Malaysia has her own badass princesses who have captured our hearts with their courage and grace, along with stories that have trickled down into our cultural tapestry today. This International Women’s Day, we take a look at 9 legendary princesses from Malaysian history and folklore, some famous and a few that you might not have known of until now!
1. Puteri Gunung Ledang (Johor)
Puteri Gunung Ledang is by far the most famous princess in Malaysian folklore. The fairy princess resides at the summit of Gunung Ledang, the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia. In stories, she is known for setting impossible tasks to reject the proposal of Sultan Mansor Shah of Melaka.
Captivated by her mystical beauty and power, the sultan sent Hang Tuah and several warriors to relay his proposal. The princess asked that seven demands be fulfilled before she accepts him: a golden walkway from Melaka to Gunung Ledang, a silver walkway from Gunung Ledang to Melaka, seven trays of mosquito hearts, seven trays of the hearts of germs, seven barrels of young betel nut juice, seven barrels of virgin tears and a silver cup with the blood from the Sultan’s son. Not only was the Sultan unable to hurt his son, he drove his kingdom to ruins trying to fulfil the other requests. Puteri Gunung Ledang still lives on the mountain to this day.
In 2004, this legend was turned into a film of the same name, starring Tiara Jacquelina and M. Nasir.
2. Puteri Zaleha (Kedah)
Puteri Zaleha’s tragic story is popular amongst the people of Kedah. Daughter of Sultan Sulaiman Shah from the 16th century, the princess was so beautiful and pure, the blood she drew was white. She also has a sister, Puteri Mariam, who was just as beautiful but had red blood.
Her distinctive beauty caught the eye of the Prince of Acheh, who was so obsessed by her exoticism, he threatened to attack Kedah unless he could marry Puteri Zaleha. Since he did not know what the princess looked like, Puteri Mariam was sent in her place instead, only to be exposed when she accidentally cut her hand while preparing betel. The Prince waged war on the state and sent his warriors to bring the princess to him.
Knowing that the small kingdom was no match for Acheh, Sultan Sulaiman hid Zaleha in an underground bunker, so dark and impenetrable that no soldier – not even the moonlight – can find her. Unfortunately, since the Sultan perished in the war, the princess was never found and starved to death in the pitch black bunker. She is also known as Puteri Lindungan Bulan (Princess Protected by Moonlight), because of the dark hiding place that took her life.
3. Puteri Hang Li Po (Melaka)
Amongst all the princesses, Hang Li Po’s legacy is one that still lives on in modern Malaysia, through the people and culture of Melaka. She is said to be a princess of the Ming Dynasty in China. During the 15th century, she was betrothed to Sultan Mansur Shah of Melaka, after a diplomatic visit by the state envoys. According to tales, Emperor Yong Le sent Princess Hang Li Po to Melaka with an entourage of 500 servants.
Hang Li Po became the fifth wife of the sultan. Meanwhile, her servants are said to have assimilated with the locals, which gave rise to the Peranakan community of Melaka. These servants were also granted residence at Bukit Cina. Today, Bukit Cina remains the largest and oldest Chinese burial ground outside of China.
4. Che Siti Wan Kembang (Kelantan)
Strictly speaking, Che Siti Wan Kembang is a queen (but if you can argue that Frozen’s Elsa is a Disney Princess, then this isn’t a problem – let it go). Believed to have ruled Kelantan in the 16th century, Che Siti was a warrior princess who could ride a horse, wield a sword, and perform martial arts.
Che Siti was only 4 when her father died, hence the Ruler of Johor was made Regent of Kelantan. She only ascended to the throne after the latter’s death. Throughout her 30-year reign, she never married or had children, choosing instead to adopt a female heir. Legend claims that she never died, but ventured into the mystical world. Puteri Saadong became the next Ruler of Kelantan after her disappearance.
Dapur Mekwa’s Kelantanese Supper Club is a dining experience infused with storytelling. In their debut menu, they introduce princesses of Malaysia. If you want to taste traditional Kelantanese food with a modern twist in KL, reserve your seat at Dapur Mekwa Grub Club.
5. Puteri Saadong (Kelantan)
Just like her mother, Puteri Saadong was blessed with incredible beauty and skills that made her a formidable ruler after Che Siti disappeared. She was married to Raja Abdullah at a tender age of 15.
Not long after she took over Kelantan, the King of Siam invaded the state, and she gave herself up to spare her people, as well as the life of her husband. Raja Abdullah promised to wait for her return.
Eventually Puteri Saadong managed to escape Siam and return to Kelantan, only to find that her husband had remarried. Furious and heartbroken, she killed him by stabbing him with her hairpin and left. The princess was never to be seen again.
6. Puteri Walinong Sari (Pahang)
Did you know that Pahang has her own blade-wielding princess too? Long ago, there lived Puteri Walinong Sari, a princess of Inderapura, once the capital city in the medieval kingdom of Pahang. She was renowned for her beauty, swordsmanship and exceptional Silat skills.
Raja Mambang Segara, the celestial king of Gunung Tahan, became fascinated with the princess. He disguised himself as an ugly man to meet her, and soon fell in love with the princess, even though she was veiled except for her eyes. He challenged her to a Silat fight, which the courageous princess found irresistible.
For three days and nights, the fight took place. On the last day, Walinong Sari’s veil fell and revealed her beauty, causing Raja Mambang Segara to faint. As he was being tended to, his disguise was washed away, revealing his handsome face. The princess fell in love.
Sadly, the fight angered the celestial king’s father, who was shocked that any celestial being could have been defeated by a mere mortal. He sent bolts of lightning to the kingdom, and Raja Mambang Segara disappeared. That night, Puteri Walinong Sari dreamt of a wise man who revealed that the celestial king is at Gunung Tahan. Legend has it that she left the palace the very next day, in search of her beloved.
7. Puteri Ulek (Terengganu)
Ulek Mayang is traditional folk dance from Terengganu, performed as a healing ritual for fishermen burdened with illnesses caused by sea spirits. This ancient dance is believed to have originated from the legend of the sea-princesses.
According to the legend, a sea-princess fell in love with a fisherman who was caught in a storm off the coast of Terengganu. Doesn’t this remind you of The Little Mermaid? Of course, there is a darker twist in that she stole his soul and left the man in a semi-conscious state. A bomoh was consulted to summon the spirit of the sea-princess and release the soul. However, the mischievous sea-princess fought back, and even called upon her sisters for help.
It was only when the eldest and wisest princess, Puteri Ulek, appeared that the battle ended, as she commanded that the fisherman’s soul be returned. From then on, the Ulek Mayang dance is performed in recognition of her wisdom and mercy.
8. Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang (Sarawak)
Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang were daughters of Heaven sent down to earth to stop the war between two villages. The only condition was that they cannot quarrel with one another. Princess Santubong was skilled in embroidery and weaving, while Princess Sejinjang had a talent in harvesting. Together, they brought harmony and prosperity to the villages.
Sure enough, drama ensued when they fell in love with Prince Serapi, and began to fight. Angered, the Gods transformed them into mountains. Some say that Gunung Santubong looks like a woman lying on the ground; others claim that Gunung Sejinjang is surrounded by three islands because the princess’s head had been brutally smacked with a pole, causing parts of her face shattered.
9. Naga Bari (Sarawak)
Naga Bari is a mythical figure known within the Iban indigenous community in Sarawak. The Iban princess is believed to dwell at Bukit Aup, Sibu, and helps those who seek her divine assistance, especially childless couples. The Iban folk continue to pay this sacred site a visit every weekend for this reason.
Within the park, there is the Naga Bari Pool said to be where the princess bathes. Some people claim to have seen the princess in the pool early in the morning.