Nusantara Folklore Week
Nusantara | Archipelago
The Indonesian Archipelago consists of 17,508 islands, all of which are rich in unique stories. This illustration challenge provided daily prompts inspired by Indonesian folklore.
DAY 1: Curse
In a small village in the kingdom of Kahuripan, lived a girl called Ratna Mangali. Beautiful as she was, no one wanted to marry her because everyone was afraid of her mother, Calon Arang, the village witch. Furious, Calon Arang summoned the goddess Durga to take revenge on the villagers for not wanting to take her daughter as a wife. Days later, a flood and mysterious illness arrive, killing all of the villagers.
King Airlangga of Kahuripan heard news of the witch and sent his officers to kill Calon Arang. They failed and instead angered Calon Arang into summoning the goddess Durga again to bring more deaths to the people of the kingdom. The King asked help from a Hindu priest, Mpu Baradah, who sent his student, Bahula, to marry Ratna Mangali so that he could secretly look for Calon Arang’s book of witchcraft.
Elated that someone finally wanted to marry her daughter, Calon Arang ended her killing spree and a feast was held for seven days and seven nights. With the witch distracted by the feast, Bahula finally found the her book and brought it to his master. Without the book, Calon Arang was left powerless against the Hindu priest and so he killed her to prevent her from causing any more harm to the kingdom.
DAY 2: Fauna
Ular N'Daung (N'Daung the Snake)
Once upon a time in Bengkulu, there lived a widow with three daughters. The mother became terribly ill and her daughters learned that she could only be cured by eating special leaves cooked with a magical fire that sat atop the mountain. Unfortunately, the leaves and fire was guarded by a magical snake called N’Daung.
Among the three daughters, only the youngest was brave enough to undertake the journey. When she finally reached the snake’s cave, she found the leaves and fire that would heal her mother. Then, N’Daung the snake appeared. The daughter was surprised when the snake gave her access to the leaves and fire on one condition: she had to marry N’Daung. Only thinking of her mother, she agreed. The daughter brought home the leaves, cooked by the magic fire, and her mother was cured.
Keeping her promise to the snake, the youngest daughter returned to the cave, only to find a handsome prince instead. N’Daung was Prince Abdul Rahman Alamsjah, cursed to turn into a snake during the day. The elder daughters became jealous so when N’Daung was in human form, they burned his snake skin. The jealous sisters unwittingly broke the curse, and the youngest daughter and her prince lived happily ever after.
DAY 3: Transformation
Danau Toba (Lake Toba)
There once was a man named Toba who lived in a valley as a humble but lonely farmer. One day, he went fishing by the river not far from his house but was unable to catch anything. Just as he was preparing to leave, his line caught a big fish but as he reeled it in, the fish cried and begged him to release it. Surprised to find a talking fish, Toba released it back to the river, from which it transformed into a beautiful young woman. To show her gratitude, the woman offered to be his wife, under the condition that he never reveal her true form to anyone.
The farmer and his wife had a son who grew up to be a child with great appetite. One day, the boy was asked to bring food to his father who was working on the field but his appetite got the best of him. When he reached his father, the boy had already eaten everything. Toba, hungry and exhausted, lost his temper and hit the boy, calling him “son of a fish”.
The boy cried and ran home. After telling his mother, she sadly told him to climb the hill to the top of the tallest tree. Meanwhile, the mother returned to the river where she first met her husband. Soon, a huge storm came, and the valley started to flood. The entire valley disappeared, including Toba and his wife. All that was left was the hill on which the boy safely waited out the storm.
DAY 4: Flora
Timun Mas (Golden Cucumber)
Long ago, there was a lonely widow named Mbok Srini. She met the giant, Buto Ijo, who gave her a magical cucumber seed that would bring her a child. In return, the widow must give away the child for the giant to eat when she turned 17. Mbok Srini wanted a child more than anything so she agreed.
The magic seed grew into a golden cucumber, and inside that cucumber was a baby girl, whom she named Timun Mas. A week before her 17th birthday, Buto Ijo paid Mbok Srini a visit to remind her of her promise. Mobs Srini sought help from a witch doctor who gave her a bag filled with cucumber seeds, needles, salt, and terasi (shrimp paste).
When Buto Ijo pursued Timun Mas, she took the magical items from the witch doctor’s bag and threw them at the giant. The cucumber seeds grew into a large cucumber vine that strangled Buto Ijo, the needles transformed into a bamboo first with sharp tips that wounded him, the salt became a large pool of seawater that forced him to swim across, and the terasi turned the land into boiling mud, which finally killed the giant. Timun Mas returned safely to her mother.
DAY 5: Deity
Barong is the king of spirits, the leader of all things good, and appears in the form of a lion-like creature. In Bali, Barong is the symbol of health and good fortune, and is portrayed through a mask covered in white thick fur, with gilded jewelry and a beard of human hair decorated with frangipani flowers, in which the Barong’s power is thought to reside.
Its sworn enemy, Rangda, is the demon queen, the personification of evil, and often associated with spirits of the dead. The eternal battle between Barong and Rangda is depicted through the sacred Barong dance to symbolize the intertwining of good and evil.
The traditional Barong dance opens with two monkeys playfully teasing Barong before Rangda appears and wreaks havoc. Under Rangda’s influence, the male dancers who are armed with keris (daggers) would go into a trance and stab themselves. However, Barong’s presence would protect them from any injury. The dance ends with the final battle, in which Rangda is defeated and runs away.
DAY 6: Place
Tangkuban Perahu (Upturned Boat)
Tangkuban Perahu is a volcano and its origin story began with the maiden Dayang Sumbi. One night, she was weaving on her porch when her thread fell and rolled away. Not wanting to move from her spot, Dayang Sumbi vowed that whoever brought back her thread, if a man, would be her husband.
A dog appeared with the thread and turned into a man named Tumang who revealed himself to be an incarnation of a god. Dayang Sumbi kept her vow, married him and they had a son named Sangkuriang. Tumang became a dog again but their son didn’t know who he was. One day, Dayang Sumbi asked for a deer’s heart. Sangkuriang was unable to catch any deer so he killed Tumang instead. Dayang Sumbi found out, hit her son in the head and banished him.
Sangkuriang lost his memory and wandered around for years before reuniting with his mother and falling in love with her. When Dayang Sumbi realized who he was, she told Sangkuriang she would only marry him if he build her a lake and boat in one night. With the help of spirits, he almost achieved this but Dayang Sumbi managed to create a fake sunrise and trick him. Angered, Sangkuriang kicked the boat so hard it overturned and became Tangkuban Perahu.
DAY 7: Magical Creature
Babi Ngepet (Boar Demon)
The Babi Ngepet is demon, believed to be the manifestation of men who practiced black magic to become rich and ended up sacrificing their humanity. This boar demon would roam around villages, enter nearby homes, and people’s belongings such as money, gold, and jewelry would magically vanish. The Babi Ngepet would then return home and transform back into human form, its robes filled with the stolen treasure.
The demon required an assistant, whose task was to stay home and guard a lit candle. The candle would be placed floating on a basin of water whenever the Babi Ngepet was out in search of wealth. If the candle flame started to shake or fade, it was a sign that the Babi Ngepet was in danger, caught in the act, or turned back into human form.
This belief was used as a traditional way to explain loss of fortune or mysterious thefts in villages. Villagers would blame wild boars roaming the village in the night, and end up killing them. This also became means of pest control to prevent wild boars from eating and destroying their agriculture.