Category Archives: Myths & Legends

Genie Tales 2 – Myths from Langkawi

Fifteen minutes away from Langkawi Island is the second largest island off the coast of Kedah, the Isle of Dayang Bunting. The word dayang is usually used to denote a fairy and it is descriptive of someone who is enchantingly pretty.

According to legend, hundreds of years ago a female genie named Mambang Sari lived on the island of Langkawi and everyday Mambang Sari and her fairies would go to the water’s edge to play. Mambang Sari was a genie of some prominence and one day while she was out playing with her fairy entourage she was spotted by a male genie called Mat Teja.

Enamored by the pretty Mambang Sari, Mat Teja started to watch her discreetly. He followed her silently from a distance, observing her every move as she frisked and frolicked with other fairies, unaware of her secret admirer.

Now, in order to reach the water’s edge daily to spy on the lovely Mambang Sari, Mat Teja had to walk past a place called Diang, home to an elderly man who was known as Tok Diang. One day while he was walking past the home of Tok Diang, the elderly man called out to him and asked him where he was headed. Mat Teja replied that he was out in search of Mambang Sari and that he had fallen in love with her but he did not have the courage to approach her.

The wise old man decided to give him some advice. He told Mat Teja to find a small bamboo stalk and walk along the seashore. When the tide recedes, he instructed Mat Teja to fill the hollow of the bamboo with the tears of a mermaid.

Mat Teja was then instructed to wash his face with the tears of the mermaid. One it was done he was free to approach Mambang Sari and the old man assured him of success.

Mat Teja did as he was told and went in search of a mermaid. He walked along the seashore for hours and just as the tide receded he saw a mermaid sitting by herself on an isolated rock, crying because the receding tide had abandoned her.

The tears were streaming down her cheeks and when Mat Teja saw the desolate mermaid, he grabbed the bamboo that was attached to a belt strapped across his waist and rushed to gather the tears that left her cheeks and fell to the ground.

Mat Teja then returned to where Mambang Sari was playing with her fairies and just before he approached her, he washed his face with the tears of the mermaid.

He then came out of hiding and allowed Mambang Sari to see him for the first time. As soon as the lovely genie caught a glimpse of her admirer, she fell instantly in love with him.

Soon after she fell pregnant and had a child. Seven days after the birth of the child, the baby died under mysterious circumstances. The disheartened Mambang Sari threw the child’s remains into a lake and the lake became known as Dayang Bunting Lake.

More compelling than the tragic tale of Mambang Sari is that of the enchantingly pretty Mahsuri. As the story goes, Mahsuri was married to a warrior called Wan Darus and the couple made their home in Padang Matsirat on the Isle of Langkawi.

Soon after they were wed, war beckoned and Wan Darus had to leave his wife. While he was away, a stranger named Deraman came calling and the young lady befriended the man. Mahsuri was reputably the prettiest lass in Langkawi, to the envy of many including her sister-in-law Wan Mahora.

Following the arrival of Deraman, vicious rumors started circulating around the village propagated by the jealous Wan Mahora and Mahsuri was accused of adultery. The young woman pleaded her innocence but none of the villagers paid her any heed and she was sentenced to death by the village elders.

She was tied to a pole and was repeatedly stabbed with a traditional dagger (keris) while she continued to plead her innocence. The thrusts of the dagger however failed to penetrate her body and she finally revealed that she could only be killed by her family dagger.

She was then stabbed with her family dagger and as the blade entered her body, a stream of white blood came gushing out, shocking the onlookers. The color of her blood proved her innocence and her death was followed by a series of natural disasters including failing crops and bad harvests.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Genie Tales 1 – Mayang Sari

I am sure we’ve all read or at least heard of the Arabian Nights and to come degree or extent outside theological sources it is where most of us first come across this magical creature called the genie with the ability to grant boons and fulfil wishes. Most of us would have at some time or other wished that we had a genie on our side.

Religious canons and principles forbid us from consorting with the genie because any association with the genie will eventually, even if there are initial gains, bring about a turn of bad luck.

Tales of genies are not limited to the middle east and there are many myths and legends involving the genie that have become ingrained in the east.

Across the Straits of Malacca, in the Isle of Sumatra, in the eastern province of Riau, there is a legend called the legend of the seven princesses. According to folklore, the kingdom was once ruled by a queen who was gifted with seven beautiful daughters. The princesses were so pretty that all the other women in the kingdom paled in comparison to them.

The prettiest of the seven princesses was the queen’s last daughter. Her name was Mayang Sari, but she was more commonly known as Mayang Mengurai. One day, while the princesses were frolicking in the waters of a nearby river, they were spotted by a young prince called Pangeran Empang Kuala and his guards.

The prince and his companions, hid behind the bushes, unseen by the princesses and discreetly spied on the ladies, as they continued to bathe in the cool crisp waters of the river. The prince was taken in by the lovely Mayang Sari and a few days later the prince sent a courier bearing the gift of courtship to the princess. The gift was accepted by the young princess in the proper manner and in accordance with tradition.

The princess then replied with a gift of her own, acknowledging the gift of the prince but insisted that the eldest princess, her sister, was the first in line and that the prince’s proposal should be directed at her.

The prince’s courier returned to inform the prince that his offer had been indirectly spurned and the angry prince immediately ordered his generals to invade the queen’s kingdom.

The two opposing armies met on the shores of the Straits of Malacca and the queen’s armies were soon overwhelmed. The war continued for four months. Towards the end of the fourth month the queen’s army crumbled under insurmountable pressure and was on the verge of defeat.

The distraught queen fled into the jungle with her seven daughters and hid them in a large crater, covering the opening with leaves before returning to the scene of the battle.

Not wanting to surrender, the queen sought the help of a genie who was known to meditate on top of an isolated hill at the foot of a mangrove tree. She approached the genie for help and it agreed to help her.

That night, dark clouds shrouded the moon and the battle ground was covered in desolate darkness. The flames of fires and wickers that normally lit the tents were put to rest by a sudden unexpected wind.

An eerie silence filled the air, followed by the piercing sound of a mangrove fruit falling from the sky, landing smack in the middle of the enemy encampment.

The fruit shattered into a million bits and when fragments from the fruit touched the skin of the soldiers it seeped into the pores of their skin and released a dreadful toxin that precipitated instant death.

The prince was defeated in the space of a single night. Seeing the fortunes of war turn in her favor, the queen sent an emissary to the distraught prince to try and persuade him to return immediately to his kingdom.

The prince, his army decimated by the attack, conceded defeat and having thought things over, acknowledged that it was his own misdoing that had brought about the demise of his army and woefully returned to his kingdom. News of his departure was soon delivered to the queen.

Elated the queen rushed to the forest where she had left her seven daughters only to discover that the princesses had died from thirst and hunger. Shortly after the queen fell ill and she too followed in the footsteps of her daughters. The genie while it had granted the queen victory had claimed her life and the lives of her seven daughters.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Princess of the Southern Sea

The South China Sea has witnessed its fair share of deaths and local residents and fishermen often have to brave strong winds and high waves to bring in their share of the spoils. The sand here is softer and finer than that on the west coast of the peninsula and it is highlighted by a succulent light golden hue that prevails throughout the year.

There are many small and scattered islands located on the South China Sea and piracy is not infrequent. Only in recent times has the situation calmed down somewhat.

According to popular myth, the sea comes under the dominion of a Princess called the Princess of the South Sea and every year, without fail, she claims at least seven lives. It’s an obscure myth but local residents are observant and careful not offend the Princess when ferrying on her waters.

The myth may have originated from the Island of Lombok and the Princess is believed to be the spiritual consort of the rulers of Mataram. Interestingly enough the word Mataram is an extension of the Sanskrit word mantra. Loosely translated it means spells.

As legend would have it the Princess of the Southern Sea was initially a beautiful maiden called Dewi Kadita who was born in Pajajaran which was part of the Sunda Kingdom (a Hindu kingdom based in Western Java). Her unparalleled beauty invoked the jealousy of her rivals, who cast an evil spell on her which resulted in her skin being covered with malignant tumors. As a result of the treacherous plot, the Princess turned hideously ugly and unable to live with herself; she fled to the Southern Sea and upon reaching its shores, threw herself into its swirling waters.

The occupants of the sea rescued her and rid her body of the festering growth and turned her into a maiden who was human from head to waist and fish below (a mermaid) and crowned her the Princess of the Southern Sea.

Many years later a young Prince aspired to establish the Kingdom of Mataram and overthrow the Pajang overlord that ruled Mataram. He went to the shores of the Southern Sea and there he performed all manner of austerities. His meditation caused the sea to churn and it troubled the princess who resided within its deep waters.

She rose to the surface to determine the cause of the disturbance. There she spotted the handsome Prince and she fell instantly in love with him. The Prince stopped his mediation and agreed to take her hand in marriage. With her assistance he was eventually crowned as the rightful king of Mataram.

There is another version of the myth, which suggests that the princess was an unknown Queen who was suddenly stricken with leprosy. She left her kingdom to avoid being seen by others and restricted herself to the shores of the South Sea.

She became an ascetic and often prayed on the seashore. One day while she was in the midst of prayer she was grabbed by a huge wave that pulled her to the depths of the sea and there she came in contact with sea spirits who cured her of her ailment and granted her the throne of the South Sea.

The third version of the myth has the princess as the daughter of a widowed local king who remarried. When his new wife fell pregnant, he was forced to choose between his daughter and his new wife.

Wanting to be spared the burden of choosing, the devious king employed the services of black magicians to use their skills and have the skin of his daughter covered with malignant tumors.

The black magicians complied with the king’s wishes and thus lifted the burden of choosing from his shoulders. The child became so grossly disfigured that the king was forced to banish her.

He had his guards abandon her in a jungle close to the sea. The young princess wandered around for hours before she was compelled by a mysterious voice to go to the shores of the South Sea and when she reached its shores, the voice prompted her to throw herself into its waters. The spirits of the sea took kindly to her and cured her of her ailments and had her installed as the Princess of the Southern Sea.

The final version of the myth has the Princess as a Majapahit Queen, who was gifted with physic abilities. In time the Queen immersed herself in the waters of the South Sea to become its ruler.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Vampire Myths (Eastern ) – Raja Bersiong

Vampire myths are common both in the East and the West and while the normal perception is that the vampire originated from Transylvania there are many other myths around the world that incorporate the vampire element.

For long periods in its contemporary history Kedah was under Siamese rule and on one particular occasion it came under the influence of a particularly intimidating monarch. At birth he was given the name Raja Ong Maha Perita Daria but he was more commonly known as Raja Bersiong. According to legend, despite the vice like grip he had on his kingdom, Raja Bersiong lived in constant fear and the threat of being assassinated perpetually loomed over him like a dark cloud.

He was so afraid that even when he went to sleep, he had guards posted around his bed. He devised outlandish methods to counter any threats on his life including leaving all culinary matters in the hands of two cooks. Only they prepared his food and no one else touched any of the ingredients that went into his meals. The cooks had been in his service for years and showed unwavering loyalty to their king. Once his meals were prepared he had his guards taste the food to make sure that it wasn’t poisoned.

Now Raja Bersiong loved to hunt especially with his two dogs and he was constantly out hunting with his guards. The king also loved spicy food and the dish he savored most was curried venison mixed and mashed with a blend of wild aromatic spices.

During one of his hunting trips, his party was hit by a large thunderstorm and the king sought refuge in a nearby cave, while the rest of his retinue continued with the hunt, pelted by large raindrops that fell incessantly from the sky.

The tropical storm lasted for almost five hours and at the end of it, the king was famished. Fortunately the hunt was successful and despite the torrential downpour, his escorts had returned with at least six kills of modest proportions.

As soon as the rain had stopped the king jumped on his horse and ordered his men back to the palace. The party rode back at breakneck speed and once they had returned the carcasses were ferried to the kitchen and handed to the two cooks to be skinned, cut and churned into a meal.

The cooks hurried to prepare the meal and while readying his favorite curry, brazed with deer meat, under a smoldering fire, one of the cooks who was in the habit of day dreaming, accidentally cut his finger with a cooking knife and droplets of blood fell into the curry.

The cook panicked. To prepare a similar meal would take him at least another hour and the king was hungry. If the meal was delayed the irate king might have him beheaded and in desperation he continued as if nothing had happened.

The aromatic scent of rice and curry soon drifted through the corridors of the palace and the king who was unable to contain his hunger any longer, the thunderous rumble in his belly grew stronger by the minute, ordered that the meal be served.

His aides rushed to prepare the dining table, set with the finest porcelain and silver and Raja Bersiong started eating as soon as the food was presented, ravenously devouring his meal. Midway through his meal, the king noticed that there was a difference in the taste and whatever the cooks had added, had increased the flavor manifold.

Curiosity got the better of him and he summoned the cooks as soon as he’d finished eating. The cooks were brought into the throne room and the king seated on his throne that rested on an elevated platform, glared down at them and ordered that they reveal the new ingredient that they had added to their meal.

The cooks trembled with fear and the errant cook, almost fainting from terror, spoke up and revealed the truth, hoping that the king would forgive him. The king, realizing that it was the drops of blood that had made the difference ordered that from then on drops of blood be added to all his meals.

He looked around and ordered the guard closest to him to go down to the dungeon below and behead a prisoner. He then instructed the guard to gather the blood that oozed from the dismembered body in a container and bring it to him.

The guard instantly obeyed and from that day on-wards, Raja Bersiong continued to feed on blood. His requirements increased daily and soon all the prisoners in the dungeon were beheaded until none remained. By that time, the king had developed an insatiable craving for blood and he could not exist without it.

In order to satisfy his craving for the elixir, the king ordered that his guards kidnap young children prompting his subjects to live in constant fear.

Soon the facial contours of Raja Bersiong began to change and his features became increasingly distorted. On his upper jaw, on either side of his mouth, two canine cuspids began to take shape and grew to feature prominently on his face.

The errant cook who had perpetuated the change saddened by the transformation that he had unwittingly initiated secretly plotted to kill the king. He discreetly slipped some powder, a deadly mix of poison, which he kept hidden in the hollow of a horn, into the king’s food and served it to the unsuspecting Raja Bersiong.

However on that particular day, the guards were unable to find any children and the kingdom appeared to be deserted during their customary rounds. The king who had accompanied the guards, together with his two dogs, returned to the palace, hungry and empty handed and ordered that his meal be served.

The meal was brought before him but before he could eat it, one of his dogs, stricken by hunger, leapt forward and knocked the bowls containing his favorite curry off the table. The angry king ordered that the dogs be taken out of the dining quarters but not before one of the dogs had guzzled down a sizable portion of the meal.

Within minutes of consuming the poisoned food, the dog, sank to ground, sagged and sapped and soon died. The king ordered that the guards inspect the remains of the animal and it soon came to the light that the dog had been poisoned.

Raja Bersiong, angered by the death of one of his favorite dogs, ordered that both the cooks be arrested. The cooks were interrogated but none of them admitted to the crime and the angry king had them both tortured. On the thirteenth day following their arrest, the errant cook, unable to hold out any longer confessed to the crime. The king had the guilty cook beheaded and had his body disemboweled. He then ordered the remaining cook to assume his duties and functions.

The king’s cruelty did not cease and his subjects became increasingly angry and disenchanted. In the midst of the chaos a group of local fishermen assembled and plotted to overthrow the king but their plan was discovered and they were quickly arrested and beheaded.

Among those in the group was the brother of a prominent minister who was saddened by the plight that had befallen the kingdom. He discreetly organized the ruling elite to overthrow the king.

The court dignitaries banded together and soon formed a large contingent, much bigger than the king’s standing army and they headed in battle formation towards the palace. The king ordered his guards to stand and repel the attack but they deserted within seconds of the rebellion becoming known.

Raja Bersiong, his rule no longer intact, fled to the nearby jungle and was never heard from again. Ironically no one attempted to stop his escape or capture him and according to the myth he continues to exist in the depths of the unyielding jungle.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward