Crying for a happy fairytale ending
Storybook characters Bawang Merah (Jenny Marcella) and Malin Kundang (Pramudhityo Dewantoro) come to life from Rhani’s (Priska Noviani) Storybook in a musical drama by Indonesian university students in Singapore in 2014

AND THEY lived happily after… is how most fairy tales would end in Western countries. But in Asia, some tales have tragic endings, often with a strong moral warning. In Sumatra, Indonesia, there’s the story of Malin Kundang, only child of a poor fisherman and his wife living in a village near the mouth of the Batang Arau River. Malin had a scar on his forehead because of a fall when he was young.

When Malin became a young man, his father asked a ship captain to take his son on board as a crew member. Seeing how well-built and strong Malin was, the captain agreed. It was hard for Malin’s parents to see him off at port. They watched until the ship disappeared from the horizon. Then they returned to their hut, hoping that one day they would see their beloved son again.

Years passed. Malin worked hard and eventually became a sea captain himself, in charge of a large ship. He married the daughter of a rich merchant. He hardly thought about his parents who still waited for his return.

Eventually Malin decided to make a trip to see his childhood village. He had not told his wife of his lowly origins because he was afraid she would despise him. When his ship arrived at the small harbour of Batang Arau, the villagers rushed to see it. An old man noticed the scar on the captain’s forehead and recognised him as Malin Kundang. He hurried to tell Malin’s mother that her son had returned as a wealthy sea captain (by then the father had already died).

Malin’s mother was happy and excited on hearing the news. She and some neighbours cooked Malin’s favourite food and wrapped it in fresh banana leaves. Taking the food package, they rushed to the port. From a distance, the mother and the other villagers could see the mast of the ship. It looked grand. And standing tall on the deck was Malin, dressed in a gleaming royal purple silk blouse and gold-trimmed sarong. Next to him was his beautiful wife in a shimmering lavender blue gown, laced with rubies, emeralds and a gold necklace flashing in the morning sun.

Malin’s mother recognised her son immediately from his scar and she cried out joyfully, “Malin Kundang, my dear son! At last you’ve come home, dear son!” Her heart was brimming with love and happiness as she approached the ship.

But Malin Kundang was horrified when he saw the old woman in dirty clothes approaching him. He felt too ashamed in front of his wife to acknowledge his mother. Turning away, he ordered his crewmen to push his mother from the ship, and to lift anchor immediately.

“Malin Kundang!” called his mother. “You must know me. I am your mother. I have your favourite food here that you liked to eat when you were a kid. Remember?”

The ship slowly moved out. Still the mother cried, “Malin Kundang! You are a wicked, ungrateful child. You neglect your own mother who brought you up. Your heart has turned to stone!”

As the ship sailed out to sea, the clouds thickened and lightning covered the sky. The wind and waves seemed to rise in fury to throw the ship back and forth. Huge waves kept hitting the deck until the ship broke into two.

They said the wreckage of Malin Kundang’s ship was cast ashore near Air Manis beach, south of Padang city. There the wreckage turned into stones. If you looked hard enough, you might see one of the stones look like Malin Kundang. – February 2014

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