Thursday, December 18, 2008

Princess Pinang Masak

A Folktale from Senuro Village in South Sumatera Province.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful girl. Her name was Napisah, but she was also called Princess Pinang Masak. In the local language pinang masak means ripe areca nut. Perhaps she was as beautiful as a ripe areca nut to the people of her village.

This beautiful young girl lived in a small kingdom ruled by a king. The King was known to be fond of bringing young, beautiful girls to his court and keeping them there for his own pleasure.

The King had heard that in this small village there lived a beauty named Princess Pinang Masak. Her beauty was said to be unmatched throughout the whole kingdom. It was the talk of the entire kingdom and many young men had already competed to marry her.

The King wanted to know the truth of this matter, so he ordered several of his chief commanders to take this Princess Pinang Masak and bring her to his palace.

When Princess Pinang Masak heard of the king’s intention, she was distressed. She decided she would rather die than join the many young women held prisoner at the king’s palace. She sought a way to avoid being taken there, but she knew it would be hard to escape the king’s vicious soldiers.

Then she thought of a plan. Princess Pinang Masak boiled deep purple banana blossoms until she had a vat of dark liquid. Then bathed in the maroon-colored banana blossom water. As she covered herself in this dark liquid, her skin began to look streaked and dirty. Her beauty was disguised and ruined. Then she put on the oldest rags she could find and waited for the king’s soldiers to arrive.

When the soldiers came to take her to the palace, they found no beauty, but only a dirty looking, unsightly girl in rags. They could not believe the king wanted this creature, but they took her to the palace as commanded.

When they brought her to the king, he was horrified and disgusted that such an unsightly girl should be brought before him. Immediately he expelled Princess Pinang Masak from his palace and harshly sent her back to her village.

However her misfortune did not end with that. Young men continued to arrive at her village proposing marriage, for the fame of her beauty still was known far and wide.

News of her continued suitors reached the king. He wondered if he had been deceived in some way, and sent soldiers to investigate. When they reported that the Princess Pinang Masak was indeed very beautiful, he ordered her captured and brought once more to the palace.

But, Princess Pinang Masak had heard of the king’s intentions. She called her four faithful friends and two guards and they planned for her to escape. Leaving by night, the seven sailed along the rivers and lowlands looking for a new place to avoid the pursuit of the soldiers.

Their boat passed a wide lowland which was later called Lebak (lowland) Maranjat and a bay (teluk) called Teluk Lancang. Before long they sailed through a swamp which had a fast current.

Traveling so far, they at last discovered a safe, hidden place to reside and settled down there. The people nearby welcomed Princess Pinang Masak. Living here, the princess changed her name and took the name of Princess Senuro. Gradually the place grew into a village and was named Senuro village after the lovely princess.

In this new place, Princess Senuro was still the young men’s ideal. She taught basketry skills and instructed in the making of plaited materials such as baskets and other kitchen utensils. It was said that she could plait a basket so well that it could not be penetrated by water.

Years passed. One day Princess Senuro fell ill. With time her sickness became worse and worse. Before she
died she swore an oath. “I beg God Almighty that my descendants should not be as beautiful as I am. Beauty can cause calamities such as have befallen me.”

After she spoke this oath, she breathed her last. She left her four faithful friends and two brave guards who had protected her until her death. Her four friends and two guards remained living in this village until they too died and were buried beside the grave of Princess Senuro.

For the people in that village, Princess Senuro is a symbol of women who hold in high esteem the dignity of women.

As for the evidence of Princess Senuro’s oath, people say that since that time the girls in Senuro village are less beautiful than girls from other villages.
[Contributed by Murti Bunanta of Jakarta. It is from her book Indonesian Folktales (Libraries Unlimited, 2003, this version as retold by Lee-Ellen Marvin, folklorist and storyteller.]


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