Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih
Once upon a time there lived a widow and her two daughters. She loved the younger daughter who was her own child and hated the elder one who was her stepdaughter.
The two stepsisters were as different as day was from night. The elder had skin that was as pink as a newborn babe’s while the younger had skin that was as pale as ivory. So, it was no surprise to everyone in the village that the elder girl was called Bawang Merah which means Red Onion, while the younger was called Bawang Putih which means White Onion.
Being a stepdaughter, Bawang Merah had to work all day to keep the house clean. She also had to cook the meals, wash the clothes, work in the padi fields and wait hand and foot on her stepmother and stepsister. But no matter how hard she worked, they always managed to find fault with her.
“The floor is not clean enough!”
“There’s a speck of dust on the table!”
“The food is too salty!”
“The soup is too hot!”
“The soup is not enough!” they screamed at her all day long.
Sometimes, they both beat her and pinched her without mercy.
Poor Bawang Merah! There was nothing she could do. There was no one should could turn to. Her own mother was dead and so was her father. She could only weep as she peeled the red onions each day and she could only cry softly to herself each night as she curled up on the hard, kitchen floor.
Every morning, when her stepmother and stepsister got up from their soft, comfortable beds, they would start on her all over again.
Bawang Merah did not know a moment’s peace except when she went down to the river to wash the clothes. She sighed as she put her basket of clothes on a stone beside the swift-flowing river.
‘Washing is hard work. It makes me hands rough and red, but I don’t mind. It is only time of day when I can be alone by myself!’ she thought.
Her stepmother and stepsister never came down to the river for they did not want to get their beautiful clothes and shoes wet.
Bawang Merah smiled to herself as she took a dress from the basket and started washing it. Soon, she was so busy washing and thinking her own thoughts that she did not even notice the basket as it slipped and fell into the river. She did not even notice being swept away by the swift current.
By the time Bawang Merah looked up, it was too late. The basket had drifted out of sight!
Bawang Merah jumped up in alarm.
“Oh dear! Oh dear!” she cried as she wrung her hands in despair. “My basket is gone! So are the clothes! What shall I do? What shall I do? I daren’t go home without the basket of clothes!”
In a great panic, she ran along the river bank to look for it.
“Makcik….Makcik!” she called out to a young woman washing her feet in the cool, clear water. “Did you see a basket floating down the river?”
The young woman shook her head. “No, I was too busy washing my feet.”
Bawang Merah blinked away her tears as she ran further downstream.
“Datuk…Datuk!” she called out to an old man who was bringing his buffaloes down to the river to drink. “Did you see a basket floating down the river?”
The old man shook his head. “No, I was too busy watching my buffaloes.”
Bawang Merah wiped away her tears as she ran further downstream.
She ran on and on until she was too tired to take another step. Soon, huge drops of glistering tears rolled down her cheeks.
“What’s the matter, my dear? Why are you crying?” asked a kind and gentle voice.
Bawang Merah looked up. Towering over her was a giantess.
“Do not be afraid, my dear,” soothed the giantess. “I am Mak Sungai, Mother of the River Spirits.”
She looked so kind and her voice was so gentle that Bawang Merah’s fears soon vanished.
Ahad, 11 Mei 2008
Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih