Indonesia : Myths And Legends

Tales, folklores, myths and legends – the rich fables that layer the foundation of the mystical aura that is Indonesia makes the archipelagic nation even more unique.

Indonesia is a land of mystic legends and harrowingmyths with stories gathered from all corners of the majestic land, carried through generations after generations, untouched by time. Behind every intricately woven tale lies the simple moral teaching or a hint of greater co-existing powers that is one with the earth we live in.

Malin Kundang (Padang)

Malin Kundang legend tells of a child who is disobedient to his mother and is therefore doomed to stone.
Malin Kundang legend tells of a child who is disobedient to his mother and is therefore doomed to stone (Source :

With many versions of the infamous tale in Indonesia, Brunei and much more, this famous Southeast Asian story speaks strongly to the Asian culture of duty and respect to one’s mother. Malin Kundang is a small village boy with big dreams who left his widowed mother to seek wealth on passing ships at a young age.

Years past and one day, the harbour market was abuzz as a wealthy young merchant and his newlywed princess paid a visit to the sleepy village. Standing in the crowd to catch a glimpse, Malin Kundang’s mother could not believe her eyes as she recognized the wealthy merchant as her long lost son. Unable to control her overwhelming emotions, she rushed forward to embrace him and called out to her son, only to be apprehended by the bodyguards under the instructions of Malin Kundang.

Enraged by the demeaning accusation, Malin Kundang proclaimed that his mother is no beggar and has passed away many years ago. Shocked by her son’s cruel betrayal, heartbroken she cried out “Oh Malin Kundang, you of heart of stone deny your own flesh and blood! Dear god, if he is not my son let him sail safe and if he is, then may he rightly punished for his sin!”

A fierce storm fell upon the harbour causing his ship to upturn. Realising his sin, Malin Kundang crawled upon the beach begging for forgiveness as he slowly turned into stone.

Whenever you’re in Padang, head on over to Pantai Air Manis, and you’ll spot the worn stone figure of a man bowing for forgiveness, standing forlorn amidst the ship debris as a constant reminder to love and respect your mother.

Tangkuban Perahu (Bandung)

Sangkuriang, the legend of Mt. Tangkuban Perahu
Sangkuriang, the legend of Mt. Tangkuban Perahu (Source :

Known as the “upturned boat”, the mysterious tale behind the unusual mountain has been passed for many generations.

Beautiful Dayang Sumbi and her loyal dog Tumang lived in solitary, and the lonesome days have taken a toll on the beautiful maiden that when her tool fell in the woods, she playfully uttered “If any male returns my tool, I will marry him”. To her surprise, her loyal companion Tumang returned her tool.

Months later, a son Sangkuriang was born, who grew into a brave young man. One day, after failing to hunt deer for his mother, he presented her with Tumang’s heart. Furious that Sangkuriang had sacrificed his own father, she hit him on the head with a ladle, leaving a scar and banished him from her sights.

Years passed, Sangkuriang returned to his hometown to marry a beautiful young woman. Fate played its hand as the future bride notice a scar on Sangkuriang’s head, to her horrific realisation that eternal beauty Dayang Sumbi was about to marry her own son.

To buy some time, Dayang Sumbi told Sangkuriang that she will only marry him if he builds a lake and boat for their honeymoon in one night. With the help of the spirits, Sangkuriang toiled all night and they were about to finish the impossible task. In her desperation, Dayang Sumbi made the sound of a cock’s crow before sunrise, causing the spirits to leave quickly with the presumption that they had failed in their task. An enraged Sangkuriang kicked the boat and upturned it, giving the mountain its unique name and appearance.

Suro & Boyo (Surabaya)

Sura and Baya figthing in the crowก
Sura and Baya figthing in the crowก (Source :

There are two versions of how Surabaya came about its unique name.  One is a ferocious tale of the display of strength between mythical creatures Suro (white giant shark) and Boyo (white giant crocodile). Always in a constant battle, their final confrontation was so ferocious that the water around them turned the banks of Surabaya red with blood.

The other version is a legend between water and soil. The local Javanese defended their soil against the English and Dutch invaders which are deemed as water, with the local chant “sura ing baya” – the courage to confront danger.

In either version of the tale, there is a play of power and battle that has created this mighty city. Both tales still strongly define the sturdy strength and history of Indonesia’s second largest city.

Aji Bedarah Putih (Balikpapan)

Lipan Lake - East Kalimantan
Lipan Lake – East Kalimantan (Source :

The origins of Danau Lipan (Centipede Lake) speak of the bravery and wisdom of Princess Aji Bedarah Putih, who is known for her fair beauty that attracted many suitors from lands far and wide. The King of China was among the many hopeful suitors, and as a lavish spread was prepared for the king, the princess rejected the king’s ravenous ways and his proposal.

In his rage, he turned his vast army upon her kingdom. In the midst of the losing battle, the princess chewed a betel leaf and said “If I am the true heir of the Mystical King, turn the pieces of this leaf into centipedes that will destroy this invading army.” As she turned her head towards the army, thousands of centipedes appeared and drove the invaders into their ships, which in turn were attacked and sunk.

With the battle won, the princess vanished magically, leaving just a vast piece of land christened Danau Lipan.

Danau Toba (Medan)

The Legend of Lake Toba Indonesia
The Legend of Lake Toba Indonesia (Source :

Beneath the tranquil surface of the beautiful lake, lies a story of magic, betrayal and a mother’s love. Hardworking farmer Toba lived in a little hut near the forest. One day, he caught an odd looking fish who begged him to not eat it, but to place it in the middle of the farm for 3 days. Upon return, Toba found a beautiful maiden named Nauli, who was the water princess and the fish that he caught. As she turned human, her scales turned into a pile of gold for Toba. Mesmerised by her beauty, he asked her to marry him. “I will marry you with the condition that you will promise to never tell anyone of my origins”, said Nauli, which he immediate vowed to never mention to anyone.

Years passed and the couple had a child named Samosir, who grew up to be quite a handful as he was lazy and unhelpful around the farm. One day, Samosir was delivering the lunch Nauli has prepared for Toba when he felt hunger pangs, and ate the lunch intended for his father. Furious at the boy, Toba yelled “This is all because you are the son of a fish!” Crying home to his mother, she told Samosir to head towards the highlands.

As Toba returned, Nauli reminded him of his vow of secrecy, leaving him with the words “Because you have broken your promise, I will leave this place and return to the life of a fish!” Water started flooding the house as Nauli turned into a fish and swam away.

It is now said that the Lake Toba was formed after the raging flood created by Nauli, and she still swims around the lake protecting the island Samosir.

Every region tells its own tales – somemyths, some legends, and some fragments of the truth. The beautiful nation of Indonesia holds many mesmerising tales that has enchanted and enthralled eager listeners throughout the years. (Credit to : Air Asia)

Facebook Comments

"Photos are copyrighted by their owners."

error: Do Not Copy