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Mothers, Lovers Others: An Evolutionary Analysis of Womanhood in Western Malayo-Polynesian Oral Traditions

Abdul Hadi, Nurul Ikhlas (2016) Mothers, Lovers Others: An Evolutionary Analysis of Womanhood in Western Malayo-Polynesian Oral Traditions. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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This thesis is the first to study female characters from Western Malayo-Polynesian oral tradition. It is also the first to apply an evolutionary literary analysis to these stories. The aim was to analyse the life history cycle of women as portrayed in oral stories from the Western Malayo-Polynesian language group, which includes languages spoken across southern Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, the island states of western Micronesia, and Madagascar. The general principle behind evolutionary literary theory is that any knowledge (including stories) generated by the mind is a biological phenomenon and worthy of scientific study. This tenet is then compounded with an evolutionary understanding of life whereby all animals, including humans, are driven to ensure somatic success through the preservation of life, and reproductive success through the proliferation of genes. It is argued that oral stories contain implicit evolutionary ‘lessons’ that may assist humans in obtaining somatic and reproductive success. The most recurring evolutionary theme in female-led Western Malayo-Polynesian oral stories revolves around reproductive success, with approximately 90% of stories in this thesis focusing either on family life or the search for a partner. In the section ‘Tales of Family Life’, stories portray the complexity of family dynamics, showing how family members must sacrifice their selfish interests for the sake of their kin in order to maximize the propagation of their genes. In ‘Tales of Searching for a Partner’, heroines take part in complex mate attraction and retention strategies, showing that the search for a ‘Happily Ever After’ (or evolutionary fitness) is not always a straightforward journey. Unsurprisingly, themes without direct correlations with evolutionary fitness form only 10% of the entire corpus. ‘Tales Beyond Family and Partners’ attempt to explore stories of evolutionary anomalies through the phenomenon of childfree and heroic women. Evolutionary studies, however, have yet to provide a satisfactory theory on women whose behaviour seems to hold little or no reproductive advantages, and analysis of these types of stories would benefit from further research. As a multidisciplinary study, this thesis is able to impact future research in three different ways. Firstly, it is hoped that it will bring attention to and increase knowledge of the lesser known and under-studied Western Malayo-Polynesian oral traditions. Secondly, the thesis can also serve as a model for the application of evolutionary theory to the folkloric study of oral stories. Finally, it shows the potential of applying evolutionary literary theory to non-Western cultures. It is hoped that future research will be able to expand the findings of this thesis either through larger or more concentrated pools of data, with the aim of emphasizing the universal drives that underlie our common humanity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: oral tradition, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Malay, Malaysian, Indonesian, Philippines, Chamorro, Guam, Palau, Malagasy, Madagascar, evolution, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary literary theory, folktales
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Languages Cultures and Societies (Leeds)
The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Languages Cultures and Societies (Leeds) > East Asian Studies (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.713205
Depositing User: Nurul Ikhlas Abdul Hadi
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2017 13:43
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2018 13:21
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/16876

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