Don’t be Like “Malin Kundang”

July 2, 2018 | Ade Tanesia


The variety of Indonesian cultures make the country rich with folklores. Although the values carried within these folklores are universal, but it is interesting to see how the stories are told from one village to the next. One thing that needs to highlight is that the uniqueness of the stories are often parallel to the nature and geographical uniqueness of the place where each story came from.

Lately, Indonesian folklores have been left on the side. This is due to the emergence of the new model of communication media along with their modern contents. However, folklores could still be told using the modern media. The messages carried in these folklores are significant in terms of shaping children’s characteristics. Those values are also timeless. In Indonesia itself, the efforts made to resurrect folklores have begun with various initiatives.

We hereby present you the folklore of Malin Kundang from West Sumatra.

Malin Kundang was the son of a poor family who lived by the beach. His father worked on merchant ships. Malin Kundang’s father was a sailor who always came home when he was done with his work. But one day, the man did not come home. Nothing was known of him. Neither Malin Kundang, his mother nor the people of the village knew of his whereabouts.

Malin Kundang’s mother in turn worked hard to be able to give her son a decent life. Heartbroken with his mother’s situation, Malin Kundang was determined to ‘merantau’, a Minang term for going away from his village in search of a good living. He just wanted to become successful so he could make his mother happy in the future.

One day, a luxurious ship came to the shore. Malin and his friends quickly worked to clean the ship, the way they always did whenever a ship came to the shore of the village. Malin Kundang worked his best. The captain of the ship, amazed with Malin Kundang’s performance, offered him to work as a sailor in his ship. It was a dream come true for Malin. His wish to set sail and go to different places had come true. So Malin ran home and told his mother about the news. At first Malin’s mother was hesitant to let him go, but seeing the determination in Malin’s eyes, she halfheartedly let him go. “Be careful in your new place, son. Be kind to everyone, always be humble, and never forget you Lord the Almighty”, his mother said right before she let him go. And as the ship started to sail away from the shore, gone too was Malin from the vision of his mother.

From that day on, every day in the afternoon, Malin’s mother always stood on the beach looking into the horizon. She always prayed for the safety of his son while hoping that he could quickly come home. Whenever a ship came by, Malin’s mother always came to see in case her son happened to be inside it. But everyday she was always left feeling disappointed. No one knew what happened to Malin, nothing came from him, and of course, Malin was never to be seen from the ships that came to the village. Years passed by, and Malin’s mother kept waiting for his return.

Until one day, people of the village came running to the pier. Malin’s mother who was already old and sickly by then approached a young man that she met and asked him what had happened. It turned out that came the most luxurious and grand ship everyone in the village had ever seen. The owner of the ship was a young and handsome man. The ship brought abundant trade materials that had never been seen before by the people of the village. Upon hearing the news, Malin’s mother gained her strength and teetered to the pier.

More and more people crowded the jetty. On top of the deck of the ship, a rich looking young man and woman with beautiful clothes were seen distributing money to the crowd. Even in her old age, Malin’s mother would never forget the face of her son. No matter how a man change, his mother would never be able to forget his face. Especially when his birthmark was still clearly visible for everyone to see. The mother was certain that the young man standing on the deck of the ship was truly her own son.

She quickly got to the ship and hugged Malin. Malin was surprised and pushed the woman away, making her fell to the floor.

“Who are you? How dare you litter my expensive cloth?” snapped Malin.

“Malin…this is me, your mother. Look at just how successful you are now son. I am so happy for you. You are finally home,” said the mother. Malin was shocked to hear what she said. Who knew that the old woman with her old clothes was in fact her mother, whom he had left a long time ago.

“Is this beggar really your mother? You said you were an orphan. But just look at how your mother is still alive as a beggar”, Malin’s wife asked Malin angrily. Feeling ashamed, Malin quickly denied this. He even accused the poor woman as a person who wrongly claimed to be his mother for the sake of money. He then ordered his men to scoff the old lady away. As if this was not enough, he also ordered them to quickly set sail and leave the village.

Upon receiving such treatment from her own son, Malin Kundang’s mother was broken hearted. She could not believe what had just happened. So, she raised her hands and prayed,” God…you are the most just and you always listen to our wishes and prayers. If it is true that he was not Malin, my own flesh and blood, then please give him safety and happiness. But if the man was truly Malin Kundang, my long-gone son, then please curse him and turn him into a stone”.

In an instant, the bright sky turned dark. The wind blew harshly and came a thunderstorm. The ship that had just sailed away from the village was hit by the storm. Lightning hit the earth and the sea over and over again and the waves were on rampage. Realizing what was happening, Malin regretted all that he did to his mother. But it was all too late. The ship was hit by a giant lightning, crashing it into pieces. And at that moment, Malin turned into a stone.

Batu Malinkundang di Pantai Air Manis, Padang, Sumatera Barat.

Folklores always emerge from the culture of the society in a certain area. ‘Merantau’ or going away from a man’s hometown is an integral part of the Minangkabau culture, where the story of Malin Kundang was born. There is a saying in Minangkabau that says, “Karatau tumbuah dihulu, babuah babungi alun, marantau bujang dahulu, dirumah baguno alun”. This saying explains how a bachelor or a single man does not have any significant position yet in the customs. And the family’s decision cannot yet be taken by the young man. This is because he is not seen as experienced yet. Hence the man must look for experience by going away or ‘merantau’.

Actually, parents realize about the significance of ‘merantau’. It could be seen from the calling and recommendation by parents to their sons to go on a journey. There are even some parents who push their sons to go as far away from the Minangkabau area. This is due to the opinion that the farther the place of journey, the more the experience. So, when the son finally comes home, he would be a lot more useful in the society. But in terms of ‘merantau’ context, the story of Malin Kundang also teaches us about the value of respecting our mother who gave life to us. In many traditions in the archipelago, the figure of a mother or a woman is valorized. They are even seen as a symbol of fertility. This is why the story of Malin Kundang carries the message of how treating your mother in a cruel way is a big sin. This sin could curse a person in the future. This story also carries character education; not to be arrogant, and that wealth should not be the only aim of our lives.

If we look the story even deeper, it could be seen that Malin Kudang in the beginning was a good child. His initial aim to go ‘merantau’ was so that he could serve his mother better with a good living. But in the end, it was exactly his good living that has changed him and made him become a cursed son. Here we can learn an important lesson that as a person, we must be aware of our own self. Meaning that we cannot let material gains and power change us. For the people of Minangkabau, West Sumatera, parents would usually just say to their children, “don’t be like Malin Kundang”. This short sentence is enough to remind every child there to be kind to their parents, to serve their parents well, to always introspect, and to remember that when they go on a journey, the aim should be to come back and develop their hometown.

Tags : Cerita Rakyat, Minangkabau, Sumatera Barat

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