EF#16 – Lessons Learned from Lebai Malang


Lebai Malang (The Unlucky Religious Teacher) is a well-known folktale from West Sumatera. I knew this story when I was an elementary school student. At that time, I found this story was quite funny and I thought the main character was simply a fool. But, when I re-read this story just now, I could understand this story better than before.

This story tell about a religious teacher (lebai) who got two party invitations  in the same time, one was from the headwaters, the other was from the downstream. Those party were held at the same time of the same day.


He considered the advantages and disadvantages of attending each party. If I attend the party in the headwaters village, the host will give me two buffalo heads. Yet, I do not know the host well. Moreover, headwaters people cannot cook as good as the downstream people. If I attend the party in the downstream village, I will get a buffalo head which is well-cooked. I know the host very well. Yet, I will not get any pastries if  I go there. Instead, the host in the headwaters village will give me some pastries. That was what he thought at that time. Until he got on his boat and paddled the boat through the stream, he had not make up his mind yet.

First, he went to the headwaters. In the middle of his way, he changed his mind. He took a detour to the downstream. When he almost arrived, he saw some guests who want to go to the headwaters. One of them said that the buffalo was very thin. Knowing that story, he went back to the headwaters village. When he arrived in the village, the guests were about to go home. The party was over. He turned to the downstream as fast as he could. Unfortunately, the party in downstream was also over. He could not get the buffalo head as he wished.

At that time, he was very hungry. He decided to go fishing and hunting. For those purposes, he brought a lunchbox filled with rice and a dog with him. After waiting for a long time, a fish ate his fishing bait. But, the bait was stucked in the floor of the river. He jumped down to get the fish. Unfortunately, the fish escaped. When he went up, he saw his dog was eating his rice. Because of these misfortunes, he was called as “Lebai Malang”.

From this story, I learned at least three lessons. Here they are:

Do not be greedy. The main character of this story wished for more buffalo heads, delicious foods and pastries to complete the meal. Of course he could not get all of them in one place. The headwaters village people could not cook as well as the downstream people, yet he could get some pastries there. The host in the downstream village could provide a delicious buffalo head, but no pastries. If only he could choose one of those parties, he would get either two buffalo heads and pastries or a well-cooked buffalo head. Moreover, a buffalo head which was cooked well was already a big present. Wasn’t it enough for him?

Be decisive. The root of Lebai’s problems was his indecisive trait. He could not make up his mind. He would like to go up, but not. He would like to go down, but not. All the way he was in doubt. The story would be different if he could decide a party to attend and would like to accept the consequences of his choice.

Do not put too much concern in what other people say. The lebai cancelled his plan to go to the downstream as he heard a guest said that the buffalo was very thin. What was very thin according to that guest maybe not that thin in reality. He could go there and proved it by his own eyes. Besides that, he and the host was acquiantances. By atending the party, the host may be pleased and their relationship will be strengthened. It might be possible for Lebai to get extra dishes, too.

The story may be old, but it is still relevant with our modern lives. We may have ever been a bit greedy, indecisive or make decision based on other people’s opinion. By having those bad traits, we would get none but disappointment and regret. Thus, let’s start to be better each day. Be grateful, be decisive, and last but not least, be confident with your own choice.

(This story was adaptated from here. Another version of this story can be found here).


29 thoughts on “EF#16 – Lessons Learned from Lebai Malang

  1. The lesson of this story is still relevant with our modern lives, of course. Don’t be greedy, not only about wealth or physical things, but also sometimes we might not realize how greedy we were to reach our ambitions or wants in a very short time. Be grateful and decisive, indeed.
    Well written, Ami 😊 Aku belum nulis punyaku, Mi. hahaha 😁


  2. Have never heard of it yet Ami but moral of the story is indeed very applicable to life. Living here somehow my focus shifted too to thinking more about the meaning of life and its values.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ami.., pernah dapat cerita Lebai Malang dulu yang juga suka ngayal.., sampai jatuh dari pohon aren..
    ilustrasinya itu ngjngetin ke buku2 cerita dulu


  4. I remember read this story at the Indonesian Language subject textbook at elementary school, Ami. A nice story to read, and as you’ve said, it’s full with moral values. Thank you for sharing. Engku Lebai Malang, how unlucky you are :hehe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are welcome, Bli 🙂 indeed, I missed reading stories in Indonesian Language textbook. They are my favorite and different with fried chicken, I could not resist to ‘digest’ them :D.


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