Folklore of Indonesia

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Balinese painting of Prince Panji meeting three women in the jungle.

Folklore of Indonesia is known in Indonesian as dongeng (lit. "tale") or cerita rakyat (literally "people's story" or "folklore"), refer to any folklore found in Indonesia. Its origins are probably an oral culture, with a range of stories of heroes associated with wayang and other forms of theatre, transmitted outside of a written culture. Folklore in Indonesia are closely connected with mythology.


Indonesian folklore reflect the diverse culture of Indonesia as well as the diversity of ethnic groups in Indonesia. Many ethnic groups have their collection of tales and folklores being told for generations. The stories usually told to children as some kind of bed-time story, and have pedagogical value on kindness, benevolence, modesty, honesty, bravery, patience, persistence, virtue and morality. For example, the popular theme is "the truth is always prevail, the evil will always defeated".

While most of Indonesian children folklore stories have happy ending plots and a 'happily ever after' theme, some employ tragedy and have rather sad endings.


Most of Indonesian folklore started as oral tradition; being told by story teller or parents for generations within Indonesian villages. The story were often sung or chanted in several oral traditions such as pantun, tembang, or children chants. Some are being performed in performing arts such as wayang and sendratari (dance drama). In Malay tradition some of them are written in scripture as hikayat, while in Javanese tradition several folklore are connected with historical figures and historical records such as babad or older kakawin scriptures such as Pararaton. Indian Hindu-Buddhist epic also influenced Indonesian folklore, especially through wayang and dance drama in Java and Bali. Hindu epic of Ramayana and Mahabharata have their own separate episodes that often formed a separate story with Indonesian twists and interpretations that often differ from Indian version.The Buddhist Jataka tales also has made its way into Indonesian fable animal folklores. Jatakas stories are found carved as narrative bas-reliefs on ancient Javanese candis, such as Mendut, Borobudur and Sajiwan temples; telling the fable animal stories about the virtue of Buddha with his exceptional act of kindness in his animal incarnation before being reborn as Boddhisattva and future Buddha.

They have been collected and used in the Indonesian education system, in small cheap books, usually tied in with a district or region of Indonesia. Many stories explain events or establish moral allegories from iconic or symbolic characters of the past. They also seek to explain the origins of names of people and places from Folk etymology.

During the Suharto era, there were sections of the Indonesian Department of Education and Culture that researched and wrote reports on collected cerita rakyat.

List of Indonesian folklores[edit]

There are several genres of Indonesian folklores.


The story of the struggle of common protagonist to finally achieve happiness despite facing many problems.


The stories that try to explain the origins of certain places, names and/or things.


Heroic tales of struggles, battles and war. The story of a hero adventure and their exploits.


Animal tales, animal that behaves like humans or interacts and speak with human.


Witch, demon, spirit or ghost tales, based on urban legend or supernatural phenomenons.

Further reading (in English)[edit]

  • Moertjipto (1992). Folktales of Yogyakarta South Coast. Translated by Hartiko, Hari. Directorate General of Tourism, Republic of Indonesia. 

Further reading (In Indonesian)[edit]

  • Danandjaja, James (1992) Cerita Rakyat dar Jawa Tengah Jakarta: Grasindo. ISBN 979-553-038-0
  • Setyawan, Dwianto (1992) Cerita Rakyat dari Jawa Timur Jakarta: Grasindo. ISBN 979-553-089-5
  • Soemanto, Bakdi (1992) Cerita Rakyat dari Yogyakarta Jakarta: Grasindo. ISBN 979-553-088-7
  • Soemanto, Bakdi (1995) Cerita Rakyat dari Yogyakarta 2 Jakarta: Grasindo. ISBN 979-553-683-4
  • Soepanto, ed (1976) Ceritera Rakyat Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta Yogyakarta: Proyek Penelitian dan Pencatatan Kebudayaan Daerah.

External links[edit]