Also posted in Unair blog:

Annisa Rochma Sari – 121311233036

This morning, I shared my dream to study abroad with my mother in a well-known chicken porridge stall; for a thousand times. While we had breakfast, I attempted to discuss about my plan to go to Australia; studying further about cultural studies. Why do I need to do this for many times?

My mother and her mind are so simple even to have a dream. According to her, it is enough for her daughter (I am) to study and graduate in any university in Indonesia. She would think any excessive obstacles, fears, dangers, and anything may harm me; and she worries she could do nothing to help me in my wandering. She still has sense of unfamiliarity and absurdity about the changing and globalizing world. All she knows is anything in front of her; even she was born in 60’s decade when the era of post-modernization began. She often tells me that, “Do not dream high”.

I am her opposite. I have sworn to God; and myself seeking to discover the answers of my curiosity in any place in the universe. I have been influenced by many motivators to travel as far as I can to find the hidden gems of humanity and nature, to gain and share knowledge. However, as I was grown and raised in eastern society, particularly as Islamic-Javanese girl, I have deep-rooted belief that her blessings equal to God’s ones. Sometimes, related to the belief, the story of Malin Kundang who is rebellious towards his mother passes through my mind. I listened to the story in my childhood; told by my mother and my grandmother. These following questions thus pop out; Am I counted as rebellious one if I force my mom to send me studying abroad? Will I be cursed because I am against my mom’s opinion? Am I wrong to choose different path from her?

Citing from the version of narrative in Magdalia Alfian (2012); Malin Kundang is a quite popular folktale from Minangkabau. It is told that Malin Kundang just came back from overseas (merantau) because he had to work after the absence of his father. As the time went, he turned to be a wealthy and a handsome man. He married a beautiful daughter of a merchant because of his kindness and cleverness. However, he apparently did not want to admit his old, weary, and poor mother waiting in the shore, hoping to meet him for a long time. With feelings of sadness and melancholy, the mother prayed and asked the God, “If the boy who arrived is really Malin Kundang, please change him into a stone.” In a moment, the God answered her prayer and turned Malin Kundang into a stone.

Even though the story is originally from Minangkabau, North Sumatera; the folktale has spread across Indonesia through several media such as text books used at elementary schools to senior high schools, TV drama, radio programs, children storybooks sold in many bookstores, and sometimes parents tell the story directly to their children. In early times, Indonesian people pass the story through verbal communication to their families; particularly to younger generations. Recently, it is published through printed and audio-visual edition. By such continuity of inheritance, a study by Sulistyorini (2013) argue that folktale is an effective and efficient medium to transfer local knowledge, belief, as well as socio-cultural customs and tradition within an amusing an exciting ways. Hence, it persists through generations to be maintained as a part of cultural capital of Indonesian society.

Following the notion by Sulistyorini, the moral value of Malin Kundang is to prevent children to disobey their mothers. For all Minangs people, it is a deep meaning towards a lesson contextually based on matrilineal traits. It ensures that mothers are placed in the noble position within society. It is also related to an Islamic wisdom words to hold a high respect towards mothers; heaven is under the mother’s feet (Alfian 2012). This Islamic value within Malin Kundang narrative has strong influence to build fidelity norms in children-mother relationship context.

Children are expected to obey their mothers; no matter what happens and in what conditions. Here, I would like to suggest that the term ‘matrilineal’ refers to ‘mother’ or ones who bear children; not women in general. Based on Merriam Webster, it emphasizes tracing decent through maternal line; it has no relation with women’s power although in the story Malin Kundang is eventually punished. His mother only asks God to curse him; it is not his mother. God sends His punishment through His mediator; that is Malin’s mother. It conceives an understanding that actually Malin’s mother has no power to change him. I argue that the story deliberately tells the audience why Malin feels ashamed towards his mother. He does not admit his mother because he feels as superior and powerful man marrying a beautiful and rich girl; what else he could hope from such mother. Admitting his mother would reduce his dignity, thus his power resembling within his status. The absence of his father also becomes an obstacle for him to divulge his family. Implicitly, Malin Kundang story preserves the main cultural practice in Indonesia; which is patriarchal system. Children are taught to obey their mother while at the same time, they are secretly ensured that father is still the main figure of the family.

Hayden (2003) borrows Lakoff’s theory, family-nation, to conceptualize the relationship between citizen and nation. Family and nation is considered the similar constitution where parents (symbolized by government) protect their children (symbolized by citizen) by feeding them, giving them regulation and education, giving them opportunity to work and to develop themselves. If a child disobeys his family, it is legitimating that she or he must be punished by the parents or naturally by the God. Malin Kundang story tells the same; when you abandon your family, your life would be finished.

As Foucault said in his power-knowledge theory (in Ida 2014); a discourse is always emerged in any text, included in Malin Kundang story. It has a power beyond text (underlies within signs and languages) to discipline the society with knowledge. Foucault’s theory supports Lakoff’s concept by portraying how power controls the relation between government and citizen by enabling the continuity of text publication. Indonesian government as ‘parents’ has role to be significant subject processing this stage to defend their status quo as a dominant cultural agent. Since it is a folktale which anonymously written and published, the government through a group of particular people would take this an opportunity to become the subject. Keep producing Malin Kundang text means Indonesia’s younger generations would have similar point of view and values to be internalized as part of their lives. They have to be respectful to elder people, to obey their parents, and to remember their parents’ merits even when they have been successful figures. They are forcefully constrained by such limitations and recognition with recurring patterns and values implanted in Malin Kundang story. Thus, until it becomes belief and the only truth they could perform as the real Indonesian. If it has already taken into truth formation, the parents (or the government) has successfully dominated and preserved particular cultures to their children.

Back to my intention to study abroad, I decide to negotiate to my mother. I literally do not want to be a rebellious daughter carrying a bunch of burdens while studying in my next education. It is such belief that encourages me to live in conformity; it gives me security. However, I still need to struggle for my dream to pursue higher education. What I should do is to discuss and make dialogues with my mother. It is important to figure out how she could accept my reason and be sure with my choices in life. Thus, the power of it lends me strength, courage, and security as I obtain the knowledge.


Alfian, M. “Rahmah El Yunusiah: Pioneer of Islamic Women Education in Indonesia, 1900-1960’s” Tawarikh: International Journal for Historical Studies. 4.1 (2012). 55-66.

Hayden, S. “Family Metaphors and the Nation: Promoting a Politics of Care through the Million Mom March” Quarterly Journal of Speech. 89.3(2003): 196-215.

Ida, Rachmah. Metode Penelitian Studi Media dan Kajian Budaya. Jakarta: Prenada Media Group. 2014

Sulistyorini, Dwi. “Pemanfaatan Folklor sebagai Pembelajaran Bermakna dalam Pembelajaran Bahasa dan Sastra Indonesia” J-TEQIP. IV.2 (2013): 119-128.