Moonlit Lakes and the Lies Men Tell: Indonesian Folk Song


SL: “So another like, poem, I guess you could call it, that my grandma taught me was this one – it’s um –

Terang bulan, terang di kali
Buaya timbul disangkalah mati
Jangan percaya mulutnya lelakilaki
Berani sumpah ‘tapi takut mati”

SL: “So it starts off like really poetic – the moon is really bright in the ocean, or the lake, the crocodiles are sleeping and they’re like so still that you think that they’re dead essentially, um, and it goes into the actual like part of the poem – it says “jangan percaya mulutnya lelakilaki”so “don’t listen to things that guys tell you” (laughter) because “berani sumpah ‘tapi takut mati” so they’re willing to tell you all these things but they’re not like – they’re really scared of just dying (laughter). So my grandma told me this because she’s like you need to not like focus on guys, you need to like focus on your studies and not get distracted. Um, but she’s also told a lot of my cousins this. And I guess it’s actually a pretty famous poem but um, she presented it to me as if she came up with it so I don’t know.”

MS: “What age were you when you first heard this?”

SL: “I think it was like – probably as a sophomore or junior in high school?”



The informant is an Indonesian-Chinese-American college student, who has lived in California her whole life. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world.



This poem seems to be an instructional note from an older generation to a younger generation. Based on preliminary googling the informant was actually referring to an adapted folk song from the French “La Rosalie” which was popular in 1920s and 1930s Malaysia. This seems to indicate that the song is a means for the informant’s grandmother, and more generally the older generation, to recount the past and communicate culture as they knew it. The song the informant mentioned was also modified from the version I was able to find online, which means it was probably adapted specifically to become instructional to a teenager as opposed to the original meaning which seems to not be about the lies that men tell women but that people tell each other in general.



The article The Politics of Heritage by Marshall Clark (2013, Indonesia and the Malay World 41:121, 396-417), talks more about contestation about the roots of this melody, and its relevance for the Indonesian and Malay cultures.