Creative nonfiction: true stories of people involved in fifty years of conservation of the orang-utan in Sarawak, Malaysia

Yin, Christina Amanda Chueh Ping (2021) Creative nonfiction: true stories of people involved in fifty years of conservation of the orang-utan in Sarawak, Malaysia. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This study explores the fourth genre, creative nonfiction, as the means to retell the stories of lived experiences. The aim of the study was to gather stories of ordinary people working to conserve orang-utans in Sarawak through in-depth interviews based on narrative inquiry principles, and then to re-tell the stories by crafting a creative nonfiction artefact composed of different subgenres such as Shorts, Portraits, Literary Journalism, hybrid nonfiction pieces and stories partially or wholly told in the participants’ own voices in a subgenre that the narrative inquirer-writer identified and named the Crafted Interview.

Nineteen individuals were identified and interviewed, using semi-structured interview questions that allowed for digressions, follow-up questions and gentle probing with empathy and understanding by the researcher. Not just a detached observer, the researcher was a participant involved in orang-utan conversation, with a background in journalism and conservation, close to the research participants and their work. She became the interviewer as research instrument and a collaborator in the interviews, gathering stories – the lived experiences of participants through in-depth interviews.

The product of the study, the creative nonfiction artefact, tells stories in various nonfiction subgenres spanning fifty years of orang-utan conservation in Sarawak. Through this montage of stories, the narrative inquirer-writer re-tells the storied lives of men and women who have worked in orang-utan conservation in different capacities. These were “ordinary” people, not privileged Western primatologists, but the individuals on the ground, doing their daily work as forest guards and keepers, wildlife biologists and researchers, eco-tour operator and fundraiser for wildlife rehabilitation each contributing to the long-term survival of the iconic primate in its wild habitats or to the orphaned orang-utans that had been confiscated from poachers or illegal exotic pet owners.

These stories reflect not just work to save the endangered species, but also the larger issue of species extinction. It is acknowledged that though important, this study has focused only on a small population of orang-utans found in Sarawak; there are other populations in Borneo and Sumatra threatened by human avarice and ignorance. The human species’ lack of humanity is evident in the lives of the orphaned orang-utans and the semi-wild animals that cling to a tenuous life in a tiny patch of forest in the middle of human settlements. This leads us to the final level of meaning and understanding; that the human species may be forcing itself into extinction. We exist in a large ecosystem; our fate inextricably linked to that of our cousin, the red ape. While it teeters on the brink of extinction, we realise that we could soon follow suit.

Despite the naysayers who believe that reading as a pleasurable pastime will soon disappear, the future of the creative nonfiction seems promising; it will thrive in both traditional and new forms as writers and readers alike continue to “hunger for the real.” The future of the orang-utan is not so clear-cut. What is evident is that species conservation is a real need around the world. More creative projects beckon, appealing to us to research and write imaginatively, telling true stories, to support other endangered species and to share the stories of men and women toiling to save them on this uneven battlefield. This is a baton we can and should take up; the spark has been lit and this is a flame that needs to keep burning.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Vethamani, Malachi Edwin
Remoto, Danton
Keywords: creative nonfiction, narrative inquiry, conservation, orang-utans, Sarawak
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
Faculties/Schools: University of Nottingham, Malaysia > Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of English
Item ID: 64042
Depositing User: Yin, Christina
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2021 07:06
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2023 04:30

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