September 24, 2008

The River Banyuwangi

The River Banyuwangi
(East Java Folktales)

Once upon a time there reined in eastern Java a king named Sindureja whose patih, Sidapaksa, had a most beautiful wife of fine and noble character. Patih Sidapaksa loved his wife deeply, and they would have lived in complete happiness had it not been for the jealousy and arrogance of Sidapaksa’s mother. To her, Sidapaksa's wife, for all her goodness and beauty, was not fit to be the life's partner of her son, because she happened to be of a lower caste. The love and devotion of her son to his wife, in fact the daughter-in-law's very goodness only increased the mother-in-law's hate for her, and each day she tried to think of a way to separate Patih Sidapaksa from

"The old woman contrived a most foul and evil plan By flattery and clever persuasion, she arranged with King Smdureja to have Patih Sidapaksa sent to Mount Ijen with instructions to search for the bud of a magic flower. Whoever wore the flower would remain forever young and beautiful, and Patih Sidapaksa was to find this flower and present it to the Queen.

Procuring it meant a long and dangerous journey that would take months, perhaps even years.

Patih Sidapaksa heard the royal command, and a great sadness filled his heart. This meant leaving his beloved wife for he knew not how long, all the harder at this very time because in a few months she would give birth to their first child. But Sidapaksa was the Patih and he had only to obey his King and to carry out his commands. He bade his wife a sad farewell and then, without any suspicion whatsoever that his own mother was responsible for this heavy task that had been commissioned to him, he took leave other respectfully and submissively, and entreated her to watch over his child until his return.

Not long after Sidapaksa's departure, a son was born to his wife. One day, while the young mother was bathing, having left her baby boy peacefully sleeping, and her evil mother-in-law softly entered the room, deftly removed the sleeping child from its cradle, and after stealthily leaving the house, threw her own tiny grandson into the river that flowed nearby.

The wife of Patih Sidapaksa returned to her room after her bath. Fresh and smiling, full of the love and eagerness of a young mother to see her little one again, she ran to his bed—to find it empty. Disbelieving, she searched and searched; looked for him in the most impossible places; rushed back to his cradle again. All in the neighborhoods were ordered to search, but the baby was never found.

The young mother could neither eat nor sleep, and day and night she grieved for her lost child. Finally she became very ill and in that condition she remained for months and months.

Two years passed and Patih Sidapaksa returned from his journey. In spite of great difficulties, he had succeeded in finding the magic flower that grew at the peak of Mount Ijen. He presented it to King Sindureja's queen, and his duty performed,
with a light heart he left the palace to return to his beloved wife and the child he had never seen. But just as he was about to enter his house, he saw his mother running toward
him. Before he could take another step she stopped him and told him that in his absence his wife had thrown her new-born child into the river.

"Such a woman you married," said the mother.

"Your child-your new-born son she threw into the foul muddy waters of the river, and there he disappeared. And now this wife of yours, as you will see, pretends to be ill. She does this to cover up her evil deed, which she can no longer deny." And many other things the mother told about her daughter-in-law-all evil things, told to make her son hate his wife, all untrue.

Patih Sidapaksa did not doubt that his mother spoke the truth, and to be confronted with this story of his wife's conduct while he was away on his long and difficult journey filled him with an uncontrollable rage. He entered his house and saw his wife lying weak and ill on her bed. He drew his kris and approaching her, said in a rough and angry voice, "Ah, wicked woman. Tell me; before I pierce your body with my kris tell me why you threw our new-born child into the river Tell me!"

His wife looked up at him, her pale face calm and without tear. Oh, my husband, Sidapaksa. Why do you wish to wound me? I am innocent of any sin and it would be a shame for you to stain your hands with my blood. And there is no need to kill me, for in a very short while 1 am going to leave this cruel sinful world. I love you, my husband, and I did not kill our child. Come, carry me to the river, and there I shall prove to you that it was not I who did this evil deed, but. . ."

The mother, listening in the doorway, swiftly interrupted:

"Oh, my son, do not carry out the wishes of this evil woman. Kill her now while you have the chance. Once outside she will escape from you and will bring more evil upon us”

But now Patih Sidapaksa no longer listened to his mother. He was strangely moved by the words and the conduct of this pale calm woman who was his wife. Gently, with the greatest care, he lifted her limp body and carried her to the edge of
the river. He laid her down softly and spoke, "Now prove to me, my wife, that you are not at fault that you had nothing to do with this terrible deed."

Hardly had he finished speaking when his wife leaped up and threw herself into the river; and like her baby before her she disappeared into the turbid and foul-smelling water.

"Aduhai!" moaned Sidapaksa. "How will I ever know now who is speaking the truth. How will I ever know who killed my child?" He looked down at the water, and suddenly, to his great astonishment, two pure white flower-buds appeared the one larger and taller than the other; and a sweet fragrance emanated from them both. They swayed gently before Patih Sidapaksa and then the taller one spoke:

"Sidapaksa, my beloved. Look here beside me! Here is our child. I found him at the bottom of the river and he himself will tell you who drowned him."

The smaller flower-bud spoke:

"My Father, Patih Sidapaksa! My mother is free of sin. She is pure and noble and innocent. It was your mother, my grandmother, who threw me into the river when I was only a few days old-and this she did because of her pride and jealousy. But now my beloved mother has come to be with me, and I am happy, and so is she. We shall never be separated again."

The large flower then enfolded the small one, like a mother embracing her child, and together they vanished into the water, never to appear again. But they left behind their fragrance, and from that time on the river was as sweet-scented as before it had been foul-smelling. And the city on its banks was henceforth called Banyuwangi (banyu meaning water and wangi meaning sweet-smelling.)