vaughan winterbottom writer and translator

Bengkulu was called 'Bancoulo'by the British.
Cerita Rakyat Dari Bengkulu: Sayembara Pandai Tidur, ‘Folktales from Bengkulu: The Sleeping Contest’

A couple of years ago while studying in Yogyakarta I came across a series of Indonesian folktales in a local bookstore. It was a great find: the stories were lovely, short and written for children in standard Indonesian, making them easy for language-hacks like me to read. 

The series, published by Rasindo, is organized according to region. This is useful, as it gives us an understanding of the great diversity of folk memories that continue to influence popular consciousness and local identity across the archipelago. 

I ended up buying several books in the series: Folktales from Bali, Folktales from East Java, Folktales from Central Java and Folktales from Bengkulu. I’ve translated and presented here the first tale from the Bengkulu collection, called, “The Sleeping Contest,” or “Sayembara Pandari Tidur.” It’s not the best story of the series — they’re all pretty good, mind you — but it is short, fun and contains elements of the moral didacticism typical of the tales. 

I’ve never been to Bengkulu and I don’t know if locals are familiar with ‘The Sleeping Contest.’ Like all stories in the series, it’s been modified by the authors to appeal to contemporary youth. If Bengkulu locals are familiar with the original telling, hopefully they’re not displeased with the ‘modern’ version here.

I think the authors may have gone a little far in stressing the morals in the tales. Each story is followed by a ‘conclusion,’ which specifies how the the lessons of the story are relevant to children and teenagers today. The conclusion to ‘The Sleeping Contest’ is typical in this regard.

Perhaps the publishers wrote conclusions so that parents would have a ‘cheat sheet,’ instructing them what to impress upon their children after reading a story aloud. It sounds like a good idea, but the conclusions are didactic and poorly written. It’s undoubtedly heavy-handed to write, for instance, that, “being able to make use of spare time also means lowering the nation’s unemployment rate.” Besides being dubious from the point of view of economic theory, such statements verge on politicizing children’s literature, which is never a good thing. 

Anyway, enough from me; here’s the story:

The Sleeping Contest

Folk Tales from Bengkulu

His Royal Highness Raja Jungur was once the wise leader of the Rejang Lands of the Country of Fable. He was loved by the people, for under his rule the Country of Fable grew prosperous and peaceful.

The Raja and his queen consort were blessed by God with a beautiful, sweet girl of moral disposition, whom they named Serindu.

Serindu grew into a young woman as beautiful as an angel. All Rejang’s young bachelors – from the noblemen to the commoners – sought her hand in marriage.

By the age of twenty, Serindu had rejected all proposals from her suitors, saying she wasn’t yet ready to settle down and start a family. Because of this, she caused her parents a great deal of worry. Moreover, the Raja was growing older and hoped for the birth of a grandson who would one day inherit the throne of the Country of Fable.

One day, the Raja ordered his Vizier to call forth all the country’s bachelors to attend a party, which would last for one week. He hoped one of the bachelors would appeal to his daughter as a potential husband.

The Raja’s efforts were in vain, however: Serindu found none of the young men lived up to her heart’s desire.

After the competition, the queen, with tenderness, grace and wisdom appealed to her daughter to describe her ideal man.

Serindu saw how hard her parents had worked to find her a husband. Now, as she saw her mother so full of hope and expectation, she was touched.

She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer: she flung her arms around her mother, whom she loved so much, and wept. She begged forgiveness from her – the man she sought, she said, would probably not be to her parents’ liking. He was a man, she said, who was a sound sleeper.

Having heard out her daughter, the queen’s face lit up with delight. She smiled sweetly. Accepting her daughter’s wish, she gave her a hug and a kiss, and said: “It’s fine, I’ll go right now and tell your dad the news. Don’t worry; he loves you, and he’ll accept your choice, no matter what.”

The Queen went straight to meet with the Raja, who was at that very moment contemplating his daughter’s fate. On seeing his wife looking so cheerful, His Royal Highness grew anxiously expectant – what had caused such an abrupt change in her mood? The Queen sad down need her husband, smiling encouragingly. Her heart began to race as she began to recount the wish of their daughter Serindu.

“My love, I’ve just had a talk with out daughter. She asks for our forgiveness and begs you not to be angry with her,” appealed the queen.

“I’m not angry, but what is the will of that daughter of ours?” Urged the Raja, impatiently now.

“I’ll tell you, my love. Our daughter already has ideal husband in mind, but she hadn’t the courage to come and tell us. The reason is that her ideal husband must be found… through a contest.”

 “What? A contest to choose a husband? What kind of contest?”

“A sleeping contest, my love. Our daughter seeks a young man who is a sound sleeper,” explained the queen.

“Well, alright, then we’ll arrange this contest right away,” said the Raja excitedly.

Two days later, news of the contest had spread to the furthest reaches of the country. The official announcement read: “Sought: a sound sleeper to become the husband of Princess Serindu.”

One young orphan known as Little Lumang was keen on entering the competition, but he couldn’t take time off from his work making fish traps. If he didn’t make traps, it meant he wouldn’t have any to sell… and he couldn’t buy any food. He thought about it long and hard, and decided to enter the competition. He would take his work with him.

On the day of the contest, the young bachelors gathered in the meeting hall of the palace, which had been fitted with the many beds needed to judge their sleeping. The contestants had brought with them all kinds of bedrolls and quilts.

Little Lumang entered the hall holding a pile of bamboo, which he’d already whittled into sticks for his fish traps, tied together with rattan rope. He also had a beronang, a kind basket carried on the back and supported by a rope tied around the head. Inside, Little Lumang had some more rattan, a machete, a knife, a coconut shell and the other tools he needed to make his traps.

The other contestants didn’t want to take beds near Little Lumang – his clothes smelled like fish, and they thought he looked downright repulsive. But in actual fact, Lumang was a fine-looking young man. On closer inspection, he was he was handsome and sturdily built. Those who knew him would say he was smart and agile, and had plenty of self-confidence, too.

The contest began, and the crowds looked on at the various sleeping styles of the contests. Some slept on their sides, some on their fronts, some on their backs, and others even sitting upright.

Little Lumang didn’t go straight to sleep – he didn’t have any money at all in his pocket, and so he was busy thinking about making something. He decided to finish making one fish trap before going to sleep. He settled down to focus on his work. Eventually, Little Lumang was the only contestant still awake.  He made a big trap, and it looked sturdy and very beautiful.

From far away, a faint rooster’s crow signaled the night was drawing to a close. Little Lumang  finished up his work on the trap and hung it up on the wall next to his bed as a kind of decoration. He gathered up the waste bamboo shavings and threw them out. He stored away his tools inside the beronang. Unable to keep his eyes open any longer, Little Lumang lay down on his bed and fell fast asleep.

A bell rang to signal the end of the contest. The young bachelors, awake now, sat waiting to hear the announcement of the victor. Princess Serindu was to be the judge. She was accompanied by His Royal Highess Raja Jungur and his queen consort. The Rajah’s ministers and district chiefs stood by as witnesses.

In the end, the Princesses’ attention fell on Little Lumang, who was still sleeping. She chose him as the winner. Only he had gone to sleep after finishing his day’s work, she said.  And what’s more, she added, the fish trap he’d made would be of great use to other people.

The wedding of Princess Serindu and Little Lumang was held at the palace and lasted for seven days and seven nights. There were all kinds of artistic performances. The people of the country took it in turns visit the palace and join in the lively festivities.

And of course, His Royal Highness Raja Jungur and his queen consort were happy to look forward to the birth of a grandson who would one day inherit the throne.


Diligent, skilled, able to make use of spare time, and self-confident: these are the qualities of upstanding youth required by our society. We need more youth to be like Little Lumang as they grow into young adults.

Making use of spare time also means reducing our nation’s unemployment rate.

Low self-confidence, poor morals and discriminating between rich and poor are all barriers to progress.

Dalam Bahasa Indonesia:

Sayembara Pandai Tidur

Cerita Rakyat Dari Bengkulu

Tuan Raja Jungur adalah seorang raja yang bijaksana di Negeri Dongeng tanah Rejang. Beliau dicintai rakyat karena dalam pemerintahannya, Negeri Dongeng menjadi makmur dan sejahtera. Baginda dan permaisuri dikaruniai oleh Tuhan seorang putri cantik jelita dan luhur budi pekertinya yang diberi nama Putri Serindu.

Putri Serindu semakin cantik bagaikan bidadari ketika berusia remaja. Para perjaka sangat mendambakan sang Putri, baik dari kalangan bangsawan maupun rakyat biasa.

Meskipun ia telah berusia dua puluh tahun, semua pinangan yang datang selalu ditolak, dengan alasan belum siap berumah tangga. Sikap itu membuat Baginda dan permaisuri bersedih hati, apalagi usia Baginda semakin tua tentu beliau mengharapkan kehadiran seorang cucu laki-laki yang kelak akan mewarisi tahta kerajaan Negeri Dongeng.

Pada suatu hari, Baginda memerintahkan perdana menteri untuk mengumpulkan seluruh pemuda. Beliau ingin mengadakan pesta selama satu minggu. Tujuannya, agar Putri mempunyai hasrat untuk memilih salah seorang di antara pemuda itu sebagai calon suami. Akan tetapi, itu boleh dikatakan sia-sia karena sang Putri tetap menolak menentukan pilihan hatinya.

Dengan sabar, lemah lembut, dan bijaksana, permaisuri membujuk Putri Serindu supaya mau memberikan penjelasan pemuda mana yang menjadi idamannya.

Melihat ibundanya yang penuh harap, serta jerih payah yang dilakukan orang tuanya, hati Putri Serindu pun menjadi lembut. Dengan derai air mata yang tidak terbendung lagi, ia memeluk ibunda yang dikasihinya itu sambil mengucapkan maaf bahwa pemuda dambaannya mungkin tidak berkenan di hati ayah dan ibundanya karena pemuda pilihannya adalah seorang yang pandai tidur.

Mendengar cerita putrinya itu, wajah permaisuri kelihatan ceria dan tersenyum manis tanda setuju. Anak kesayangannya itu dipeluk dan dicium sambil berkata, “Baiklah kalau begitu, Ibunda akan segera menyampaikan berita ini kepada ayahmu. Tidak perlu takut karena beliau sangat mencintaimu.”

Permaisuri segera menemui Baginda yang sedang merenungi peruntungan putrinya. Munculnya permaisuri dengan wajah ceria membuat perasaan Tuan Raja Jungur harap-harap cemas, apa yang telah terjadi sehingga permaisuri bertingkah aneh. Permaisuri duduk di dekat Baginda sambil tersenyum memberi harapan. Debar jantungnya semakin cepat karena ingin segera menceritakan perihal Putri Serindu.

“Kakanda, saya tadi telah berbincang-bincang dengan putri kita, Serindu. Ia minta maaf kepada kita. Ia minta agar Kanda tidak murka terhadapnya,” bujuk permaisur.

“Aku tidak marah, tetapi apa kehendak putri kita itu?” desak Baginda tidak sabar lagi.

“Begini Kanda, anak kita sebenarnya telah mempunyai pilihan calon suami, tetapi ia tidak berani mengemukakannya kepada kita karena harus ditentukan melalui sayembara.”

“Apa ini, mencari calon suami melalui sayembara?”

“Betul Kanda, calon suaminya itu seorang pemuda yang pandai tidur,” kata permaisuri menegaskan.

“Baiklah, kita akan segera mengadakan sayembara,” kata Baginda bersemangat.

Dua hari kemudian, tersebarlah sayembara ke segenap pelosok negeri. “Dicari seorang pemuda yang pandai tidur, akan dijadikan suami Putri Serindu.”

Seorang pemuda yatim piatu yang sehari-hari dipanggil Anak Lumang berminat mengikuti sayembara itu, tetapi ia tidak dapat meninggalkan pekerjaannya sebagai tukang membuat bubu. Jika ia beristirahat membuat bubu, berarti tidak ada bubu yang akan ia jual sehingga ia tidak mendapat uang untuk membeli makan. Setelah menimbang untung ruginya, ia memutuskan akan mengikuti sayembara dengan membawa pekerjaannya.

Pada hari yang telah ditentukan, berkumpullah para pemuda di balai pertemuan istana yang telah disiapkan dengan tempat tidur yang banyak sekali. Para peserta hadir dengan membawa bermacam-macam alat tidur.

Anak Lumang masuk ruangan dengan menjinjing bambu yang sudah diraut seperti lidi dan diikat dengan tali rotan. Ia menggendong beronang (sejenis keranjang yang dibawa dengan cara digendong di belakang dan talinya dikaitkan di kepala) berisi rotan, parang, pisau, tempurung, dan alat-alat lain perlengkapan membuat bubu.

Peserta lain tidak ada yang mau berdampingan dengan Anak Lumang karena penampilannya menjijikkan dan pakaiannya berbau amis. Akan tetapi, pancaran wajahnya menandakan bahwa ia seorang pemuda tampan, cerdas, dan ulet serta mempunyai sosok tubuh kekar dan perkasa. Gerakannya lincah, tidak pemalu, dan percaya diri.

Sayembara telah dimulai, para penonton menyaksikan cara peserta tidur. Ada yang miring, ada yang telungkup, ada yang telentang, dan ada pula yang duduk.

Anak Lumang tidak segera tidur, ia memikirkan bagaimana menyelesaikan barang dagangannya sebab uang belanja tidak ada lagi. Lalu, ia memutuskan untuk menyelesaikan sebuah bubu, setelah itu tidur. Ia pun memusatkan perhatian terhadap pekerjaannya. Tidak seorang peserta pun masih terjaga, kecuali Anak Lumang. Ia membuat sebuah bubu yang besar dengan rapi. Bentuk bubu itu sangat indah.

Sayup-sayup di kejauhan terdengar kokok ayam menandakan hari menjelang pagi. Bubu itu sudah selesai dikerjakan Anak Lumang dan digantungkan di dinding seperti hiasan. Sampah sisa rautan bambu dikumpulkan dan dibuang. Alat perlengkapan kerja dimasukkan ke dalam beronang dan disimpan. Karena kantuk yang tidak tertahan lagi, Anak Lumang merebahkan diri di tempat tidur lalu tertidur dengan pulas.

Lonceng tanda sayembara selesai subah dibunyikan. Semua peserta siap mendengarkan pengumuman pemenang yang disampaikan oleh juri. Putri Serindu bertindak sebagai juri didampingi Tuan Raja Jungur dan permaisuri serta disaksikan para menteri dan hulubalang.

Ternyata, pilihan sang Putri jatuh pada Anak Lumang. Alasannya, perserta tidur setelah menyelesaikan pekerjaannya. Hasil yang diciptakannya pun sangat berguna bagi orang lain.

Selama tujuh hari tujuh malam di istana dilaksanakan pesta perkawinan antara Putri Serindu dengan Anak Lumang. Aneka kesenian ditampilkan. Penduduk negeri secara bergilir diundang untuk turut memeriahkan pesta itu.

Tuan Raja Jungur dan permaisuri sangat berbahagia menantikan kehadiran cucu mereka yang kelak akan menerima warisan tahta kerajaan sebagai generasi penerus.


Tekun, terampil, pandai memanfaatkan waktu luang, serta percaya diri merupakan sosok pemuda tangguh yang diperlukan masyarakat, apalagi dalam era pembangunan dewasa ini.

Pandai memanfaatkan waktu luang berarti memperkecil jumlah pencari lapangan kerja. Sifat rendah diri, krisis martabat, serta membeda-bedakan kaya dan miskin merupakan penghambat kemajuan.

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