Nenek kebayan is one of the important characters in Malay folklore. Her stories have been passed down from generation to generation, and now been used mainly to scare naughty children.
In many tales, she was described as an old ugly woman with a hunchback. Her hair was long and white and she walked around aided by a stick. She was known as a spirit or jinn that lived in the forest and mountain. In one version, she was a good character who loved to help others in need with her magical power. While another version said she was an evil witch who possessed black magic.
In Malay literature titled The Princess of Mount Ledang, she was introduced as the princess’ matron and lived in the mountain along with other human-like magical creature called Bunian (elves).
There is a very famous traditional game among children, especially during my childhood. It is a game involving several players, and one of the player is picked as ‘it’ (the nenek) through a democracy way – rock paper scissors. It is played while singing the folk song, Nenek Nenek Si Bongkok Tiga (translated as Three-hunchback Grandmother).
The song has two parts, in which the first part supposedly sung by the grandchildren while the second part is by the nenek.
And the lyrics goes by:-
‘Nenek, nenek si bongkok
Siang mengantuk malam berjaga
Mencari cucu di mana ada
Nenekku kahwin dengan anak raja.
Cucu cucu tak dapat lari
Nenek tua banyak saksi
Sekarang nenek nak cari ganti
Siapa yang kena dia yang jadi.’
This song seems bright and cheerful, but actually its meaning is dark and horror. That is another topic though, and will be discussed in another entry.
There was a recent sighting of nenek kebayan reported in Perak. The mother who took her children for a picnic at a waterfall saw the nenek watching them from the other side of the stream. She managed to record the event while calling out for her children before she fell unconscious.