SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Davison, Julian (1987) Images and metaphor: An analysis of Iban collective representation. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

PDF - Submitted Version
Download (26MB) | Preview


The Iban of Sarawak, East Malaysia, are the inhabitants of a vast equatorial rain forest which not only plays a crucial role in satisfying their material needs, but also provides them with a rich source of imagery for the portrayal of key cultural concerns and social values. That is to say, one finds that Iban collective representations are characterized by a profusion of floral and botanical forms, while the ritual use of plants features strongly in Iban religious life. Often these 'sacred' and 'profane' aspects of the plant world coincide, as in the case of Iban rice farming which both provides them with their staple diet, and at the same time is imbued with a deeply religious significance. The primary interest of this study, then, lies in its examination of the special relationship between man and plant in Iban culture. The research is based on library materials and takes, as its epistemological starting point, the idea that an understanding of metaphor can be usefully employed in the interpretation of symbolic phenomena. This approach works on two levels. On the one hand, there is the idea that a systematic examination of recurrent metaphorical forms - be they expressed in mythological narrative, ritual imagery, or everyday language - can be linked to dominant cultural values and social orientations. On the other hand, there is also the idea that a theory of metaphor - as developed in the field of literary criticism and semantics - can provide valuable insight into the way in which so-called 'symbolic phenomena' are 'actualized', or 'understood', by those for whom they operate. In the last instance, the study seeks to transcend the formal strictures of conventional structural analysis by suggesting ways in which the elaborate structures that are revealed by the latter are actually realized, or at least represented, in daily life - whether it be in the rarefied atmosphere of a religious ceremony or the more mundane setting at some commonplace activity. In doing so, the study raises a number of issues that are of a metaphysical nature - among them the question of indigenous notions of causation - thereby providing not just simply a re-evaluation of the existing ethnographic record, but also a point of departure for future inquiries in the field.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:04

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item