The Story of Malin Kundang

The Story of Malin Kundang

Since the text of Malin Kundang folktale is not easy to find, especially the one written in English; therefore, I want to share the following text to you all. Hope it is useful for you. This story is the most well-known folktale among Minangkabau people in West Sumatra province, and generally known in Indonesia.

This story has been published in:

Alibasah, Margaret Muth. 1975. Indonesian Folk Tales. Djakarta; Djambatan, pp. 11-17.


Malin Kundang


Far, far away, on the coast of Western Sumatra near the mount of the Batang Arau River, there is a large gray rock. It looks like any rock anywhere, but the people in the nearby fishing villages approach it with great awe, and not a little fear, and they bring their children to it to tell them its story. For the rock was once a ship – the ship of fisherman’s son from their own neigbourhood, who sinned against his mother and was thus punished for his evil deed.

Most of the inhabitants of the village were poor. They made their living only fishing; farming they did not know. One of the families, poorer than the rest, had one boy named Malin Kundang. Because he was their only son, they loved him more than was good for him, and they spoiled him, and as is so often the case, instead of returning their love and goodness to him, he became lazy and selfish and naughty, and a burden to them.

One morning, as Malin Kundang’s mother set in their small cottage weaving cloth, Malin Kundang, as always looking for mischief, stole up quietly behind her and quickly grabbed her spool. He was about to run away with it when he fell, and the sharp point of the bobbin pierced his forehead just above the eyebrow. Weeping loudly, he ran back to his mother, who cleaned and bandaged his wound without delay and comforted her naughty child. The wound healed quickly, but it left a large scar.

One day Malin Kundang’s father heard that there was a ship at the delta whose captain was looking for additions to his screw. Malin Kundang was growing up, and his father, thinking only of his son’s good and his future, asked him whether he would like to sail. Yes, he would, said Malin Kundang. It seemed to him an excellent idea; he would go far awar, to distant lands, to all the world.

And so he left his parents, and the village where he had grown up, and joined the crew of the large ship his father had told him about. His parents took leave of him with great sadness. In spite of his bad behavior he was still their only son, and they would now be alone again.

As was to be expected, no news came to the parents of their sailor son. Years passed; the father died, and Malin Kundang’s mother lived by herself, poverty-stricken old woman, whose one hope in the miserable world in which she lived, was to have some word from her son before her own life-span was ended.

Meanwhile, what of the son? He was in luck, Malin Kundang, this son of poor fisherfolk. The days of his apprenticehip as a common sailor were far behind. Not only was he a captain of ship; he was the owner of a fleet of merchant ships; as well. Ships, houses, jewels, all the world’s goods he desired were his—and so he lived, adding to his possessions and to his wealth as he sailed from country to country, a prosperous, successful merchant and shipowner. Forgotten were the days of his youth, his parents, their love and kindness towards him. The traits of his boyhood, selfishness, indifference to the welfare of others, conceit—they were all emphasized as he had grown to man’s estate. Tall and straight he had grown – a handsome captain indeed – but the straightness was of pride and the bearing of the head showed conceit and superciliousness. This was Malin Kundang.

One day the villagers of the delta town of Batang Arau saw a large handsome ship, a foreign ship, in their small harbor. One whispered to another, and this one to again another, that the tall man standing on deck was noe other than Malin Kundang. It had been years and years since Malin Kundang had left the village as a young boy, and it was now a grown man they saw, a bold and dashing figure, elegantly dressed. But the older folk knew him by the scar above his eyebrow. They remembered.

The news spread fast. An old man hurried to the home of Malin Kundang’s mother, and panting in his state to tell her, he cried, “Old Mother, old Mother, your son has returned. He is the captain of a splendid ship that has dropped anchor in the harbor. He is a great man now – a rich man. They say it is own ship. Come, Old Mother, and see. Come and see!”

Malin Kundang’s mother could hardly believe the news. The tears rushed to her eyes and streamed down her wrinkled face. Quickly she fetched a basket, filled it with rice, and left the house with the old man.

The ship was splendid indeed. Never before had the village been privileged to receive such a ship in its humble harbor. The spectators were there in throngs, admiring the vessel from stem to stern: the wood of its main mast; its billowing white sails. It was a great event, a great day!