Petrification Myths: Malin Kundang of Sumatra, Indonesia

Petrifaction myths and legends appear in human cultures all around the world.  Very often they carry a warning or are the result of a punishment. In many cases they can be either inspired by a geological feature such as a rock formation or the name given to the feature is inspired by folklore.  Presented next is a retelling of a folktale from Sumatra, Indonesia that carries an important warning about how grown up children should respect their mother.

Malin Kundang

The story begins in a poor fishing village on the coast of Sumatra where a poor widow struggled to bring up her young son whom she had named Malin Kundang.  They existed on a meager living scraped from fishing.  Nevertheless the mother loved her son very much and worked hard to give him the best that she could.   Thanks to her hard work, love and dedication Malin grew into a healthy and clever boy who was always willing to help his mother to earn some money.  However, no matter how hard they worked they could not escape poverty.

One day Malin had an idea and went to his mother and. said,

“Mother, if I stay here I will never have a life.  I don’t want to spend all my life in poverty and I want to be a rich and successful man. What would you say if I told you I wanted to leave the village and sail away to find my fortune?”

Although his mother was devastated at the thought of her only son leaving her alone she swallowed her bitter tears and told him,

“My son, If that us your heart’s desire I cannot stop you.  Although it breaks my heart that you are leaving I will pray that you find happiness and your heart’s desire, but promise me that when you have found every thing that you dream of you will not forget me and come home again to your mother who will be waiting patiently for your return.”

Malin then told his mother he did indeed want to leave which broke her heart.  In the morning he went down to the harbor and found a ship that would take him on a one of the crew.  His mother came and bid him farewell and after embracing him for a long time said,

“Farewell my son, take good care.  I will pray for you, but I fear you will forget me!”

Then he told his mother,

“You take good care of yourself mother!  I promise I will keep in touch and will not forget you and return as soon as I can.”

Again his mother embraced him tightly not wanting to let go until finally he turned away and walked up the gangplank onto the ship.  She watched as the ship carrying her only son slid silently over the horizon into the rising sun and then returned to her home alone.

His Mother’s Vigil

Three months passed and although Malin’s mother prayed every night and every morning for her son she received not a single word or token from him.  The months turned to years and his mother still prayed day and night for her son’s safety and that he would find his heart’s desire.  Every morning and every evening she would go down to the harbor to see what new ships had come hoping that one would bring her son back to her and would stand in silent prayer looking out over the horizon..

Several years passed in this way and one morning as she stood looking out to sea she was surprised to see an unusually big ship sail out of the blue and dock in the harbor at the point where she held her lonely vigil.

Malin Returns


By The original uploader was Geoethno at German Wikipedia (Original text: Amsterdam, Buffa) (Van de Velde: Gezigten uit Neerlands Indie) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When the ship was tied securely to the dock she saw a handsome, young man in rich clothing disembark from the ship with a beautiful young woman on his arm.  Both were dressed in the finest clothes and exuded an aura of wealth.  Behind them followed many servants and bodyguards and everyone could see that this fine young couple were wealthy and important people.  Malin’s mother looked in surprise and although her eyes had grown weak and weary from crying for her son she recognized him despite this and saw through the finery the young man wore.  She knew this was her son and knew she could not be wrong.  Excitedly she ran up to to him and threw her arms around his neck crying,

“Malin, Malin, my beloved son you gave come back to me!”

Shock and disappointment overcame her as the young man coldly stared straight ahead and showed no response whatsoever.

“I have prayed day and night for you and missed you so much and now my prayers are answered and you have returned to me!”


In truth, Malin felt embarrassment at the sight of this poor old woman dressed in rags.  He thought of his own wealth and fine clothes, he thought of all his servants and bodyguards and he thought of the beautiful young woman on his arm. Although he knew she was his mother he felt ashamed and embarrassed at her poverty and his own humble origins and did not want to let on about his past life to his companion.

Roughly, he thrust his mother away and glared coldly at her saying,

“You are not my mother!  My mother would never wear such poor and ragged clothes.  I don’t know you, go way!”

Shocked and distressed his mother stepped back, sobbing and said,

“Malin, I am your mother stop teasing me!  I have waited so long to see you again you must know me!”

But Malin stared coldly and dispassionately ahead with his face fixed and his eyes cold. Turning to one of his bodyguards he said,

Guard, take this ragged old beggar woman out of my sight!  Give her some money to be rid of her!”

And the guard grasped the old lady by her arm and dragged her roughly away, all the time she was crying out,

“Malin!  Oh Malin my long lost son! Why do you treat me so cruelly?”

Mail ignored his mother’s pleas and ordered the ship to make ready to sail.  He and his beautiful lady returned to the ship which set sail and sailed stately out of the harbor.

Poor Malin’s mother was left distraught and sobbing upon the harbor as the ship sailing upon a calm and quiet sea and disappeared over the horizon.  Anguish and hurt coursed through her body which turned to anger and she fell upon her knees and prayed,

“Dear God, if that young man was not my son bless him with a safe journey and a safe return home.  If he was Malin, my son, I curse him that as soon as he sets foot on land that he may turn to stone.”

So it was that beyond the horizon the ship ran into a storm that whipped the calm and quiet sea into a frenzy.  As thunder rolled and lightning flashed and the rain lashed down the ship was taken by the wild waves and was shipwrecked.  Malin struggled against the giant waves but eventually made it to a beach called Air Manis, near Padang, West Sumatra.

Turned to Stone


The Malin Kundang Stone – By Crisco 1492 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The God, who sees and hears all looked down.  As Malin stepped upon the land he felt his entire body begin to stiffen and he fell forward on to his knees as of one begging for mercy and then fell forward again in supplication to the Divine.  In that position his entire body turned into stone and can be seen to this day on a beach at Pantai Air Manis, Padang, and is called the Malin Kundang Stone.  It is said to exist as testament to the punishment that will be meted out to those who choose to reject their own mother.

© 26/07/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 26th, 2017 zteve t evans

Sang Nila Utama and the Lion City of Singapore

Today Singapore is a thriving, bustling, modern, cosmopolitan city that is a meeting place for many people of different cultures and ethnicity. This provides a melting pot that exudes its own unique and vibrant character. It is a place where people live the multicultural experience to the full. Singapore is a major trading centre and plays an important part in the economies of the region and the rest of the world.  Presented here is a version of the legend of the founding of Singapore pieced together from different sources but mostly from the Malay Annals which is an important cultural text from Malaysia and registered with UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme.


Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

The legend of the Rise of Singapore

The Malay Annals are also known as The Sejarah Melayu and among other stories tell of the legend of how Singapore was founded by Sang Nila Utama, who was also known as Prince Niltanam, or Sri Tri Buana. He was the ruler of the Srivijaya Empire of Sumatra and his capital was Palembang.  According to the legend he was one of the princes who were believed to be descendants of Raja Iskandar Dzu’l-Karnain who was also known more commonly as Alexander the Great, the ruler of the great Macedonian Empire.  however some scholars dispute this.

The Quest of Sang Nila Utama

Sang Nila Utama decided he wanted to build a new city where he could live and rule. He set out to sea with a fleet of ships on a quest to find a suitable place. His ships visited many islands and coves around the coast of South Sumatra. Eventually he and his fleet arrived at the Riau Islands.

The  queen of the islands gave them a stately welcome and the he decided to rest his men for a few days on these most hospital of islands. For personal recreation he and his Chief Minister sailed to a neighbouring island to try their hand at hunting.

The Stag

They came across a stag or deer of some kind and immediately gave chase. The stag ran to the top of a small hill. Although the Prince and his Chief Minister were in hot pursuit, the animal disappeared fro sight. Looking around the summit of the hill the Prince found a large rock which he stood on in order to gain a better view of the countryside below. However, he could see no sign of the animal.

Finding the Island of Temasek

From his vantage point he could see out across the sea and there not far away was another island. On the island he could see a patch that was like shimmering white cloth. In fact it was a beautiful beach with fine white sand that was shimmering in the sunshine.

Calling to his Chief Minister he asked what the island was called. His Chief Minister told him the island was called Temasek. The prince decided that he wanted to visit the island so they returned to the ship and set sail for Temasek.

The Storm

While out in the open sea a great storm suddenly arose. Huge ways tossed the ship and it began taking in water. Soon the ship was in peril of sinking so the order was given to throw all heavy objects overboard. Still, huge waves assailed the ship and water poured into the hold.

At last, fearful the ship would sink, the captain advised Prince Sang Nila Utama that is was his grandfather, the Lord of the Sea, who was causing the storm. He urged the prince to throw his crown overboard as an offering to appease his grandfather’s rage.

The prince agreed and threw his crown into the sea. As the crown sank below the waves the storm abated and stopped, leaving the ship to safely reach Temasek. The ship found a secure anchorage at the mouth of what is today known as the Singapore River.

A Strange Beast

The prince decided he would explore the region while also hunting for game. Telling his Chief Minister to form a hunting party they began to make their way inland. All of a sudden the party came across a strange beast which none of them had seen before.

It had a black head, an orange body and a white neck and breast and was a very handsome animal. At the approach of the hunting party the animal disappeared swiftly into the jungle, where they could find no further trace of it.

Prince Sang Nila Utama asked his Chief Minister if he knew what the animal was called. The Chief Minister was unsure, but told the prince he thought it most likely that it was a lion.

A Good Omen

Although they had lost the animal the prince was pleased. He believed that its sighting was a good omen and he decided to build his new city on the island of Temasek. The Prince sent out to his homeland for help while he and his men remained on the island beginning their work in building the new city.

The Lion City

Prince Sang Nila Utama decided to call the new city “Singapura,” which means “Lion City” and it was founded in 1324. To gain international recognition of his new city state he established diplomatic links with China who recognised it in 1366. He ruled the Lion City for 48 years. When he died he was said to have been buried with his wife at the foot of Bukit Larangan, now known as Fort Canning Hill, though his remains have never been found.

What was the Creature they saw?

Modern studies indicate that lions have never inhabited the region. Many people think that the animal the princes and his men saw was actually a tiger. This is argued against by many on the grounds that tigers were fairly common in Southeast Asia and that the prince and his men would have had no problem identifying a tiger.

This gives weight to those who claim the animal was a mythical creature that resembled a lion, but was the guardian of the island of Temasek. What ever kind of creature it was the Prince was right in believing its sighting was an auspicious sign.

His Lion City grew and flourished to become one of the most important places in the region attracting many different people from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. From its legendary beginnings it has become the busiest port in the world and also one of the most prosperous countries today.

Copyright zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans