5 Most Famous Indonesian Folktales

Stories are being passed on from generation to generation.

Either proven to be true or a matter of community’s belief, these stories, or known as the folktales, have then become another part of the popular culture which are being retold especially to the children.

Indonesia is a country rich of its ancestors’ heritage, and this does count for folktales.

It becomes a common lesson in the education curriculum in Indonesia for Literature subjects to read and comprehend these stories, making them very familiar to the majority of people up to the present time.

Some have become legendary stories while others tried to instill moral lessons, these folktales have got more famous from time to time especially with the rise of online platforms as the medium of storytelling.

Here is the list of five most famous Indonesian folktales that you should know.

1. Malin Kundang

Malin Kundang

Malin Kundang may be considered among the very top in the list of Indonesian most famous folktales.

Also being told in other countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, Malin Kundang tells a story about a son being disrespectful to his poor mother after becoming successful and marrying a rich woman.

This son was told to be cursed by his mother, turning into a stone, now well-known as Batu Malin Kundang (Malin Kundang Stone) located at Air Manis, one of the best beaches in Indonesia near Padang.

2. Roro Jonggrang

Roro Jonggrang

Another folktale that Indonesian people should all know is Roro Jonggrang, a Javanese legend which is part of facts about Javanese culture.

Roro Jonggrang tells a story about the love of a prince from Pengging’s kingdom, Bandung Bandawasa, with the princess from Boko’s kingdom, Rara Jonggrang.

However, with the deep malice towards the prince for murdering her father, Rara Jonggrang gave a condition for the love that Bandung Bandawasa should build a thousand temples in one night.

Not accepting the fact that the prince was about to successfully fulfill her request, Rara Jonggrang fooled the prince, but she was then being cursed by the prince into a stone for this deception.

This story was believed to be the origin of the Ratu Boko palace, Sewu temple, and the Durga statue located in Central Java.

3. Lake Toba

Lake Toba

The legend of Lake Toba is a folktale coming from North Sumatera and is particularly famous among the Batak culture.

This tale is about a farmer named Toba marrying a woman who was previously cursed to be a golden fish.

Under the deal that the two would keep the secret about the curse, they both married and had a child.

However, the farmer broke his promise under his anger on his child for eating his portion of lunch.

There then came a massive flood after the mother went shocked and sad, forming a lake now known as Lake Toba, one of the largest lakes in Indonesia, while the saved son was now believed to be the ancestor of Batak people.

4. Bawang Merah-Bawang Putih

Bawang Merah-Bawang Putih

This should be a folktale known by every single Indonesian for its high fame.

Also being told in Malaysia, this popular folklore in Indonesia with an unclear origin tells a story about two step-sisters: the kindhearted Bawang Putih (garlic) and the cruel Bawang Merah (onion).

While Bawang Merah was very spoiled, Bawang Putih should do all the chores every day; but she was one day blessed with some jewelries inside a small pumpkin after wholeheartedly helping an old woman.

Followed by their greed, Bawang Merah and her mother planned to follow Bawang Putih’s deed, but refused to help the chores and madly asked for a large pumpkin.

However, the pumpkin was filled with snakes instead, and the two realized their greed and asked for forgiveness.

5. Lutung Kasarung

Lutung Kasarung

This Sundanese folktale entitled Lutung Kasarung originated from West Java.

Having a similar theme and moral lesson to the European folklore called Beauty and the Beast, this tale follows the story of a magical lutung (black monkey) helping a sick princess called Purbasari Ayuwangi who was being fooled by her jealous sister Purbabarang.

This monkey, who was actually a handsome god being cursed, built a palace for Purbasari, bringing Purbabarang with more envy when the news spread.

The king was then asked to select a princess between Purbasari and Purbabarang based on their fiancé’s appearances, knowing that Purbasari had no man to support her.

Purbasari chose Lutung instead for recognizing his loyalty and heart, and at that moment, the curse was broken and he turned back to the handsome man he was.

Those are five most famous Indonesian folktales that you probably have been familiar of as early as your childhood life.

It will be a respectful task for us to continue on retelling this story to the next generations to preserve the culture of the country.