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The Legend of Batang Tuaka (Indragiri Hilir)

Riau - Indonesia
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Indragiri Hilir district, well known as “Negeri Seribu Parit” (the country of one thousand ditches), includes in the province of Riau, Sumatra, Indonesia. Both swamps and rivers flow everywhere in the district. Indragiri River, whose upper course in Bukit Barisan, West Sumatra, flows into Berhala strain, is the biggest rivers of the district. Meanwhile other rivers are mere tributaries of the Indragiri River. Among the famous tributaries in Indragiri Hilir is Batang Tuaka that flows in the sub district of Batang Tuaka. It is said that “Batang Tuaka” is the name that refers to a famous legend among the surrounding Malay communities. The legend narrates a rebellious young boy toward his mother that made God condemning him. Who is the young boy? How did he become a rebellious boy? What is the Gods punishment? To know the answer, please read the legend of Batang Tuaka below.

Once upon time, many years ago in Indragiri Hilir, there was an elderly widow who lived with her only son, Tuaka, inside a forest. They stayed at a small hut on the bank of Indragiri Hilir estuary. Although they had neither relatives nor wealth, both persons passed their times delightfully. Everyday, Tuaka helped his mother in seeking firewoods in the surrounding area of their hut. They should attempt strongly to survive since Tuakas father died many years ago.

One day, Tuaka and his mother went to the forest beside the river. They searched for firewoods to be sold and some of which were used to fulfill their daily needs. After thinking those were enough, they backed home in the evening. “Mom, you look so tired, let me shoulder these firewoods by myself”, said Tuaka wanted to decrease the load on his mothers back. “No Tuaka, you have shouldered so many firewoods, and I am strong enough to carry mine,” the mother replied while kept stepping on path.

In their way home, they were surprised by hissing sound. “Mom, what sound is that?” Tuaka asked his mother. “It is like snakes sound”, replied the mother. It was true, there were two big snakes fought each other at steeply sloping riverbank for gaining a thing. “Hide yourself, Tuaka! There are two big snakes in fighting”, the mother warned. Tuaka and his mother therefore hid behind a big tree, but kept watching the fighting. “What are they fighting for, mom?” Tuaka asked again. “I do not know. Be quiet, to keep us out of their sight”, his mother answered in a whisper.

A few moments later, the two snakes stopped fighting. Tuaka and his mother came out from the hiding place directing to the scene. They found that one of them had died, while another badly injured. The injured snake kept a beautiful glistening pearl in its mouth. Tuaka knew the snake was in serious illness. He told his mother, “Mom, how poor this injured snake, lets help”. “Lets take it home to give some medical cares” the mother added. Tuaka therefore put the snake in a basket and shouldered it to home. After reaching home, Tuakas mother collected many kinds of leaves and roots to make medicine for healing the snake, while Tuaka provided drink.

Over following days, the snake found its health recovered gradually, but one day, of a sudden, it disappeared and left the pearl in the basket. Tuaka and his mother did not understand what had happened. They just looked and saw astonishingly the glistening pearl. Tuaka asked his mother, “Why did the snake leave the pearl, mom?” “Perhaps, it was grateful for our help. I think it is good to sell it to a merchant. We will get so much money for fulfilling our daily needs,” the mother argued. Tuaka spontaneously agreed with the idea.

In the next morning, Tuaka went to harbor crowded by merchants. Tuaka walked around the area searching for a merchant who dared to pay it with highest price. The price however discouraged the merchants from buying the pearl. Tuaka had been despondent, and intended to bring it back home to tell his mother how hard selling the pearl. Before leaving the harbor, he saw a merchant stood on the harbors corner. Tuaka came to him and offered the pearls expensive price. “Wow this pearl is so beautiful. I utterly want to own it, although the price you are offering too expansive”, said the merchant. “So what are you waiting for, sir? Please pay the price soon”, replied Tuaka pleasurably. The merchant told him, “I do not bring enough money for paying the price, son. You may come with me to Temasik, and I will pay the price”. Tuaka kept silent, thinking what he had just heard. But eventually he told the merchant, “Hmmm, sure, I will be with you to Temasik”. Tuaka then backed home to tell his mother the plan. The mother agreed and allowed him went. All the way to Temasik, Tuaka did not stop imagining the plenty of money he would get.

After having arrived in Temasik, the merchants paid the price to Tuaka. Unfortunately, the plenty of money led him to forget his elderly poor mother who lived alone at the forest edge. He preferred to live in Temasik, and became a successful merchant after following years. He had abundant wealth, including luxurious house and several ships. He afterward married a pretty girl.

One day, Tuaka brought his wife to sail to another island. Tuakas ship later harbored at his village. Although Tuaka knew exactly that his mother lived in the village and waited him for many years, he told nothing to his beloved wife. Tuaka did not want his wife knew that he was the son of the elderly poor widow.

However, after several days, his coming was heard by his mother. She was so eager to meet her beloved son. Her deep longing led her to take a small boat to come close to Tuakas ship. “Dear my son, Tuaka, I am coming to see you. I am longing for you”, the mother spoke loudly when she was seeing Tuaka and his wife on the ship. “Who is that old woman, my honey? Why does she call you my son?” asked his wife unfriendly.

Tuaka was surprised finding his mother on the small boat under his ship. He knew that she was his mother, but refuted her. Feeling ashamed from his pretty wife, Tuaka had his guard expelled the old woman. “Bring the old poor woman far from my ship. I do not identify her. She is not my mother”, Tuaka commanded angrily. The same was also done by his wife. The guard had no choice only obeyed his two masters.

Tuakas mother was very sad. She did nothing only kept her small boat far from the ship. On her way to beach, she prayed, “Oh God, please forgive my son due to his impenitence to me, his mother. Give him Your guidance to realize his guilty”. God instantly heard her prayer, and of a sudden, Tuaka and his wife became eagle and pigeon. The mother was so sad knowing her only son became a bird. Although Tuaka had hurt her heart, she sincerely forgave him.

Both eagle and pigeon flied and cried around the Indragiri River. Their tears fell down and flooded the surrounding land, molding small river and became bigger and bigger, and later on became Tuaka River. The Malays of the surrounding area call “batang” instead of “sungai” (river), therefore “Sungai Tuaka” (Tuaka River) was changed into “Batang Tuaka”. Since the time, the surrounding area was named Batang Tuaka that now includes in Indragiri Hilir district, Riau, Indonesia.

The Malay communities of Indragiri, in both upper and lower courses of the river, believe that the legend really happened in the past. They also believe when an eagle is screaming in the afternoon around the Tuaka River, it represents Tuakas scream to apologize his mother.

The legend of Tuaka is well known among the Malay society of Riau, and thereby it is, more often than not, performed in theatrical troupes, particularly in 1962 to 1972.

Sources :

  • Yulia S. Setiawati, Daryatun. Legenda Batang Tuaka. Yogyakarta: Balai Kaian dan Pengembangan Budaya Melayu bekerja sama dengan Adicita karya Nusa, 2005.
  • Hikmat Ishak. Indragiri Hilir: Halaman Bermain Malaysia, Hinterland Singapura. Riau: Diterbitkan atas Prakarsa Bupati Indragiri Hilir, H. Rusli Zainal, SE. 2003.   
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