Sacred Tree

Pohon Cempaka Putih (white cempaka tree)

The famous Cempaka Putih tree in the City of Jambi.

The famous Cempaka Putih tree in the City of Jambi.

This post is about a famous Cempaka Putih tree in the City of Jambi. This tree is located on the street named Jalan Cempaka Putih. It’s exact position can be found by clicking this link.

This particular tree has a long history going back well over 100 years ago. The majority of information in this post was obtained from Mr. Syafruddin* (60 years old). Like many Indonesians he only has one name (no middle or last name). For 5 generations his wife’s family has been the owner of the land where this particular Cempaka Putih tree is located.

About the Tree

  • It is said that this tree grew on its own. Nobody planted it.
  • The Javanese call this tree “Pohon Kantil” (Kantil Tree). Here in Jambi it’s called “Pohon Cempaka Putih” (White Cempaka Tree).
  • We were told that there are seven types of Cempaka trees, each with a different color or shape of flower. The flower from the Cempaka Putih tree is said to be the “Raja Bunga” (King of the Flowers).


Beliefs Associated with this Tree

  • There have been sightings of a genie (jinn) in and around that tree. The genie was said to be as tall as the tree itself—30-40’ tall. The genie was said to be wearing a turban and holding a Muslim prayer chain (tasbih), similar to what Catholics use when they pray (rosary). The beads on the chain were noted to be as large as a man’s head. People have indicated that they will go out of their way at night so as not to walk past that Cempaka Putih tree.
  • One of the people who reported seeing this genie was the former Lurah for the Cempaka Putih Kelurahan (a leader of a small district in the City of Jambi). He is also the older brother of Mr. Syafruddin’s wife.
  •  Four people have died while climbing that tree.
    • 1978–a 19 year old fell to his death.
    • 1982–a 17 year old fell to his death.
    • 1993–a 17 year old fell to his death.
    • 2002–an 11 year old fell to his death. This particular boy was said to be urinating while standing high in the tree. It is believed that because these four were not honoring this tree, or the genie in it, they all fell and died.
      • Today people will not climb this tree. To harvest its flowers they will stand on the ground and reach up with a long bamboo pole that has a knife or hook on its end.

        Harvesting the Cempaka Putih flowers using a long bamboo pole.

        Flower of the Cempaka Putih tree. The picture also shows an unopened bud.

  • These flowers (bunga kantil) are sold for around Rp.1,000 – 2,500 each ($0.10—$0.28 each).
  • School children frequently harvest flowers from these trees then resell them. Mr. Syafruddin indicated that from the sales children are able to purchase many of the school supplies they need.
  • Many people are too scared to harvest the flowers out of fear that the genie in the tree will harm them in some way. The people who do harvest the flowers will carefully ask permission from the genie before they begin.
  • Buddhists include flowers of the Cempaka Putih tree with their offerings to ancestors.
  • If people are sick they can request an orang pintar (paranormalist) to take flowers from the Cempaka Putih tree, place them in water and conduct a ritual. When the sick person bathes with the water that underwent the ritual they will be healed.
  • Muslims spread Cempaka Putih flowers on the top of graves to decorate the grave, as well as to honor those who died.
  • Mr. Syafruddin indicated that this particular tree doesn’t have a KuntilanakPontianak  (the spirit of a woman who died while giving birth, or who died while still pregnant). It only has the genie.
    • We’ll include the immediate below info about the Kuntilanak for general reference.
      • People  say that the Kuntilanak is a myth started by wives who desired to keep their husbands loyal to themselves. These stories about the Kuntilanak indicate that the haunting female creature wonders about at night as if she were a prostitute or a woman with lose morals. When men yield to her, she kills them. It is believe that the women that started these types of “ghost stories” wanted to instill fear in their sons, as well as their husbands, so they would avoid all women who were wandering around on the roads late at night.


Other things about this tree:

  • The flower from this tree is fragrant and could be used as a perfume.
  • In the distant past the flower was used to decorate women’s hair during weddings and other celebratory events.
  • Some believe that every part of this tree, from the roots to the leaves, can be used for medical purposes. It is believed that this tree’s properties can be used to heal sicknesses like: bronchitis; cough; fever; prostate problems; urinary tract infection; boils; skin infections; pregnancy and menstruation problems, etc., etc.

    Aroma Cempaka Restaurant

  • There are several Padang Restaurants in the City of Jambi with the name: Aroma Cempaka. The restaurant owner selected the name of this tree as a means to indicate that the food in their restaurant is aromatic, like the flower from the tree.

C. & Mr. Syafruddin

*Mr. Syafruddin

Mr. Syafruddin has been living in his current home for over 38 years, and that home is only 75’ from the tree being spoken of in this post. He is retired from his job as a PNS (pegawai negeri sipil—civil servant). He worked in the government department that coordinated transmigration projects. He has 4 children; the youngest is in his 5th semester at the Jambi University, studying economics. Three of his children are married and he has 5 grandchildren.