Langkawi: Isle of Legends

by Ee Lin Wan, Nov 3, 2001 | Destinations: Malaysia / Langkawi

Langkawi is not only a tropical island with the purest white sands, clear tropical waters and sun filled days, the island is also blessed with an intriguing history and stories of ogres and giant birds, warriors, wronged maidens and fairy princesses. Welcome to the island of intrigued, situated in the northern state of Kedah in Malaysia, near the Thai border. Here on the Isle of Legends, is where fact and fiction intertwines, giving the island its mysterious charm.

Mahsuri And The Langkawi Curse

The best-known legend of Langkawi is one of Mahsuri; a pretty maiden who placed a curse on the island when she was wrongly accused of adultery some 200 years ago. According to the legend, Mahsuri is a kind-hearted girl who captured the heart of Wan Darus, son of the Chief of Langkawi.

While her husband went away to fight against the invading Siamese army, a travelling male musician called Deraman came along. Soon, Mahsuri and Deraman became good friends, causing villagers to speculate that she was having an affair with the musician. When her father-in-law, Dato Karma Jaya heard about the rumor from the villagers, he was furious and ordered her to be sentenced to death. Despite her protests of innocence, Mahsuri was executed. As proof of her purity, legend say that the swords and machetes used by the executors could not injure her. Only when Mahsuri told them to use a special sword kept in her house that she could be executed. White blood was seen gushing out of her wound during the execution, as further proof of her innocence.

Mahsuri is best remembered for her curse on Langkawi, which was uttered just before she died. She was reported to have said, "For this grave injustice done to me, Langkawi should not prosper for seven future generations."

Local believed that the curse did come true, for Langkawi soon fell to Siam and the residents died from starvation. The island became a desolate place, beset by a series of natural disasters.

Since the birth of Mahsuri's seventh generation ancestor in southern Thailand, the curse is believed to be over. Numerous development projects have been successfully implemented on the island, and Langkawi has regained its splendor once more.

Padang Mat Sirat (The Field Of Burnt Rice)

In 1821, not long after Mahsuri's execution, Siam invaded Langkawi. To starve the invading Siamese soldiers, Dato Karma Jaya ordered all the rice on the island be collected and burnt in Padang Mat Sirat. This proved to be a foolish move, for locals soon starved to death due to this loss. Remnants of the burnt rice could still be seen in a cordoned area in Padang Mat Sirat, Kampung Raha. The burnt rice is said to have been buried below ground before being burnt, but often appears on the surface after a rainy day. The local authorities used to turn a blind eye to tourists taking some of the burnt rice home as souvenirs, but this practice has since been stopped due to dwindling amounts of burnt rice.

Gua Cerita (Legendary Cave)

This is one of the many limestone caves situated along the north east coast of Langkawi. Gua Cerita actually consists of two caves, with one forming above the other. There are several legends associated with the caves, one relating to a mythological Malay character called Merong Maha Wangsa, and the emperors of Rome and China.

This story was said to have occurred during the heydays of the Roman and Chinese empire. The rulers of these two countries planned to marry off their children, in order to build an even larger dynasty. This was strongly opposed by the Garuda (Golden Phoenix), who felt that the union will threaten smaller kingdoms around the world.

What the Garuda did to prevent the marriage was to kidnap the Chinese princess and hid her in Gua Cerita. The Golden Phoenix then attacked the Roman fleet commanded by an ogre called Merong Maha Wangsa and the Roman prince, which was sent to rescue the princess. The Garuda defeated Merong Maha Wangsa, but the Roman prince fell into the sea and was washed to the cave where the Chinese princess was hidden. He was united with his bride and they got married in the cave. When the Golden Phoenix found out he was unsuccessful in stopping the marriage, he vanished from the world.

Pulau Dayang Bunting (The Island Of The Pregnant Maiden)

The legend of Pulau Dayang Bunting is a romantic story concerning Mambang Sari, a female genie and Mat Teja, a male genie. Mambang Sari used to bathe in a lake on the island. One day, Mat Teja saw her, and was struck by her beauty. He fell in love at first sight, and used to follow her around the island --- unseen. He was afraid to reveal his love for he fear that Mambang Sari might not reciprocate his love.

One day, he met Tok Diang, a medicine man from the village and told Tok Diang his dilemma. Tok Diang advised Mat Teja to get the tears of a mermaid and to wipe them on his face the next time he saw Mambang Sari.

He followed Tok Diang's advice, and Mambang Sari fell in love with him. As time goes by, they became more intimate, resulting in Mambang Sari's pregnancy. She chose to give birth to her child on the island, and stayed day during her last months of pregnancy. Unfortunately, their child died after seven days.

A heart-broken Mambang Sari threw her child's body into a lake on the island, Tasik Dayang Bunting. Some people believe that drinking the water from this lake will help barren women bear children.

Gunung Raya And Gunung Mat Cincang

These are two mountains in the main island of Langkawi, with a small hill called Bukit Sawar separating the two. The story was said to begin when Mat Raya's son wanted to marry Mat Cincang's daughter, much to the dismay of Mat Cincang. This is because the boy is said to be of bad character. Despite his opposition to the union, the marriage did take place.

During the wedding feast, a violent fight broke out with pots and pans flung at one another. A big pot containing gravy was broken, and its contents spilt onto the ground. This spot is now known as Kuah (gravy in Malay), the capital city of Langkawi. The spot where a jug of hot water fell onto the ground is now known as Telaga Air Panas, where hot springs appear.

The fight continued for days and weeks until Mat Sawar, a respected village elder mediates and successfully ended the feud. The marriage turned out to be a prosperous one, for Mat Raya's son turned over leaf and became a devoted husband.

Travelers taking a round-island and island hopping tour will be taken to places where the various mythical tales purportedly took place. However, tourists need not travel all over the island to discover its legends. They can spend some time browsing through the island's legends at Taman Lagenda, which is situated near the Kuah jetty. The twenty-hectare garden, built on reclaimed land, showcases the rich history of Langkawi.

Besides the better known legends mentioned above, the park also portrays lesser-known tales like the legends of Pulau Hantu (Ghost Hill), Pandak Mayah's spear and the Mermaid's Golden Ball.

The monotony of history and legends are broken by the statue of buffaloes wallowing in a padi field, an ordinary scene on the island, which allures the charm of Langkawi. A visit to the Isle of Legends will not be complete without a visit to Taman Lagenda.