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The Melanau Oya legend of Dayang Tri Kalala you might not know

If you never heard of the Melanau legend of Dayang Tri Kalala, here is a version of the tale from Oya which was published in the Sarawak Gazette on Nov 30, 1953:

Long, long ago, when Sarawak was only inhabited by natives there lived in a small but comfortable house at Sungei Sibu a beautiful Melanau princess called Dayang Tri Kelala or Lazy Princess because laziness was her chief characteristic.

Opposite her house stood an apong palm with its branches sprea out like a huge fan. As the little princess was alone she played each day under the palm.

Time passed and the princess grew into a beautiful woman.

Dayang Tri Kalala’s change of attitude

One day as she was playing as usual under the palm, she was surprised to hear her name called. Being trained not to answer calls when alone in the jungle, she did not answer at first but looked this way and that. She could see no one. She grew frightened and would have run away had she not heard her name called the second time.

The voice said, “Fear not, young and beautiful lady, for I am your friend the apong palm.”

On hearing this the princess gained courage and said, “Oh, is it you? I am so glad you can talk. From now on I shall have someone to talk to.”

But the palm said, “Go home and fetch a parang with you. With it you shall cut off some of my branches and leaves and make them into a sibuyong (a huge basket) and a slapau (a broom).


The princess did not like the idea of hard work and said, “Please do not ask me to do this because I am too lazy.”

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But the palm turned on her in a threatening voice and reluctantly she agreed to start work.

It took her more than a week to finish the sibuyong and the slapau.

When she had completed her allotted task she found herself strangely energetic, whereupon she used the slapau she had made to clean her house, inside and out.

A prince and a tyrant

At that time a very handsome prince lived in Oya. He was unfortunately captured by a tyrant who wanted to marry him to his ugly daughter. This the prince would not do, because he did not love her and furthermore, because he knew that she was very cruel to other girls in the district.

He therefore made up his mind to run away, but the tyrant sensed this and place guards over him, so that it was impossible for him to execute his plan in spite of his loyal friends who tried to help him.

In time the tyrant decided on the marriage feast for his daughter.

The Melanau custom requires that a wedding ceremony to the prince to be performed at night, in order that her ugliness might be concealed.

He insisted that before the ceremony the prince should walk with his bride through the kampung.

The prince who was helpless did as he was told.

But as soon as they came to the place where the wedding was to be held the prince suddenly disappeared and every effort to look for him ended in failure.

The Prince and Dayang Tri Kalala

Dayang Tri Kalala found her sibuyong missing one day and was sad. For a week she searched. One night while she lay restless in bed, she heard a loud knock at her door, and, on opening it found her sibuyong standing on the threshold.

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As she was wondering how it had come back to her, she heard a whisper from inside it saying, “Please open the sibuyong.”

No sooner had she done this than out came a handsome young man, dressed like a groom.

Both were speechless as each gazed on the others’ beauty.

The young man at last found his tongue and said, “Well, am I not welcome to your house?” Recovering her poise Dayang Tri Kalala answered, “Yes, indeed, if you despise not my humble abode.”

When they were inside the house the young man began to tell the princess who he was and unfolded to her what had befallen him. He said that the magic sibuyong had brought him to safety and shelter under her roof.

It was destined that she should become his protector and would she consent to accept him as her helpmate for life?

Dayang Tri Kelala shyly replied that she would seriously consider the matter, and in the meantime, invited the prince to stay in her house. He, in turn, informed her that he had hopes that his faithful men who were even then concealed in the forest awaiting an opportunity to overthrow the tyrant, would soon come to his rescue.

The end of the tyrant

They waited thus patiently for about a month without fresh developments.

Then one day as the princess was picking flowers in the forest she heard the beating of gongs from a distance.

As the sound came nearer she ran to fetch the prince who was fishing in the river .

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For fear that it might be his enemies descending upon him, the prince armed himself with a sumpit (blowpipe) and hid with the princess behind a huge tree. Soon they were able to spy a group of men and women walking in procession towards them and singing out in a chorus. “Where is our prince? We are men from Oya. We have come to welcome our prince back as the tyrant and his daughter have both been killed.

When the prince heard this he begged Dayang Tri Kalala to come out to the open with him and show themselves.

As the princess hesitated, the prince leap forward and declared himself.

The men soon recognised and they knelt, crying,”Long live our prince.”

The prince, however, ordered them to stand up and to go to the princess to kneel before her, for she had saved his life.

This they joyfully did for the princess was gracious as she was beautiful.

The princess then thanked the prince for the honour he had bestowed on her, and when she was asked again to return with him to Oya as his bride. She willingly agreed this time.

And as soon as they had arrived home safely they were married and lived happily ever after, ruling both Oya and Sibu.

Whenever she had time Dayang Tri Kalala would teach the young women of her tribe how to make sibuyongs and slapaus out of the apong palm. And to this day we still find Melanau women fashioning and using the apong slapau.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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