Tag Archives: Indonesian

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.

Uncle Kiki’s Toenails: Indonesian Tongue Twister


MS: “Oh do you remember that tongue twister you taught me? Where did you learn that?”

SL: “Oh yeah! My mom taught me that – hold on, let me make sure I get this right, okay.

“Keke kake kiki ko kuku kaki kake ko kaku ke”

SL: “So that’s like a tongue twister that my mom taught me when I was younger and it’s really (laughter) stupid. It’s just, it’s really childish. “Keke” means  – it’s just a slang word for Uncle and then “kake” is the actual word for uncle or just like an older man. And his name is “kiki”. “ko kuku kaki” so why are your toenails so like sharp (laughter). And that is the gist of the story.”

MS: “Is this just a your family type of thing or is it pretty common tongue twister?”

SL: “I think it’s a pretty popular tongue twister but it is said in different forms.”

MS: “Do the other kids of your family also know or use it frequently?”

SL: “I think they would definitely know what it is but I think I’m the most like in tune with a lot of the Indonesian words like slang and…so I don’t think they would necessarily register what I’m saying – it’s just like why are you saying these words to me?”



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. She had taught me this tongue twister a few years ago, and though I knew how to say it, I never had the cultural context necessary to truly understand it.



The tongue twister seems to be a means of connecting to a distant culture – both through the use of slang words and the implicit vernacular and pronunciation sophistication required to present the tongue twister correctly and understand its meaning. The humorous meaning is probably a means of making the content appealing to children so they get influenced to repeat the phrase and subconsciously learn the language and culture.

Loro Jonggrang

“This folklore is about a famous temple called Prambanan in Jogjakarta, a big traditional city in Indonesia. By the way, Prambanan is a famous Hindu temple in Jogjakarta. The story is called Loro Jonggrang and it’s about how the temple was formed. It was said that there was a princess named Loro Jonggrang who was very beautiful and was the daughter of a cruel king in a great kingdom. In a neighboring kingdom, there was a prince named Bandung Bondowoso. The two kingdoms fought, and this prince killed the cruel king, the father of Loro Jonggrang. As he saw the princess, he was stunned by her beauty and proposed to her, the enemy of his kingdom. When she found out that he’s actually the murderer of her dad she rejected him. Because he was so persistent, and would not give up, she gave him a condition, which was to build her a thousand temples in one night. Of course, she thought that he would not be able to actually build these temples; it is normally an impossible task. But Bandung was a powerful guy, who could use his power to command dark forces and genies. So he did. When Loro Jonggrang saw that he had nearly finished building all those temples, she cheated out of fear. She asked all the people in the villages to grind the rice padi. The cocks thought that morning had come because of the all the noise. So they also made their crowing sound. The dark forces and genies became scared when they heard the cocks because of the noise and they thought it was morning.. So they abandoned the temples. The prince learned about this cheating, and he became very angry. He used his powers to curse Loro Jonggrang, turning her into a statue. Her statue is now an important feature of Prambanan, since it completed the temple.”

My informant first heard about this legend from a friend when she went to visit this temple. She thought it was very interesting, and a way to add to the temple and its history. It helped to connect the temple to the land and its folklore, and probably came from a true story in which a supernatural variation came about because of the beauty of the temple and is religious context.

This story was entertaining to hear, as I had never really heard folklore from Indonesia before. I thought it was interesting that they used supernatural explanations with dark magic and romance to explain a religious temple. I found it funny that the dark magical creatures became scared once they heard the crowing of the roosters, although perhaps it was because they may be vulnerable to the day.


Santoso, Suwito, Fendi Siregar, and Kestity Pringgoharjono. The Centhini Story: The Javanese Journey of Life : Based on the Original Serat Centhini. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2006. Print.