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Have you ever wondered how a river gets its name? Well, in the case of Sungai Landak in West Kalimantan, it all comes from a legend about a mystical hedgehog that was able to provide wealth and abundance. Stories like these are passed through oral traditions, as well as performing art forms such as dance and theatre.
Read this tale and then find out more about performing arts in Indonesia!
See how stories like these can be told through art forms such as puppetry in Sang: A Journey to Return Home by Papermoon Puppet Theatre (Indonesia), on view at Esplanade Upper Concourse from 13 Jan to 14 May 2023.
A long time ago, there lived a farmer and his wife in a village next to a forest. They lived simple yet happy lives and helped people in need as much as they could.
One night, while the farmer and his wife were asleep, the farmer was startled awake by a sudden sound. He opened his eyes and to his surprise, he saw a giant white centipede crawling out of his wife’s pillow!
“My eyes are deceiving me!” thought the farmer, amazed by the sight before him. In his curiosity, he followed the centipede until it reached the edge of a small pond not far from the house. Suddenly, the centipede moved quickly and disappeared into a hole just next to the edge of the pond. The husband was completely puzzled, but with nothing left to follow, he decided to go back home.
In the morning, the farmer told his wife about the centipede: “Something strange happened to me last night. I’m not sure if it was a dream or reality. I saw a white centipede crawl out from your pillow and hide in a hole next to a pond!”
His wife gasped and replied, “Something strange happened to me too! I had a dream where I was near a pond. Suddenly, I saw a hedgehog in the middle of it. Do you think this has anything to do with what you saw last night? How about we go check the hole now?”
The farmer immediately agreed, and both of them quickly made their way to the pond. He found the hole again quite easily where the white centipede had disappeared into, and stuck his hand inside. To his surprise, he found a gold hedgehog statue that he could hold in one hand. The farmer was shocked and turned to his wife, “It’s just a statue! What should we do with it?”
His wife looked at it in amazement, “Let’s just bring it home, there is no harm in doing so.” And so, the farmer and his wife returned home with the golden hedgehog.
That night, it was the farmer who had a dream instead. A giant hedgehog appeared in his mind, speaking to the farmer, “Let me stay in your home. In return, I will give you everything you want. Just hold the statue and say the prayers, one will bless you with whatever you wish and the other will stop the wish.”
The hedgehog then went on to recite these prayers. In the morning, the farmer still remembered these prayers and decided to put it to the test. He held the statue in his hand and said the prayer, wishing for rice.
Suddenly, out from the statue’s mouth poured rice, endlessly flowing. “I cannot believe it actually works,” said his wife in surprise, looking at the rice scattered on the floor. The man quickly recited the second prayer to make the rice stop, and immediately the rice stopped flowing.
In the following weeks, the couple began to ask for other things, such as gold, jewelry, cloth and more. They became very wealthy people with an abundance of goods and resources. However, they did not change their ways and continued to help needy people in their village and beyond.
Soon, however, word of the farmer’s mystical wealth spread across the land. A greedy individual discovered that the wealth came from the farmer’s house and the magic hedgehog statue. He even managed to learn what prayer to say in order to make a wish. “Why should he have it? I am going to take this statue for myself!” resolved the thief. He waited till night fell before sneaking into their house. He managed to find the hedgehog, and quickly took it in hand back to his home in Ngabang Village.
Ngabang Village was experiencing a drought, and had almost no water left for the villagers’ basic needs. The thief wanted to help, but at the same time, wanted to be seen as a heroic person. The morning after he stole the hedgehog, he gathered people in the centre of the village. “Everyone, I have found a solution to our problem. I will save you from the drought!”
With a dramatic wave of hand, he brought out the hedgehog statue, and said the prayer. In an instant, water started pouring out of the hedgehog’s mouth and the villagers rejoiced.
However, the thief did not know that a prayer was also required to stop the hedgehog. As the water continued to flow, the thief shook the statue in his hand, frantically shouting, “Stop, stop, that is enough!” This was to no avail, and the villagers quickly escaped as soon as they noticed that the water could not be stopped.
When the thief tried to run as well, he found that he could not move his legs, and had a sudden vision of a giant hedgehog sitting on his feet. He cried out in despair, but the water kept coming forth and soon, the thief drowned, and a river was formed in the Ngabang Village.
The river was then named Sungai Landak, or Hedgehog River, in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Illustrations by Farihath Samsul.