Balinese Folktale "I Siap Selem," a Story of a Mother's Cleverness for Her Child

This story tells about a black chicken that uses its cleverness to save its child from danger. Although it may seem like an ordinary tale, this Balinese folktale is often narrated to the children of Bali as an ancestral lesson for life. Now, let's delve into the complete story!

Jan 18, 2024 - 10:41
Jan 18, 2024 - 10:42
Balinese Folktale "I Siap Selem," a Story of a Mother's Cleverness for Her Child
I Siap Selem Met Meng Kuuk (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

The people of Bali are likely familiar with Balinese folktales, particularly the story of "I Siap Selem," translated into Indonesian as "Si Ayam Hitam" or "The Black Chicken." The original author of this tale remains unknown, but based on its narrative, it belongs to the category of Tantri tales. The oldest manuscript of "I Siap Selem" is found in the Gedong Kirtya collection, catalog number 1742/6b, titled "Syap Badëng" or "I Syap Sëlëm," published in Satua-satua Bali 12 by I Nengah Tinggen and Kembang Rampe Kasusastraan Bali Purwa.

This story recounts the cleverness of a black chicken, I Siap Selem, in saving her offspring from danger. Despite seeming like a simple story, the Balinese folktale of I Siap Selem is often passed down through generations as a valuable lesson for life. It reflects how one can use cleverness either to deceive or to protect oneself and loved ones. Now, let's delve into the complete story below.

I Siap Selem and Her Offsprings (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

The tale begins with a mother hen named I Siap Selem, who has seven chicks. The youngest chick is named I Doglagan and is featherless. Every day, I Siap Selem and her chicks search for food, often venturing to the west bank of the river.

I Siap Selem and Her Offsprings (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

One day, while foraging on the west river, the sky suddenly darkened, signaling an imminent rainstorm. The chicks panicked and called out to their mother, expressing concern about the impending rain.

"Me, let's go home now! The sky is getting really dark, Me," one of the chicks said, displaying an anxious expression (in Balinese, Meme means Mother).

"True, Me. I'm afraid we'll get caught in the rain here," said another chick. Upon hearing their concerns, I Siap Selem decided to return home with them. However, a new problem arose – they were too far from home. If they forced their way back, they would surely get soaked in the rain. I Siap Selem was particularly worried about I Doglagan in such a situation.

I Siap Selem Pointing to a House (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

Sighing, I Siap Selem said to her chicks, "My dear children, look, there's a house over there. Let's take shelter there for now. If we go home now, we'll definitely get rained on. Look at your sibling, I Doglagan, he has no feathers. If he gets wet, he might die." They all hurriedly went to the house by the river.

I Siap Selem Met Meng Kuuk (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

Upon reaching the house, I Siap Selem knocked on the door. "Jero jero, the owner of this house, may we stay here for shelter?" she asked while knocking. Soon, the owner, a female cat named Meng Kuuk, opened the door. Meng Kuuk smiled and asked, "Meong.. oh Siap Selem, why are you here?"

"Jero Meong," replied I Siap Selem, "I came here with my children to seek shelter from the rain. My children are still young, and I don't want to brave the rain with them."

Hearing I Siap Selem's reason, Meng Kuuk agreed and allowed them to take shelter in her house. "Alright, if that's the case, come inside," she invited, smiling. Once inside, Meng Kuuk provided them with a nest to rest and was hospitable. Indeed, after I Siap Selem and her chicks entered Meng Kuuk's house, the rain started pouring heavily, causing the river to flood.

Meng Kuuk offered I Siap Selem to stay overnight. After some contemplation, I Siap Selem agreed, as she was very concerned about her chicks.

I Siap Selem Listens to Meng Kuuk (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

That night, for some reason, I Siap Selem couldn't sleep. She had a bad feeling, and it turned out to be justified. Shortly after, she overheard Meng Kuuk and her chicks planning something.

"My dear children, tonight we will have a grand feast! Meme has a hen and seven chicks, you see!" Meng Kuuk exclaimed excitedly. Of course, her chicks welcomed the idea with great joy.

"I want the buttocks, Me!" said one of her chicks.

"I want the wings, Me!" another one exclaimed.

I Siap Selem Felt Afraid (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

Hearing Meng Kuuk and her chicks' conversation, I Siap Selem immediately felt afraid. She didn't want harm to come to her and her chicks. She woke her chicks quietly so as not to be noticed by Meng Kuuk.

I Siap Selem Asks Her Children to Leave (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

Anxiously, I Siap Selem said, "my children, let's get up. Meng Kuuk wants to eat us. Let's leave here as quickly as possible. Later, you go first, flying across the river. Meme will follow." Shortly after, one by one, her chicks flew over the river. Brrr.. brr.. suakk.. went the sound.

Meng Kuuk Asked I Siap Selem (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

Meng Kuuk, hearing a strange sound, asked I Siap Selem, "Siap Selem, what was that sound?" I Siap Selem immediately replied, "it sounds like falling leaves." Then another sound was heard, and Meng Kuuk asked again, "Another sound, what is that, Siap Selem?" and I Siap Selem responded, "it sounds like falling bamboo leaves."

Almost all of I Siap Selem's chicks managed to escape from Meng Kuuk's house, except for one, I Doglagan, who was still with I Siap Selem. I Doglagan couldn't fly across the river like its siblings, so I Siap Selem had to think hard. With her cleverness, she planned something.

I Siap Selem Advises Doglagan (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

"Doglaganku, now Meme will leave you here. If later you are going to be eaten by Meng Kuuk, be smart and plead with her. Tell her you are still bitter, still small, not fit to be eaten yet. Ask her to take care of you until your feathers grow. Once they've grown, you must fly away immediately," she advised I Doglagan.

After giving advice to I Doglagan, I Siap Selem immediately flew across the river. Hearing this, Meng Kuuk asked again, "What was that sound, Siap Selem?" she inquired. Finally, no one responded to Meng Kuuk's question. Feeling puzzled, Meng Kuuk went to check I Siap Selem's room. There, she was shocked and realized that she had been deceived by I Siap Selem. No one was there except for I Doglagan.

Meng Kuuk Got Suprised and Angry (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

"Oh no, surely what was said about falling leaves was actually her children and herself flying away from here!" exclaimed Meng Kuuk, irritated by what she saw.

"Meme, let's just eat that chick," said Meng Kuuk's offspring.

I Doglagan Pleaded for Mercy (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

Following the advice of its mother, I Doglagan immediately pleaded for mercy, saying, "Oh dear Jero Meong, I beg you not to eat me now. I haven't grown feathers yet, indicating that my meat is still very bitter, too small, and not tasty to eat. My suggestion is, it's better for you to raise me until my feathers grow, then you can eat me."

Meng Kuuk knew she had been fooled by I Doglagan. However, she still wanted to raise I Doglagan. Imagining how big and plump she could make I Doglagan, and then cooking it, made her immensely happy, at least better than eating a small chicken like this. Meng Kuuk placed I Doglagan in a cage to prevent it from escaping and provided food for it every day.

In short, I Doglagan's feathers have grown. Meng Kuuk and her offspring immediately became busy preparing spices to be used when cooking I Doglagan's meat.

Meng Kuuk Cooking, and I Doglagan Is Now Has Grown (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

"Hey, you Doglagan, we will eat you now," Meng Kuuk said. I Doglagan simply replied, "Okay, please, Jero. But to make my meat delicious, swing me up three times. If not, your preparations will be in vain, and my meat will remain tough."

Meng Kuuk Swings I Doglagan Three Times (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

Unable to contain her excitement to eat I Doglagan, Meng Kuuk immediately fulfilled its request. Prrr.. prrr.. prr… Upon reaching the third swing, I Doglagan flew away. He landed on a rock. Meng Kuuk panicked, angered, and frustrated, immediately chasing after I Doglagan and seeing him perched on a rock. Meng Kuuk pounced on what she thought was I Doglagan, but alas, it was just a rock. Oh dear, Meng Kuuk's teeth fell out. I Doglagan flew away, taunting and mocking Meng Kuuk with a song.

Meng Kuuk Ambushing the Rock (Photo Source: Editorial Collection)

"Ngik ngak ngik nguk gigi pungak nyaplok batu. Ngik ngak ngik nguk gigi pungak nyaplok batu," he sang while laughing (meaning: teeth fell eating a rock).

That's the consequence of harboring evil intentions. In this Balinese folktale, we are taught to always strive to be clever and wise, especially when we or others are threatened by someone's malicious intentions. One must not use cleverness to harm others. Hopefully, the Balinese folktale of I Siap Selem can serve as a valuable learning source for us as readers.

By: ILS Team I Siap Selem