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The Iban Diaries of Monica Freeman 1949-1951, Including Ethnographic Drawings, Sketches, Paintings, Photographs and Letters


Edited by:

Laura P. Appell-Warren

Price $85.00 


ISBN 1-929900-13-9


In 1949 Monica Freeman  left her life in England and made her way to Sarawak where she joined her husband Derek who was engaged in anthropological fieldwork among the Iban of Sungai [river] Sut.  This was an extraordinary voyage for a young woman during the post World War II era, and she met with opposition, adventure and hardship as she traveled and worked with her husband.    

During her time in Sarawak Monica kept a series of diaries and sent letters home to her mother in England.  These diaries and letters are a personal record of the daily events in the lives of Monica and Derek Freeman and were not written with the intention of ever being published.  However, these diaries are also a rich source of information about both the Iban and the fieldwork process, and as such they are worthy of publication.  In these letters and diaries Monica vividly recounts her life during the fieldwork period.  Her sensitivity to the peoples she was living among, and her honesty as she recounts the trials and tribulations of doing fieldwork, are remarkable.  Many of us who have gone into the field with close family members will recognize and appreciate the moments in which she recounts episodes of disagreement and “feuds” with her spouse. These moments add a level of authenticity to this body of work and humanize both Monica and the fieldwork process. As one reads these letters and diary entries one begins to fall into the world of Sungai Sut and Rumah [longhouse] Nyala during the years of 1949-1951.

Most noteworthy however, are Monica’s Iban drawings and paintings. These drawings are ethnographically precise and many were later used to illustrate Derek Freeman’s writings as well as to illustrate The Encyclopedia of Iban Studies.  In addition to their ethnographic precision these drawings deserve attention because of the way in which  they so exactly capture a long lost moment in time.  All are breathtakingly beautiful. And, some, as you can see in the following sketch, reflect the good cheer and sense of humor with which Monica Freeman approached life in the field.         

This volume brings together, for the first time, her diaries, letters and drawings.  They are a tribute to a young woman who had to be tough as nails, resilient, flexible, cheerful and adventurous to engage in such an undertaking.  Having met Monica Freeman I can attest to the fact that she is all of these things.

Table of Contents


Laura P. Appell-Warren’s Acknowledgements

Monica Freeman’s Acknowledgements

Monica Freeman’s Introduction to Her Diaries and Letters

Monica Freeman’s Notes for the Reader on Iban Life

Laura P. Appell-Warren’s Notes for the Reader


The Diaries:

Diary 1: 7 June 1949 to 2 September 19491

Diary 2: 3 September 1949 to 5 November 194998

Diary 3: 6 November 1949 to 8 May 1950162

Diary 4: 9 May 1950 to 14 November 1950307

Diary 5: 14 November 1950 to 15 February 1951469

Diary 6: 7 March 1951 to 4 July 1951546





Complete List of Monica Freeman’s drawings that appear in:  Iban Agriculture (Freeman 1955); Iban Pottery  (Freeman 1957); The Family System of the Iban of Borneo  (Freeman 1962); Report on the Iban  (Freeman 1970); Some Reflections on the Nature of Iban Society  (Freeman 1981); The Encyclopedia of Iban Studies (2001) and The Coming of the Gods: An Iban Invocatory Chant (Timang Gawai Amat) of the Baleh River Region, Sarawak (Masing 1997).          




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