This is our translation of a legend from the Jambi Province.

The Legend of Princess Kesumba (Puti Kesumba)

There is another legend we translated that has a character with a similar name as a person in this story, although the two characters are quite different. The other legend is titled: Putri Kesumba Ampai. That legend can be read by clicking this link.


Once upon a time there was a husband and wife that had been married a long time, yet they had not as yet been blessed with a child.

On a certain evening they both dreamed that a grandfatherly figure came and said to them, “If you both really desire a child, look for bamboo sprouts that are entwined and coiled around a snake in the rice fields. Take the bamboo sprouts, boil and then eat them.”

Python in the Jambi Province of Indonesia

The next day the husband began looking for the bamboo sprouts that would be coiled around a snake in their rice field. Happily he found the sprouts, but they were being guarded by the snake. The husband told the story about the dream he had to the snake and asked it for the bamboo sprouts.

Rice field in the Jambi Province of Sumatra.

After hearing the dream being retold, the snake said, “Ok, I will give you these bamboo sprouts, but you, Sir, must make a promise to me, and the promise is as follows: if the child your wife gives birth to is a son, he will become your possession forever. If the child is a daughter, however, she will become my property, and you must surrender her to me after she turns seven years old.”

The man agreed to the conditions and he took the bamboo sprouts home. His wife then cooked the sprouts and ate them. Several days after this the stomach of the wife began to grow large, giving evidence that she was really pregnant. After a full nine months and ten days the wife gave birth to a little girl, and they named her Princess Kesumba. The husband and wife were very happy to finally have their own child, but the delivery also brought them great sadness, because of the promise that was made to the snake in the rice field.

Princess Kesumba grew and was very healthy. When she turned seven she was supposed to have immediately been turned over to the snake, but because of the great love the parents had for their daughter they could not bring themselves to allow her to leave and become the possession of the snake. They then made the decision to break their promise and keep their precious daughter. To protect her, and to maintain possession of her, they forbid her to go outside of their home. Everything Princess Kesumba had need of was provided for inside the house.

One day the husband had to sail to a distant location, and he said he would be gone for three months. He then gave his wife clear orders to carefully guard and protect Princess Kesumba.

After the departure of the husband the wife took Princess Kesumba outside the home down to the river to bathe. When they were preoccupied at the river, with the laundry and bathing, the snake came stealthily upon Princess Kesumba and took her. Princess Kesumba cried out, “Help me mother! Help…!”

Ladies bathing and doing laundry at the river.

Princess Kesumba’s mother was startled. She never expected such a thing to happen. She began to wail and shriek with all her might because she realized that her negligence had allowed her daughter to be captured. The mother deeply regretted that she had ever taken her precious daughter out of the home.

The snake from the rice field took Princess Kesumba to an overhanging bank along the edge of the river, which was located in a position where nobody was able to reach from land.

One day the snake asked Princess Kesumba; “How large is your heart Princess”?

A split open pinang fruit, which will be dried in the sun, then exported. They are primarily used for making dye.

“My heart is still very small. It’s probably about the size of a pinang fruit,” said Princess Kesumba.

The overhanging bank on the river, where the snake kept Princess Kesumba, was located in a place where people returning from distant trips passed by. Princess Kesumba would always call out to the passengers on the boats, and say, “Hey Mr., you that are returning from your long trip, have you met with or seen my father?”

One day while asking that question to a man on one boat, the man replied, “Yes, your father is still far away.”

One week later the snake from the rice field asked Princess Kesumba his often repeated question; “Hey Princess, how large is your heart now?”

“My heart is as large as a mango,” replied Princess Kesumba.

As always, the snake kept asking the Princess how large her heart was, and every week or so when asked, the size kept growing. After it becoming the size of a mango, it became the size of a large ball. After three months was almost passed the snake again asked about the size of the Princess’ heart.

“My heart is as large as a nyiru” (large flat round basket used for serving food or separating rice from the hull), replied Princess Kesumba.

Nyiru. Used as a serving tray, and in the past, for winnowing rice.

After hearing that her heart was very large the snake called ten of his friends together. He told his friends that later that night they would gorge themselves at a huge feast, namely, dining on Princess Kesumba.

That night when the party began, it just so happened that the father of Princess Kesumba was returning from his journey. His boat was full of clothing and many other items he obtained through his trading expedition. When his boat passed the overhang on the bank of the river where Princess Kesumba was being held captive, she cried out to him, “Father, save me, Father!”

Traditional Indonesian Boat

The father of Princess Kesumba was startled and horrified to see his daughter there. He immediately brought his boat close to where she was being held and with great speed he grabbed her and lifted her up into the boat. He then began to paddle his boat very fast to get far from that location.

Just a few moments after the rescue of Princess Kesumba the snake from the rice field and his friends came. When the snake from the rice field saw that Princess Kesumba was taken away, and was already far downstream, he began to cry out, “Oh no, the meal has been set free!”

The snake’s ten friends seeing that the meal they had been invited to consume was no more, began to call out, “It’s time to eat!”

“I’m going to eat his head!” cried out one of the snakes.

“I’m going to eat his stomach!” shouted another snake.

“I claim his tail for my meal!” said a third of the invited snakes.

Then the ten snakes that were invited to the feast, with lightening speed, attacked the snake that had captured Princess Kesumba and swallowed up every bit of his body.

The reason this was done was because of a custom among snakes. If snakes are invited to a party they are not allowed to be disappointed. The ones that invite them have a responsibility to feed them. Because their meal, Princess Kesumba was no longer available, they instead ate the one that invited them.

Typical style of homes used by the Batin ethnic group.

After being freed, Princess Kesumba and her father finally arrived at their home. Princess Kesumba found her mother curled up on the bed. Her body was thin and weak. She had become sickly because she had not been able to eat during the time Princess Kesumba was in captivity. Three months had already passed, and during the entire time the mother cried non-stop. Princess Kesumba, seeing her mother laying there like that rushed to her side and said, “Mother, I’ve returned home!”

The mother of Princess Kesumba was crying for joy while she felt the face of her precious daughter. The mother then hugged her daughter while crying, remembering here momentary negligence of taking her daughter out of the home.

Since that time that family lived happily ever after, knowing that the snake they formerly were afraid of was no more.


One moral contained in this story is that momentary negligence can bring great tragedy. There is also another cultural truth communicated, and that is when one has a party, like a wedding or thanksgiving event, the invited guests should not leave without having had sufficient food to eat.