5 Most Famous Indonesian Folklores

12:00 PM

Most of you might know it already, I am from Indonesia. It's a country in South East Asia, and my neighboring countries are Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. It's where the famous Bali is, but most people know Bali more than they know Indonesia xD Yesterday was celebrated as Indonesian Independence day, so I figure I would do an Indonesia-related post.

I don't know about you, but I do love reading about folklore, urban legend, myth, legend, that kind of story. Since Indonesia is HUGE, it has a lot of tribes, etnic, religion, it also has a lot of folklore. And when I say a lot, it means like thousands. Okay, maybe not thousands, but maybe hundreds. There are a lot of stories that wasn't famous that's waiting to be heard. There used to be a book series that compiled folklore from every region. Folklore from East Java. Folklore from West Java. And some region even could get 3 books! So yeah, it's really a lot. Ahem. Back to topic, today I would tell you 5 most famous Indonesian folklore, the ones every Indonesian knew by heart because we heard it A LOT OF TIMES throughout our school year. Without further ado, I present you 5 Indonesian folklores, compiled by yours truly.

Malin Kundang

This is the first story that I think most Indonesian children know. The story was pretty simple. There was a boy named Malin Kundang, who lived with his mother. They were very very poor, which is why he decided to go to find a living. His mother waited for him for years. One day, there was this huge ship came into Malin's hometown. Turns out, the owner of that ship was Malin. When his mother came to him, he was ashamed because his mother looked like a beggar. He didn't acknowledged her and threw her away from his ship. He ordered to set sail immediately. His mother prayed to the Gods and Malin's ship sank. Malin himself turned into stone for his behavior (yikes). It's the most famous cautionary tale in Indonesia and also the shortest one in this post. 

Bawang Merah & Bawang Putih

Their name in English translated literally as Shallot & Garlic. The story is pretty similar with Cinderella. There are so many version of this story, and I'm telling you the one that I'm the most familiar with. So Bawang Putih (a.k.a Garlic)'s father married Bawang Merah's mother. When the father died, the stepmother and stepsister showed they true color and treat Bawang Putih horribly. One day, when Bawang Putih was washing the clothes in the river, a voice called out for help. Turns out it's a talking goldfish that got caught. Bawang Putih released it and they became friends.

One day, Bawang Merah saw her talking to a magic fish, so she caught and cooked it. Bawang Putih was very sad, and she buried her friend's bones. It grew into a beautiful tree that sways when Bawang Putih sings a lullaby. One day a prince passed by and overheared her singing. Bawang Putih then ran away.The prince finally found the house where Bawang Putih lives and they got married and lived hapilly ever after.

Well, sort of. There are some version that doesn't involve the prince and talking fish, but involves magical pumpkin and old magic person. Folklores, there are so many version.

Timun Mas

Also one ridiculous name, it's translated literally as Golden Cucumber. I know, I think a lot of people named their children based on food at the ancient time. I'll name my kids Pizza and Sushi then. There was this old woman who was lonely. One day, a giant came and give her a cucumber seed. His only message was he would come back when the child is 17 years old to eat it. The old woman doesn't believe it at first, but after a few months the cucumber grew really big and when it was cut open, surprise surprise! there was a baby girl in it. The woman named her Timun Mas and cared for her like her own daughter. Timun Mas grew to a really kind and dilligent kid.

A week before Timun Mas' 17th birthday, the giant came to remind the old woman of their deal. The old woman was sad and asked for help to a wise old hermit. He gave her 4 bags filled with cucumber seed, needles, salts, and sambal terasi (all hail wikipedia). The hermit told the old woman to give this bags to Timun Mas and for her to throw them at the giants.

Wait what? I hear you asked. Will those things be enough? Good question. I'm pretty sure Timun Mas' expression looks like the gif above when the old woman told her. But what choice did she have? And so when the giant come, she escaped with those 4 bags. The giant was angry and chased her. Timun Mas opened the first bag filled with cucumber seed and throw those seeds at the giant. A giant cucumber vine sprouted and trapped the giant so he can't move!

The old hermit:

But it wasn't enough. The giant escaped and chased Timun Mas again. Timun Mas then opened the second bag filled with needles and spread them behind her. Those needles transformed into a bamboo forest with sharp tip that wounded the giant. Still it wasn't enough. The giant escaped again and continue to give chase.

Timun Mas, by this time would started to desperate I imagine, opened her third bag that contains salt and threw them at the giant. It turned into a sea and drowned the giant!

You didn't really think he'll die on the 3rd bag did you? Because he didn't. We still have one bag left. Apparently, the giant can swim. So he swam and crossed the ocean. Timun Mas, must be very desperate right now, opened her last bag that contained the terasi. Guess what it will turn into.

Clue: It's hot.

No it wasn't fiery sea. It's not hell you guys. But pretty close. It's a sea filled with volcano mud. A giant may can swim, but he can't withstand the heat. And so he burned, drowned, and dead. Timun Mas went back to the old woman (don't ask me how guys, because it's basically filled with impossible obstacles from the thing she threw. the point is she managed to get back) and lived happily ever after with the old woman.

Sangkuriang (also known as the Legend of Tangkuban Parahu)

This one contains incest. Like high level incest, even more horrible than Jamie/Cersei incest. This one is also the longest and it spans 3 family generations. Well let's get started.

There was this God and Goddess that was cursed into a dog named Tumang and a pig by the Gods. One day, the pig (Goddess) accidentally drank the urine of a king (gross) and became pregnant. When she gave birth, the same king found the baby and care for her like his own daughter. The princess then named Dayang Sumbi. The princess loves to weave, and one day, her equipment fell. She can't get it herself, not because she was lazy, but because of tradition forbids her to leave palace grounds. She made a promise that whoever get her equipment would be rewarded. If it was a girl, she would be treated like her own sister. If it was a boy, she would marry him. Suddenly, the god-dog Tumang came and gave her equipment. So yeah, Dayang Sumbi married him. The king was ashamed and banish her. It's soon revealed that Tumang could return to his human form once a month, and Dayang Sumbi gave birth to a boy named Sangkuriang.

One day, Dayang Sumbi craved for a deer liver. Unfortunately, Sangkuriang can't find any animals in the wood, except for the pig-goddess. Tumang stopped Sangkuriang from hunting the pig-goddess, because it was unknowingly his grandmother. Sangkuriang became angry and accidentaly hit Tumang. Tumang was dead, and because Sangkuriang didn't want to came home empty handed, he cut Tumang's liver and gave it to her mother. I know, when I read it my reaction was like:

So anyway, when Dayang Sumbi found out, she was furious and hit him with a centong (I don't know the english guys, you might want to google it) till he was scarred and ran away. He also said to suffer from amnesia, so I think she must've hit him really hard. Anyways, 12 years later, when he was wondering around, he saw a beautiful woman in front of a cottage.Since he suffers from amnesia, he doesn't remember that it was the cottage where he grew up.

Some of you might have guessed it by now, but wait for it. They chat, spend a lot of time together, and eventually fell in love. One day, when the woman was brushing Sangkuriang's hair when she noticed a scar on his head. Sangkurang told her the story of the scar, and horrified, the woman revealed herself as Dayang Sumbi.

But men. He doesn't believe a word she said, so Dayang Sumbi gave 2 task for him in one night. He had to build her a lake by filling a whole valley with water, and he had to build a boat so they could sail in it. Sangkuriang accepted and with help of some spirits, by dawn, he was almost finish. Dayang Sumbi prayed to the Gods, and magically, dawn arrived before time. Sangkuriang was furious, that he kicked the boat so hard that it turned into a mountain. Nowadays, that mountain is called Mount Tangkuban Parahu. It literally means upside down boat. It's located in Bandung, West Java if you're interested to visit.

What happened to the lake you asked? Great question. It's now called Lake Bandung. Also located in Bandung, West Java.

Roro Jonggrang (also known as the Legend of Prambanan Temple)

Some of you might've heard about the infamous Borobudur Temple. It was in the list of 7 wonders of the world at some point years ago. But there is also another temple that's pretty famous like Borobudur. It's called Prambanan Temple, so next time you visit Indonesia, don't forget to go there too! :D If you've been there you might notice there are ruins scattered around the major temple. Well now I'm going to tell you the legend of those tiny temple ruins. Grab your popcorn, and enjoy.

It is said that there were 2 neighboring kingdoms. One was led by giants, the king named Prabu (another name for King) Boko. He has a really really beautiful daughter named Roro Jonggrang. Like really beautiful. The kind of beauty that could start war. The other kingdom is led by human, called Bandung Bondowoso, and he killed the giant king. When Bandung Bondowoso saw Prabu Boko's daughter, he wanted to marry her. Dude, you just killed her father, what is wrong with you??? 

Obviously Roro Jonggrang didn't want to marry him, but if she flat out refused, the war would get worse. So she gave the impossible task of building 1000 temples before dawn. What is it with ancient people and impossible task? 

So anyway, Bandung Bondowoso agreed to do it and called for help from evil spirit to help him. When Roro Jonggrang saw that he was almost finished, like only one temple short, she and other village women light some fire and pounded the rice to make it seemed like the dawn has arrived, and thus, the chicken crowed. The evil spirit flees, and Bandung Bondowoso failed his task. He realised that he was tricked, and he cursed Roro Jonggrang that she would be the 1000th temple. Roro Jonggrang turned into stone statue and thus, in figure, completed the temples. He also cursed the women that helped Roro Jonggrang into spinsters. Something is definitely wrong with that guy.
Well there you have it. 5 folklores from Indonesia. I know, some of it sounds ridiculus. Sometimes when I read different version of the story I still go "what the fuck?" myself. But I have to admit, I really love discovering new old, unusual folktales from different regions, the one that no-one has heard.  Which one is your favorite? Do you have folklore from where you came from?

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  1. I REALLY enjoyed this post! I've never looked into Indonesian Folklore but it was so interesting reading these, will definitely be scouring the internet for more :)

  2. I love this post! Indonesian folklore is quite underrated, I think - there are a couple of really good ones but no one really hears about them, haha. I looove Bawang Merah & Bawang Putih, Timun Mas, and there was this other thing where this guy needed to do something before sunrise or the first rooster to marry a girl, and if he doesn't, something is turned into stone (omg it's been so long, I've forgotten everything)?? OK reading through your post I can see that it's likely Roro Jonggrang, haha.

    Also, you're definitely right that people know more about Bali more than Indonesia! I've met people who literally thought Bali is its own country. D:

    Reg @ She Latitude

    1. YES! Indonesia has a lot of amazing folklores, and yet, they're practically unknown! I think it's Roro Jonggrang? But some Indonesian folklores do have some similar elements tbh. Exactly, foreingners mostly think Bali is its own country! Indonesia needs to be recognized more!


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