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The Flaming Womb: Repositioning Women in Early Modern Southeast Asia
352pp. July 2006
The Flaming Womb: Repositioning Women in Early Modern Southeast Asia
Author: Andaya, Barbara Watson;
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

"The Princess of the Flaming Womb," the Javanese legend that introduces this pioneering study, symbolizes the many ambiguities attached to femaleness in Southeast Asian societies. Yet despite these ambiguities, the relatively egalitarian nature of male–female relations in Southeast Asia is central to arguments claiming a coherent identity for the region. This challenging work by senior scholar Barbara Watson Andaya considers such contradictions while offering a thought-provoking view of Southeast Asian history that focuses on women’s roles and perceptions. Andaya explores the broad themes of the early modern era (1500–1800)—the introduction of new religions, major economic shifts, changing patterns of state control, the impact of elite lifestyles and behaviors—drawing on an extraordinary range of sources and citing numerous examples from Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, Philippine, and Malay societies. In the process, she provides a timely and innovative model for putting women back into world history

Andaya approaches the problematic issue of "Southeast Asia" by considering ways in which topography helped describe a geo-cultural zone and contributed to regional distinctiveness in gender construction. She examines the degree to which world religions have been instrumental in (re)constructing conceptions of gender— an issue especially pertinent to Southeast Asian societies because of the leading role so often played by women in indigenous ritual. She also considers the effects of the expansion of long-distance trade, the incorporation of the region into a global trading network, the beginnings of cash-cropping and wage labor, and the increase in slavery on the position of women.

Erudite, nuanced, and accessible, The Flaming Womb makes a major contribution to a Southeast Asia history that is both regional and global in content and perspective.

5 illus.

"An authoritative and compelling book, suitable for students and scholars alike, and a must read for those teaching and researching in the field of Southeast Asian studies. . . . [Andaya] has produced the definitive book on women in pre-nineteenth-century Southeast Asia and has no doubt set a new standard for future scholarship on women and gender in the region." —Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient (53:3, 2010)

"Andaya’s work will long remain a key source for anyone teaching world or comparative history but should also stimulate further research on specific topics in particular geographical and cultural contexts in Southeast Asia." —Journal of World History (June 2009)

"Reading The Flaming Womb is very much like watching a talented artist applying his craft to create a beautiful still life, with every stroke of his brush adding a riot of colors, producing a scintillating play on lights and shadows, and evoking the suble dimension of the subject finally emerging. The end result is the same: pure joy." —Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (80:293, December 2007)

"The definitive volume on women in Southeast Asia history. . . . [Anadaya’s] book is encyclopedic in its inclusiveness yet it does not force a homogenizing or uniform interpretation upon the material. Instead, Andaya brings symphonic order to the cacophony of beliefs and practices. . . . The examples are detailed, specific, precise and attentive. This is the hallmark of her work. . . . Masterfully composed." —Pacific Affairs (80:1, Spring 2007)

"Andaya has penned the definitive volume on women in early modern Southeast Asia. Graduates and undergraduates will find Andaya’s work approachable and foundational to their understanding of Southeast Asian history, society, politics, and religion. . . . Andaya’s tightly argued book is masterfully organized and is the most comprehensive book to date on women in Southeast Asia. A must read for Southeast Asianists and historians of gender and women." —Choice (February 2007)

Author: Andaya, Barbara Watson;
Barbara Watson Andaya is professor of Asian studies and director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Hawai‘i.
Read the introduction (PDF).



1. Women and "Southeast Asia"

2. Early Modernity, Sources, and Women’s History

3. Women and Religious Change

4. Women and Economic Change

5. States, Subjects, and Households

6. Women, Courts, and Class

7. Being Female in "Early Modern" Southeast Asia



Selected Bibliography