Malin Kundang: History & Myth

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

What could possibly cause a boy from a poor fishing village to become a stony reminder of bad behavior? In this lesson, you'll learn more about the history and myth of Indonesia's 'Malin Kundang.'

Turned to Stone

You've probably seen pictures of Greek mythology's Medusa, a monstrous woman with snakes atop her head where her hair should have been. Legend says that if a person looked upon Medusa's face, they would instantly turn to stone.

That's just one of numerous petrification myths handed down throughout history. Stories about petrification, sometimes call petrifaction, the act of something (or someone) turning to stone, was typically a story of a warning or punishment.

Such is the case of the myth of Malin Kundang, the story of a young child who was turned to stone after disrespecting his mother. Originating in West Sumatra, Indonesia, the remains of Kundang's ship is believed to be encased in stone on a beach near Padang, a rock formation that the local call Batu Malin Kundang.

Indonesia portrayed the legend of Malin Kundang on a commemorative stamp.
malin, kundang, legend, history, myth

The story, in various re-tellings, is popular throughout Southeast Asia, but all share a common thread: A main character whose bad behavior is punished by becoming petrified forevermore. With a bit of history behind us, let's take a closer look at the story.

''Malin Kundang''

The action takes place in a small fishing village near the town of Padang. The fishing families of the village were notoriously poor, but hard-working. Among them was the family of Malin Kundang, an only child whose last name translated to ''spoiled.''

Malin was what you might call a bad kid, always getting into some kind of trouble. Once, his rough play caused him to fall and hit his head, which left a scar long after it healed.

As Malin grew, he became stronger and more powerful, so much so that his physical prowess made him a fine specimen to work aboard a ship as a crewman. His father hoped one day he would become an important ship captain.

Years Go By

Though it was difficult for Malin's parents to watch him leave, they had hopes he would return home to them.

But while he was away, Malin forgot all about his parents. Instead, he spent his time learning all he could about sea life, making money on his own luxurious ship and taking a bride who was the daughter of a wealthy merchant.

Still more time passed, and Malin's thoughts of home were nearly non-existent. In that time, his father died, but his mother still pined for her son to return home.

Malin did eventually begin to think more about his home, but was afraid to mention his meager upbringing to his well-to-do wife. Yet, he determined to visit his childhood home once again.

Back to the Village

When Malin's ship arrived at the port, everyone rushed to see who could possibly be aboard such a fine vessel. One elder of the village recognized Malin by the scar on his forehead from his childhood and ran off to tell Malin's mother her son had returned.

Malin's mother rushed to the port, eager to see the son she had sent out to sea so many years ago. She marveled at his wealth and the ship. Yet, when she approached Malin and called out to him, he pretended not to recognize her.

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