7 Most Famous Indonesian Folk Tales

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7 Most Famous Indonesian Folk Tales: Calon Arang

Indonesia is a country rich in culture and history. One evidence of this is the numerous folk tales that many Indonesians were told when they were children. Get to know Indonesia’s culture by diving into these folk tales with your family!

  1. Bawang Merah Bawang Putih

Bawang merah bawang putih is one of the most famous Indonesian folk tales told from one generation to the other. It comes from Central Java and carries a deep moral message with it, in which good triumphs over bad and that good deeds will be rewarded with happiness in the end.

Once upon a time, long ago in a beautiful village, there lived a father and daughter. The girl’s name is Bawang Putih. Not only is she beautiful, but also has a very kind heart.

Bawang Putih’s life began to change when her father decided to marry a woman who already had a child named Bawang Merah. As if in contrast to Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah is a girl who is impolite, gets angry easily, and is always mean to Bawang Putih. Likewise, the stepmother displays favoritism and loves Bawang Merah more.

Even so, Bawang Putih never hated her mother and stepsisters. She was always kind and obeyed their orders.

One day, Bawang Putih faced a big problem because she lost one of her stepmother’s clothes while washing clothes on the riverbank. She walked along each side of the river to find the whereabouts of her stepmother’s clothes.

Bawang Putih was afraid, if she couldn’t find it, her stepmother would be very angry. The search ended when Bawang Putih found an old woman who managed to save the clothes so it didn’t drift away with the river current. However, the old woman gave a condition to Bawang Putih to help her with her housework.

With pleasure, Bawang Putih helped the old woman with all the work. Bawang Putih thanked the old woman for saving her stepmother’s clothes. Before returning home, Bawang Putih was offered a pumpkin by the old woman. She was required to choose between a large pumpkin and a small pumpkin. Because she was not greedy, Bawang Putih chose the small pumpkin.

After she arrived at her house, she was surprised when she split the pumpkin given by the old woman. As it turned out, the little pumpkin contained sparkling gold and jewels. The stepmother and Bawang Merah were surprised to see that Bawang Putih was able to get a pumpkin filled with gold and jewelry. They told Bawang Putih to tell her how she got the magic pumpkin.

The next day, Bawang Merah did exactly the same thing as the story from Bawang Putih. However, when the old woman offered a pumpkin, Bawang Merah chose the large pumpkin.

On the way home, Bawang Merah was very happy. She imagined that the large pumpkin contained far more gold and jewelry than Bawang Putih’s.

The stepmother welcomed Bawang Merah happily. They were both very excited to split the pumpkin. However, something unexpected happened. Instead of containing more gold and jewelry, the large pumpkin chosen by Bawang Merah was filled with poisonous snakes.

The stepmother and Bawang Merah screamed in fear. Bawang Putih immediately helped them repel the poisonous snakes. After the poisonous snakes left their house, Bawang Putih sincerely gave the gold and jewelry that she found in a small pumpkin.

Seeing Bawang Putih’s kindness and the bad things that happened to them, Stepmother and Bawang Merah apologized to Bawang Putih. Both of them finally realized their mistake and promised not to be mean to Bawang Putih again.

  1. Malin Kundang

Another famous folktale in Indonesia is the story of Malin Kundang. The story comes from West Sumatra, which becomes a cautionary tale for children to always respect and obey their parents. 

Long ago there was a story in a fishing village on Air Manis Beach in Padang, West Sumatra. There is a widow named Mande Rubayah who lives with her son, Malin Kundang.

Mande Rubayah really loves and pampers Malin Kundang. Malin then grew up to be a diligent and obedient child.

When Malin was an adult he asked his mother for permission to go travel, because at that time there was a large ship docked at Air Manis Beach.

His mother did not allow it, for fear that something would happen to her son. But Malin begged his mother’s blessing, because he wanted to change his fate. Even though it was with a heavy heart that Mande Rubayah finally allowed Malin to go.

She always prayed that her son would always be safe and return quickly. Some time later when a ship came docked she always asked how her son was.

For years Mande Rubayah kept asking but there was never an answer until she gets old with a hunch in her back. One day Mande Rubayah received news from the captain who had brought Malin. He had now married a beautiful girl, the daughter of a very wealthy nobleman.

On a sunny day from a distance, a majestic and beautiful ship sailed towards the shore. Before the village elders had time to welcome him, Malin’s mother approached Malin first. She immediately hugged Malin tightly for fear of losing her child again.

Malin was surprised to be hugged by the old woman who was dressed in rags. He couldn’t believe that she was his mother. Before he could think of speaking, his beautiful wife spat and said,

“Is this ugly woman your mother? Why did you lie to me in the first place! Didn’t you say back then that your mother was a noble on the same level as me?!” she said sarcastically.

Hearing his wife’s harsh words, Malin Kundang immediately pushed his mother to the ground, “Crazy woman! I’m not your son!” he said harshly.

Mande Rubayah could not believe her son’s behavior, as she fell to her knees saying,

“Malin, Malin, my son. I am your mother! Why are you like this?!”

Malin Kundang didn’t care about his mother’s words. He will not acknowledge his mother. He was ashamed in front of his wife. Seeing the woman prostrating and hugging his legs, Malin kicked her while saying,

“Crazy woman! My mother is not like you! Poor and dirty!”

The old woman lay on the sand, crying and hurting. The people who saw it were stunned and then returned to their respective homes. Mande Rubayah fainted and lay alone. When she woke up, Air Manis Beach was deserted.

Malin’s ship was getting farther away. She didn’t think that Malin, who she used to love, would do such a thing. Her heart ached and hurt, then she raised her hand to the sky. She then prayed with a heavy heart,

“Yes, God, if he is not my son, I forgive him for what he did earlier. But if he really is my son named Malin Kundang, I ask for your justice, O God!” she said sadly while crying.

Soon the weather in the middle of the sea, which was previously sunny, suddenly turned dark. It suddenly rained very heavily. A big storm came, hitting Malin Kundang’s ship. Then came a thunderous bolt of lightning. At that moment the ship shattered into pieces.

The next day when the morning sun appeared on the eastern horizon, the storm had subsided. On the beach, there are pieces of the ship that have turned to stone. That’s Malin Kundang’s ship! One of which is a rock that resembles a human body.

That is the body of Malin Kundang, who was cursed by his mother to be a stone for being disobedient. Between the rocks were swimming anchovies, mullet, and mackerel. According to legent, the fish came from the body fragments of his wife who kept looking for Malin Kundang.

  1. Keong Emas

Originating from Java, Keong Emas tells the story of a princess who was cursed to become a golden snail. 

Once upon a time, there was a king who was very wise. The king had two daughters. The first daughter was named Candra Kirana, and her sister was named Dewi Galuh. The two princesses were very beautiful, but had different temperaments. Candra Kirana is very kind and not arrogant so she was very loved by his people. On the other hand, Dew Galuh is evil and haughty. She often insulted her people, as a result the people did not like Dewi Galuh.

One day, the King called Candra Kirana. The king wanted Candra Kirana to immediately marry Prince Inu Kertapatih. Candra Kirana was very happy. She accepted Prince Inu Kertapatih’s proposal. However, Dewi Galuh also liked Prince Inu Kertapatih. She wanted Prince Inu Kertapatih to be her husband.

Dewi Galuh then went to the witch’s house. He asked the magician to curse Candra Kirana into a snail.

While playing on the beach, Candra Kirana met a witch, who immediately cursed Candra Kirana into a golden snail. “The magic will only disappear if you find your true love,” cried the witch before throwing Candra Kirana into the river.

Meanwhile, in a village, an old woman was looking for fish. When she pulled the net, she found a golden snail. Because the snail looks very beautiful, old woman took it home.

The next day, the old woman returned to fishing. She always worked from morning to evening, but sometimes didn’t get any money. When the old woman went to work, the golden snail turned into Candra Kirana. In order to repay her, Candra Kirana also cleaned the old woman’s house and cooked delicious food. So when she came home, the old woman was surprised. She found a lot of food on the dining table.

“Who did all this?” she said.

From then on, the old woman always found her house was clean and there was a lot of food on her dining table after working. She wanted to know who did it all. So one day, she pretended to go to work and peeked through the window. The old woman saw her golden snail had turned into a beautiful girl. The old woman immediately entered the house. Candra Kirana was shocked, but in the end she told the old woman everything.

Meanwhile, Prince Inu Kertapatih joined the search for Candra Kirana. He searched to remote villages. When he was tired, he wanted to ask one of the residents for a drink. He went to a resident’s house. And there, … Prince Inu Kertapatih found Candra Kirana. Instantly the witch’s curse disappeared.

Finally, Prince Inu Kertapatih brought Candra Kirana back to the palace. The old woman who helped her was also brought along. Then, the witch who bewitched Candra Kirana and Dewi Galuh was also punished by the King.

Candra Kirana and Prince Inu Kertapatih were married. They lived happily ever after.

  1. Calon Arang

One of the popular folktales mixed with myth that originate in Bali is the story of Calon Arang. It tells the story of a bad witch who is capable of destroying the village using black magic and spells.

Until now, Calon Arang represents fierce evil to Balinese people. It’s also a cautionary tale to whoever reads the story so that they avoid doing Calon Arang’s deeds. To appease her spirit, most Balinese hold rituals in one of their most religious festivals in Bali. There is also some live theatre drama that performs Calon Arang’s story in some of Bali’s traditional festivals and celebrations.

It is said that Calon Arang was a widow who mastered black magic who often damaged farmers’ crops and caused disease. She had a daughter named Ratna Manggali, who, although beautiful, could not get a husband because people were afraid of her mother. Because of the difficulties faced by her daughter, Calon Arang was angry and she intended to take revenge by kidnapping a young girl. She brought the girl to a temple as a sacrifice to Goddess Durga. The next day, a big flood hit the village and many people died. Disease appeared among the people.

King Erlangga, who knew about this, then asked his advisor, Empu Baradah, to solve this problem. Empu Baradah then sent a student named Empu Bahula to be married to Ratna. The two of them got married with a party that lasted seven days and seven nights, and things returned to normal.

Calon Arang has a book that contains magic. One day, this book was found by Bahula who handed it over to Empu Baradah. When Calon Arang found out that his book had been stolen, she became angry and decided to fight Empu Baradah. Without the help of Dewi Durga, Calon Arang lost. Since she was defeated, the village was safe from the threat of Calon Arang’s black magic.

  1. Jaka Tarub

Jaka Tarub is one of the famous Indonesian folktales that tells the story of man with his angel wife. Most Javanese people use this story to remind people to avoid lying to others, including their loved ones.

Once upon a time, a young man named Jaka Tarub passed by the lake and he accidentally saw the angels bathing there. In the lake, seven beautiful women were seen playing in the water, joking, having fun. Jaka Tarub was very surprised to see their beauty.

Because Jaka Tarub felt captivated by the seven angels, he finally took one of their shawls. After that the angels finished bathing, they also dressed up and got ready to return to heaven.

They returned to their respective shawls. But one of the angels did not find her shawls. Her six sisters helped to find it, but until dusk they could not find it. Because it was getting late, Nawangwulan was left alone. Her sisters returned to Khayangan. She felt very sad.

Not long after, Jaka Tarub came over and pretended to help the angel. He invited the angel who turned out to be named Nawang Wulan to return to his house. Long story short, they finally got married. Both live happily. They also have a beautiful daughter named Nawangsih. Before they got married, Nawang Wulan reminded Jaka Tarub not to ask about her housework after she became a wife.

Nawang Wulan’s secret is that he always cooks rice using one grain of rice, with that grain of rice she can produce a lot of rice. After they got married Jaka Tarub was very curious. However, he did not ask Nawang Wulan directly, but instead he immediately opened it and saw the pot that his wife likes to use to cook rice. He saw a stalk of rice still lying in it and immediately closed it again. Due to Jaka Tarub’s curiosity, Nawang Wulan lost her strength. From then on, Nawang Wulan had to pound and winnow rice to cook, just like any woman in general.

Because the pile of rice continues to decrease, one time, Nawangwulan accidentally found her angel’s shawl tucked between the piles of rice. It turned out that the shawl was in the grain barn which was hidden by her husband.

Nawang Wulan also felt very angry when it was her husband who stole her scarf. Finally, she decided to go to heaven. Jaka Tarub apologized and begged his wife not to go to heaven again, but Nawangwulan was determined, until finally she went to heaven. But she still occasionally comes down to earth to nurse her baby. However, on one condition, Jaka Tarub cannot be with Nawangsih when Nawang Wulan meets him. He must leave her alone near the lake.

Jaka Tarub held back his sadness and wanted to look tough. As soon as Jaka Tarub accepted that he will not be meeting Nawangwulan again, the angel flew away from him and Nawangsih.

  1. Timun Mas

Timun Mas is a folktale that tells the story of a girl born in a golden cucumber. It represents the Indonesian young women’s braveness to face everything that may happen in their life. This story originates from Java. 

It was told that once upon a time in a village in Central Java, there lived a middle-aged widow named Mbok Srini. Since her husband left her several years ago, she lives alone with no children. Because of loneliness, she really hoped for the presence of a child, but unfortunately that hope was dashed because her husband had passed away.

Mbok Srini can only wait for a miracle to be able to have children. She hoped that a miracle would happen to her, and always prayed day and night to Almighty God so that she could be given a child.

One night, that hope came through her dream. In her dream, Mbok Srini was visited by a giant who told her to go get a package under a big tree in the forest where she usually looks for firewood. When she woke up in the morning, Mbok Srini could hardly believe her dream last night.

“Could a miracle really happen to me?” She asked himself doubtfully.

However, Mbok Srini tried to dispel her doubts. Full of hope, she rushed towards the forest the giant was pointing at. Arriving in the forest, she looked for a package under a big tree.

But she was actually very surprised when she found a package that she thought contained a baby, but it only contained a cucumber seed. Her heart was wondering again.

“What does the giant mean to give me a cucumber seed?” said Mbok Srini confusedly.

In the midst of his confusion, unwittingly there was a giant figure standing behind her laughing heartily.

“Ha ha ha…!” there was the sound of the giant laughing.

Mbok Srini was surprised as she turned her body. She was surprised to see the giant who was present in her dream. She became afraid.

“My goodness, Lord Giant! Don’t eat me! I still want to live,” Mbok Srini pleaded with a pale face.

“Don’t be afraid, old woman! I will not eat you. Don’t you want a child?” asked the giant.

“R… right, Lord Giant!” replied Mbok Srini nervously.

“Then, immediately plant the cucumber seed! Later you will get a daughter. But, remember! You must hand the child over to me when she grows up. Because I will make the child into my food,” said the giant.

Because she wanted so much to have children, Mbok Srini subconsciously replied, “Okay, giant! I am willing to hand the child over to you.”

After Mbok Srini finished giving her consent, the giant disappeared. Then she immediately planted the cucumber seeds in his field. With hope, every day she took good care of the plant. Two months later, the plant began to bear fruit. But strangely, the cucumber plant only bears one fruit.

Every day the cucumber keeps getting bigger and bigger than the cucumbers in general. The color is also very different, because it is golden yellow. When the cucumbers ripens, Mbok Srini plucked the heavy cucumbers from her hut.

She was surprised when she split the cucumber. A beautiful baby girl appeared. So she named the baby Timun Mas.

She cares for and educates Timun Mas with love until she grows into a beautiful woman. Mbok Srini is very proud, because besides being beautiful, Timun Mas also has extraordinary intelligence and has a wonderful attitude. Therefore, she loved her very much.

One night, Mbok Srini dreamed again of being visited by a giant who gave a message that he would come to pick up Timun Mas in a week. Since then, she has always sat alone.

Her heart became sad, because she would be separated from the child she loved very much. She just realized that the giant turned out to be an evil giant, because Timun Mas would be his meal!

Seeing Mbok Srini often sitting pensively, Timun Mas also wondered in her heart. One afternoon, Timun Emas ventured to ask about her mother’s anxiety.

“Mom, why do you always seem sad lately?” asked Timun Mas.

Actually Mbok Srini did not want to tell the cause of her anxiety, because she did not want her child to be sad too. However, due to constant pressure, she finally told the origins of Timun Mas, which had been kept secret all this time.

“I’m sorry, my daughter! All this time, I’ve been keeping something from you,” said Mbok Srini with a sad face.

“What secret?” Timun Mas asked curiously.

“Actually, you are not my biological child who was born from a Mother’s womb.” Answered Mbok Srini

Mbok Srini also tells Timun Mas that a giant figure would come to pick up her child to be eaten. Hearing the story, Timun Mas was shocked as she couldn’t believe it.

“I don’t want to go with the giant. I really love Mother who has educated and raised Timun,” said Timun Mas.

Hearing Timun Mas’ words, Mbok Srini was pensive again. She is looking for a way to keep her daughter safe so as not to become the giant’s meal. Until the day that the giant had promised, Mbok Srini had yet to find a way out. Her heart began to worry. In her anxiety, she suddenly found a way.

She told Timun Mas to pretend she was sick. That way, the giant will not want to eat her. When the sun started to set, the giant came to Mbok Srini’s hut to take Timun Mas. However, because Timun Mas was sick, Mbok Srini asked the giant to return in 3 days until her daughter recovered.

After Mbok Srini promised, the giant disappeared. Mbok Srini was confused on how to save her daughter. The next day, very early in the morning, Mbok Srini went to the mountain. Arriving there, she immediately met the hermit and conveyed the purpose of her arrival.

“Sorry, Master Hermit! The purpose of me coming here is to ask for help from you, “said Mbok Srini.

“What can I help you with, Mbok Srini?” asked the hermit.

Mbok Srini also told the problem that has concerned her. Hearing Mbok Srini’s story, the hermit was willing to help.

“Alright, wait here a moment!” said the hermit as he walked into his secret room.

Not long after, the hermit returned with four small packages and handed them over to Mbok Srini.

“Give this package to your daughter. These four packages each contain cucumber seeds, needles, salt and shrimp paste. If the giant chases after her, tell her to spread the contents of this package!” said the hermit.

After receiving this explanation, Mbok Srini returned with the four packages. Arriving at her hut, Mbok Srini handed over the four packages and explained their purpose to Timun Mas. Now, Mbok Srini’s heart is starting to calm down a bit, because her daughter already has weapons to fight the giant.

Two days later, the giant came to collect his promise to Mbok Srini. He couldn’t wait to bring and eat Timun Mas.

“Hey, old lady! This time you have to keep your promise. If not, I will also make you my meal!” threatened the giant.

Mbok Srini is no longer afraid. Calmly, she called Timun Mas to come out of the hut. Not long after, Timun Emas came out and stood beside her mother.

“Don’t be afraid, my daughter! If the giant is going to catch you, run immediately and follow the instructions I have given you,” Mbok Srini whispered to Timun Mas.

“Yes mother!” Timun Mas replied.

Seeing Timun Mas who had really grown up, the monster couldn’t wait to eat her. When he was about to catch her, Timun Mas immediately ran as fast as she could. The giant chased after her. 

After running far, Timun Mas was getting tired, while the giant was getting closer. Finally, she took out the hermit’s gift package.

First Timun Mas spread the cucumber seeds her mother had given her. Miraculously, the surrounding forest suddenly turned into a cucumber field. In an instant, the cucumber stalks spread and wrapped around the giant’s entire body. However, the giant was able to break free and chased Timun Mas again.

Timun Emas immediately threw the package containing the needles. In an instant, the needles turned into a grove of tall and spiky bamboo trees. However, the giant was able to get past and continued to chase Timun Mas, even though his leg was bleeding from being stabbed by the bamboo.

Seeing that his efforts had not been successful, Timun Mas opened the third package containing salt and spread it. In that instant, the forest that he had passed through suddenly turned into a vast and deep ocean, but the giant still managed to get through it with ease.

Timun Mas began to worry, because she only had one weapon left. If the weapon does not succeed in immobilizing the giant, then she will be eaten.

With full confidence, she threw the last package containing the shrimp paste. Immediately, the place where the terrace fell suddenly turned into a sea of ​​boiling mud.

As a result, the giant was defeated because he fell into the sea of ​​mud and died instantly. With all her might, Timun Mas walked to her hut to meet her mother. Seeing that her daughter is safe, Mbok Srini immediately thanked God Almighty. Since then, Mbok Srini and Timun Mas have lived happily.

  1. Sangkuriang

Sangkuriang is a West Java folklore, precisely in Bandung. It tells the origin of Mount Tangkuban Perahu.

In ancient times, there was a princess in West Java named Dayang Sumbi. She had a son named Sangkuriang.

The boy was very fond of hunting; he hunted accompanied by Tumang, the palace’s favorite dog. Sangkuriang did not know that the dog was the incarnation of the god and also his father.

One day Tumang refused to follow his orders to chase the prey. Angry, Sangkuriang banished the dog into the forest.

When she returned to the palace, Sangkuriang told his mother about the incident. Dayang Sumbi became angry when she heard the story. She accidentally injured Sangkuriang’s head with the rice spoon she was holding. He was very disappointed and left home.

After that incident, Dayang Sumbi deeply regretted her actions. She always prayed and was very diligent in meditating. Once upon a time, the gods gave her a gift. She will be forever young and have eternal beauty.

After years of wandering, Sangkuriang finally intends to return to his homeland. Arriving there, the kingdom has changed completely.

There he met a beautiful girl, who was none other than Dayang Sumbi. Fascinated by the woman’s beauty, Sangkuriang proposed to her.

Because the young man was very handsome, Dayang Sumbi was fascinated by him. One day Sangkuriang asked to leave in order to hunt. He asked Dayang Sumbi to straighten his headband.

Dayang Sumbi was in shock when she saw the scar on her future husband’s head. The wound was exactly like the wound of her son who had left home.

After looking at it for a long time, it turns out that the young man’s face is very similar to her son’s face. She became very frightened. So then she looked for ways to thwart Sangkuriang’s proposal.

She put forward two conditions. First, she asked the young man to build a dam from the Citarum river. Second, he asked Sangkuriang to build a big canoe to cross the river.

Both conditions must be met before dawn. That night Sangkuriang meditated. With his supernatural powers he mobilized supernatural beings to help complete the work.

Meanwhile, Dayang Sumbi was secretly peeking. As soon as the work was almost finished, Dayang Sumbi ordered her troops to spread a red silk cloth to the east of the city.

When she saw the red color in the east of the city, Sangkuriang thought the day was over and stopped his work. He was very angry because it meant that he could not fulfill the conditions that Dayang Sumbi asked for.

With his strength, he broke the dam he made. There was severe flooding across the city. He then kicked the big boat he made.

The boat floated and fell, becoming a mountain in the northern part of the city of Bandung today, which is named “Tangkuban Perahu”.

Have you told these stories to your family? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!