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Bawang Merah Bawang Putih: The Folk Tale of Two Sisters in Indonesian Folklore


The world of folktales is a rich tapestry of stories that have been passed down through generations, offering timeless wisdom and insight into human nature. These narratives, often steeped in cultural context and symbolism, provide a window into the values, beliefs, and fears of the communities that created them. One such tale, deeply ingrained in Indonesian folklore, is “Bawang Merah Bawang Putih,” a story that explores themes of jealousy, kindness, and the inevitable consequences of our actions. This blog post will delve into the heart of this captivating narrative, unraveling its plot, analyzing its symbolism, and exploring its enduring cultural significance.

Table of Contents

  1. The Story of Bawang Merah Bawang Putih
  2. The Themes and Symbolism of Bawang Merah Bawang Putih
  3. Cultural Context and Significance
  4. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  5. Conclusion

The Story of Bawang Merah Bawang Putih

Bawang Merah Bawang Putih, which translates to “Red Onion” and “White Onion,” tells the tale of two stepsisters who live with their widowed mother. Bawang Merah, as her name suggests, is a character characterized by greed and a venomous envy for her stepsister, Bawang Putih.

The story begins with the death of their father, leaving the family in poverty. Bawang Merah, fueled by her desire for wealth and possessions, constantly exploits her mother’s kindness and generosity, often demanding more than her fair share. In contrast, Bawang Putih, despite facing mistreatment and hardship, remains kind and compassionate, always willing to share what little she has.

The conflict escalates when their mother remarries. Bawang Merah, fueled by her jealousy, plots against her stepsister, manipulating situations to ensure Bawang Putih is burdened with the most demanding tasks and receives the least amount of affection.

The climax of the story unfolds when Bawang Merah tricks her stepsister into entering a well, leaving Bawang Putih to face a perilous fate. However, through a series of fortunate events, Bawang Putih is rescued and reunited with a kind and wealthy man who recognizes her good heart. In the end, Bawang Merah faces the consequences of her actions, while Bawang Putih is rewarded for her kindness and perseverance.

The Themes and Symbolism of Bawang Merah Bawang Putih

The tale of Bawang Merah Bawang Putih is rich with symbolism and offers valuable insights into human nature and the consequences of our choices.

Jealousy and Greed

The story powerfully illustrates the destructive nature of jealousy and greed. Bawang Merah’s envious heart fuels her actions, leading her to manipulate, deceive, and harm her stepsister. Her relentless pursuit of material possessions and a desire to be superior blinds her to the true value of kindness and compassion, ultimately leading to her downfall.

Kindness and Compassion

In stark contrast to Bawang Merah, Bawang Putih embodies the virtues of kindness and compassion. Despite facing mistreatment and hardship, she remains patient, forgiving, and always willing to help others. Her good deeds, though often overlooked by her stepsister, are ultimately rewarded, demonstrating the enduring power of kindness.

Justice and Karma

The story reinforces the concept of karma, where actions have consequences. Bawang Merah’s selfish and cruel actions ultimately lead to her downfall, while Bawang Putih’s unwavering kindness is met with reward and happiness. This theme resonates with the Indonesian belief that good deeds will be rewarded and bad deeds will be punished, emphasizing the importance of moral conduct.

The Power of Hope and Forgiveness

Bawang Putih’s journey, though fraught with challenges, is ultimately one of resilience and forgiveness. Even when faced with betrayal and hardship, she remains hopeful and compassionate, offering a powerful message about the importance of forgiveness and the enduring strength of the human spirit.

Cultural Context and Significance

Bawang Merah Bawang Putih is more than just a folktale; it is a reflection of Indonesian cultural values and beliefs.

The Role of Folklore in Indonesian Culture

Folktales like Bawang Merah Bawang Putih have played a significant role in Indonesian society for centuries. They serve as vehicles for transmitting cultural values, beliefs, and moral lessons. Through storytelling, generations have learned about the importance of family, community, and the consequences of good and bad actions.

The Symbolism of Onion Names

The characters’ names, Bawang Merah (Red Onion) and Bawang Putih (White Onion), are not simply whimsical choices but hold symbolic significance. In Indonesian culture, the color red often represents passion, anger, and aggression, while white is associated with purity, innocence, and peace. The names reflect the contrasting personalities of the two sisters, with Bawang Merah’s fiery nature and Bawang Putih’s gentle spirit.

The Tale’s Influence on Modern Indonesian Culture

The story of Bawang Merah Bawang Putih continues to resonate in modern Indonesian culture. It has been adapted into numerous forms of entertainment, including television shows, films, and theatrical productions. The characters have become iconic figures in Indonesian pop culture, serving as symbols of good and evil, kindness and greed.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What are the origins of the Bawang Merah Bawang Putih story?
A: The exact origins of the story are unclear, but it is believed to have originated in the oral traditions of the Javanese people, where it has been passed down through generations.

Q: Are there any regional variations of the tale?
A: Yes, different regions of Indonesia have their own versions of the story, with slight variations in the plot, characters, and symbolism.

Q: How is Bawang Merah Bawang Putih used in Indonesian education?
A: The story is often used in Indonesian schools to teach children about morals, ethics, and cultural values. It is a valuable tool for fostering critical thinking and encouraging discussions about the consequences of our actions.

Q: What are some similar folktales from other cultures?
A: Folktales with similar themes of jealousy, kindness, and retribution can be found in many cultures around the world. Some examples include “Cinderella” (European), “The Little Mermaid” (Scandinavian), and “The Tortoise and the Hare” (Aesop’s Fables).

Q: How can I learn more about Indonesian folklore?
A: There are numerous resources available for learning more about Indonesian folklore, including books, websites, and museums dedicated to preserving and showcasing Indonesian cultural heritage.


The tale of Bawang Merah Bawang Putih stands as a testament to the enduring power of folklore to teach, inspire, and entertain. It is a story that transcends cultural boundaries, speaking to the universal themes of human nature, morality, and the consequences of our actions. Through its captivating narrative and timeless symbolism, the story continues to offer valuable lessons about the importance of kindness, compassion, and the ultimate reward for good deeds.