19th-Century Malay Syair

MULAIKA HIJJAS studied at Harvard College and the University of Oxford before earning a PhD in traditional Malay literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the University of London. She is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia, SOAS.

MBRAS Monograph No. 44

NUS Press & MBRAS (First printing, 2011)
324 pages including Appendices


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ISBN: 9789971695262 Product ID: 3187 Subjects: , Sub-subjects: , ,

In Victorious Wives: The Disguised Heroines In 19th-Century Malay Syair, Mulaika Hijjas uses tools drawn from literary criticism and gender studies to look at a previously neglected corpus of Malay literature in a new light. The relatively equal gender relations in Southeast Asia have long been presented as a defining characteristic of the region, but there are few detailed case studies of pre-modern women or women’s literature to illustrate this point, and studies of women in traditional literature have of necessity relied on texts that expressed masculine viewpoints. The syair of the Riau Archipelago that are the basis of this book, six nineteenth-century Malay narrative poems, are a unique exception in that they allow access to women’s imaginative worlds, and they provide a significant historical backdrop to anthropological accounts of gender in the Malay world in modern times.

Victorious Wives engages with these poems not as historical documents to be mined for data but as complex literary works. In the story lines, the heroine disguises herself as a man in order to rescue a male relative, reversing and subverting the assignation of passion (nafsu) to women and reason (akal) to men that was commonplace of religious discourse at the time. The book develops a nuanced textual analysis of this material, and explores the interplay between social reality and literary fiction.


Introduction: Romantic Syair in 19th-Century Riau

1. Not Just Fryers of Bananas and Sweet Potatoes: Women in the Malay Literary Community
2. The Best Ones Make You Cry: Genre, Gender and Catharsis
3. Ruling Passions: The Control of Emotion in Syair Siti Zuhrah and Syair Sultan Yahya
4. From Battlefield to Bedroom: War and Marriage in Syair Siti Zubaidah and Syair Sultan Abdul Muluk
5. Calculating Women, Foolish Men: Reason in Syair Siti Dhawiyyah and Syair Saudagar Bodoh

Conclusion: The Heritage of the Disguised Heroine Syair

Appendix I: Women Authors and Copyists
Appendix II: List of Manuscripts
Appendix III: Extracts and Translations

Weight0.505 kg
Dimensions22.9 × 15.3 × 2 cm






Year Published

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