Princess Mandalika; a tale from Lombok about peace and prosperity for 2011.
On New Year’s eve 2011 a fearsome thunderstorm lit up the sky in brilliant colours, lightning blasted asunder the jet black clouds swept around the wildly swinging palm trees, while in between the thunder claps the deafening sound of the rain drowned the feeble shrieks of the pop band which shrill shouts and irritating beats had earlier forced me to retreat to the relative quiet of the balcony of my hotel room. The weather goddesses thoroughly messed up the carefully planned New Year’s programme of the hotel management and joyfully provided a much greater spectacle than live music and fireworks combined. It took two days before the wind and rains subsided and the sun shone brightly in a clean-swept sky.
By that time I was sipping a cup of delicious freshly roasted and newly ground coffee, trying to stop the watering of my eyes caused by the biting chillies with which the cook had thought fit to dress the shreds of chicken served up with white dry rice for our lunch. The location was the spacious office of the APIK branch in Mataram, the capital of Lombok, one of fifteen such women’s legal aid bureaus spread over Indonesia’s vast archipelago. The office also serves as a shelter for battered women. There I was told the Tale of the Princess Mandalika.
Mandalika was the first born daughter to the queen of a minor state on the south coast of Lombok, near the beach of Kuta. She grew up tall and strong as a palm tree, her hair hanging down in thick black tresses down to her knees. Se was skilled in music and poetry alike and could recite her classics without any hesitation. Her golden complexion was smooth without any blemish, her lips a most enticing rosy colour, framing perfect teeth which flashed every time she laughed in glee at the antics of her many younger brothers and sisters who swarmed around her, trying to bring forth her attractive smile. For they, as everybody around her, felt deeply attracted to Mandalika. She seemed to all who had the great fortune to meet her the epitome in gentleness, beauty, intelligence and inner power.
Her attractions spread far and wide and within a short time after she had reached marriageable age the princes of the surrounding states traveled to the finely adorned palace of her parents, asking for her hand. Seven in total presented themselves, bringing gifts of gold and beautifully woven cloth and announcing their many virtues. Mandalika’s mother, who was a wise woman, gravely sat through these proceedings and every time a young man finished his little speech of self-promotion, pronounced that she would discuss the case presented to her with her daughter to whom the ultimate judgement was delegated. Mandalika looked at the row of young men begging for her hand and found them all strikingly similar. They were all tall, well-built, with fair features and seemed equally skilled in hunting, fishing, dancing and poetry and all other skills considered useful for youths of that age and region.
She even found that it was almost impossible to distinguish the one from the other and frequently mixed up their names. In the end she just allotted them numbers, and as nobody knew the original order in which she distributed these among the young men nobody felt offended when again and again she ascribed a different number to the same young man. She found herself in an extremely difficult situation. Her many suitors emptied the seas of fish and the hunting grounds of deer and wild boars (this tale dates from the time before the Mahometan religion made itself felt) in their efforts to impress her, and the population began to suffer from famines. Night after night the young men tried to entertain her with the new songs they had composed in the lazy afternoons but as all sang equally out of tune not much pleasure was derived from that.
Mandalika grew thin from worrying. How could she stop the damage the young men were inflicting upon her beloved subjects? If she would choose one the others would feel offended to such an extent that in their rage they would wage war upon the tiny realm, destroying its population with their six armies combined.
She then decided to have a running contest. Whoever would come first across the line drawn at Kuta beach would win her hand. A stage was built for the queen, the king, the advisors and their retinue from which they could ascertain the winner. The suitors lined up behind the starting line, all equally eager to win the contest, and all equally convinced that he was the fastest runner. The sign was given and the young men rushed ahead. They ran and ran but however much each strained himself, all of them reached the finish at exactly the same moment.
Despondently Mandalika and her mother held counsel. Famine was around the gate, the suitors were getting more and more aggressive, what was to be done? They decided that Mandalika would climb the highest cliff beside the beach and ask the goddess of the sky for advice. When the sun set Mandalika climbed the cliff and seated herself in a posture of meditation, supplicating the goddess to appear to her and listen to the woes that beset her. Just at midnight, in a clear moonless sky, lit by billions of stars the goddess appeared to Mandalika in the form of a major bolt of lightning, and invited her to join the goddess of the south sea and bless her people from that position. Guided by the lightning Mandalika descended from the cliff and disappeared deep into the sea.
Her subjects, who were anxiously waiting for Mandalika to return from the austerities she was performing, watched with awe when the princess was lovingly embraced by the lightning and let down in the deep south sea. They wailed and implored the goddess to return their princess to them, but to no avail.
Dejectedly Mandalika’s mother and her subjects returned to the palace where they informed the seven young princes of the sad fate of the woman they had courted so fervently for so many months. They left the palace and went their own ways, thus averting war and famine for the subjects of Mandalika’s realm.
However, within half a year of her disappearance a frightful thunderstorm announced the return of Mandalika. Her subjects flocked in great number to the beach, which, so they remarked with great wonder, was swarming with fat 20 cm long worms, brightly coloured with green, white and red bands. With great delight the people set about collecting and roasting these delicacies, eating their fill.
Since then twice a year a plentiful harvest of worms is produced. When the time comes near the people wait for a thunderstorm to announce that Mandalika is again blessing them with her attention and ensures them of her continued love for them.
Joyfully the villagers gather at the beach and thank Mandalika for the bounty of each harvest. The succulent worms are considered a great delicacy and many ways have been thought up to prepare them. This ceremony, called Nyale, is performed until this time at Kuta beach of Lombok. The best time for picking the worms is at night, as then they can be picked whole. When the sun‘s rays touch them only a small part of the wriggling animals can be harvested. As it is not allowed for young men to make their interests in the girls of their choice known at any other period, during the Nyale festival they gather as many worms as possible and bring an overflowing basket to the young woman they are interested in. If she receives the basket in good grace the young couple may initiate marriage proceedings.
By this time I had finished my coffee. As is common in Indonesia the talk among the women’s aid lawyers then shifted to the finest ways of dressing and cooking this worm, baking, frying or grilling it, making some stew or dried dish, adding chilies, ginger and garlic.
January 3 2011