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The Legend of Lau`Kawar

North Sumatra - Indonesia
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The legend of Lau[1] Kawar is one which is widely spread among the people of Karo regency, North Sumatra. This regency is 2, 127. 25 km2 wide and locates on the Bukit Barisan plateau, North Sumatra. The fact that it is laid on the high plains is also the reason to address this area as Taneh Karo Simalem. Its climate is chilly with the temperature around 16 to 17 Celsius scale. The soil is fertile as well. Therefore, it is no wonder that this area is surrounded by beautiful views. One of those natural views is the Lau Kawar lake which is situated in Kuta Gugung village, Simpang Empat Sub-district, Karo Regency. The clear and calm water as well as the beautiful orchids in the surroundings make it even more beautiful.

The people believe that Lake Lau Kawar lake was once a village entitled Kawar. It was a fertile area that its people depended their lives on farming. The land produced wonderful harvest though not even an amount of fertilizer or such kind was used to help the plants grew.  However, there was once a disaster that turns the village into a lake. What did happen actually? The complete story is as follow.


Once upon a time, there was a very fertile land at the Karo Regency. It was known as the Kawar Village. Its people were mostly farmers, and the land did produce wonderful harvest. It is said that one day the harvest was doubled compared to the previous year. The barns were extremely full with rice that they couldn`t store the whole harvest. For this reason, the people agreed to work together and have a selamatan[2] by performing cultural ceremonies.

The selamatan day came at last. The village was decorated wonderfully. The people were all dressed up colorfully with various accessories here and there. The females were busy cooking many kinds of foods for the ceremony.

A performance of Gendang Guro-Guro Aron was also held during the ceremony. This performance was a special art from the people of Karo. Certainly, all of the villagers attended this annual ceremony except an old woman who was paralyzed. Nevertheless, her son, daughter in law, and grandson were all at the ceremony.

The old woman lied on her bed alone. “I really want to be at the party but I cannot even stand on my feet”, sobbed the old woman in her deepest heart. She could only see the merry party from distance. The faint sound of the Gendang Guro-Guro refreshed her memory when she was still a teenage girl. The boys and girls would usually dance in pairs when the Gendang Guro-guro was performed in a party. It was a beautiful moment for her. No matter what, all was past. Nothing she could do but just to remember the days when she was still young. She was alone with no one talking to her. She would just cry and cry to relieve herself from such a burden in her days as an old woman. No one really cared about her. Everyone minded their own business, and she was abandoned like a trash.

The lunch time came and all of the people at the party gathered around the table for the foods that had been prepared. Many kinds of delicious meals were on the table: grilled lamb, pork, and chicken which were just finished being cooked. All of them enjoyed the foods happily, and they also laughed once a while.  The cheer crowded atmosphere somehow made the old woman`s son and daughter in law forget about her. They completely forgot that the mother was alone in the house.

Contradictory to what was going on at the party, the old woman was starving in the house. She didn`t eat even a bite since morning. Being so hungry, she really hoped that either her son or her daughter in law would come and bring her something to eat. It`s been hours she spent waiting for someone coming with something to eat, yet she was still alone in the house: no one came as she expected.

“My goodness, I am so hungry. Why any of my family didn`t come to bring me something to eat?” sighed her with her body shivering for hunger. She forced herself up from the bed and searched for something to eat in the kitchen, but nothing, it was all in vain. It was that the daughter in law had planned not to cook that day, realizing that foods would be prepared in the feast.

The poor old woman powerlessly came back to her bed. She was so disappointed and sad that her tears dropped. She cried for her poor life. “Dear God, how could my children do this to me? How could they enjoy the party without even thinking about me? How could they be so cruel to me My God?” cried the poor old lady.

The lunch was over after several hours, and suddenly the man remembered about his mother. He rushed to his wife, “My wife! Have you brought some foods for mother?”

“Not yet” the wife responded.

“Wrap some of the foods for her then, and ask our son to take it home for mother” asked the husband.

“Alright”, said the woman while hurriedly wrapping the foods for the mother. After that, she asked her son to take the foods home for her as her husband told her previously, “My son, please take these foods for your grandmother”.

“I`ll do mother”, said the son and then he rushed to the house. He immediately handed the foods to his grandmother as soon as he reached the house and then he ran back quickly to the party.

The old woman was very happy for the foods. Finally, she got something to eat. She unwrapped the package happily and was so astonished for what she saw in it. She was so disappointed to find only leftovers: there were only some bones of beef and lamb which were almost without any meat to eat! “What is this! Do they think I am an animal? Why did they give me leftovers and bones!” moaned her furiously.

The mother stored complete grilled meat into the package in fact. However, the grandson ate the foods on his way to his grand mother that only bones were left. The old woman didn`t know anything about this that she thought her son and daughter in law did it on purpose. She felt so disappointed and humiliated that she hardly held her tears to fall down. She then prayed to God to curse both her son and daughter in law.

“My God, they were sinful to me. I beg You to punish them!” said the woman in her prayer.

There was a very strong earthquake not even a minute when the woman completed her prayer. The sky was suddenly dark and cloudy, and there was a great thunder followed by heavy rain. The crowd in the party ran here and there in panic. There was no more laughter in the party, replaced by cries and shouts from every direction. No one could escape from the terrible disaster. The wealthy village was drowned in a short time and there was not even a single person survived.

The drowned village turned into a big crater several days later and it was flooded by water. The people in the surroundings later on call the it Lau Kawar. And this marked the origin of the Lau Kawar in Karo Regency , North Sumatra.


The story above is one of those that deliver moral teachings. There are at least 3 messages that worth noting from the story: to be thankful, not to be rebellious/sinful to parents, and to be attentive to advices.

The attitude of being thankful is reflected in the way the Karo people held the slametan as the harvest time came. This attitude is important for the Malayans. It is said:

Wahai ananda dengarlah amanat
Bersyukurlah engkau beroleh nikmat
Karunia allah wajib diingat
Supaya hidupmu beroleh rahmat

The attitude of not to be rebellious to parents is illustrated through the characters of the son, the daughter in law, and the grandson of the old woman. They ignored the poor old lady that later she cursed all of them for doing so. This kind of attitude is strictly prohibited in the life of a Malayan. It is said:

Kalau durhaka ke orang tua
Dunia akhirat akan merana

The attitude of being attentive to advises is seen through the grand son who neglected his mother`s words. This is also one of the attitudes that are prohibited in the life of the Malayans. One  Malayan pantun describes:

Kalau hendak tahu orang durjana,
Dia berbuat orang yang kena.


  1. The story was adapted from Syamsuri, Maulana. t.t. Danau Toba dan Pulau Samosir dengan Beberapa Dongeng Sumatra Utara. Surabaya: Greisinda Press.
  2. Anonymous. “Danau Lau Kawar”, http://www.pemkomedan.go.id/wis_laukawar.php, accessed on 17 December 2007.
  3. Anonymous. “Kabupaten Karo”, http://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabupaten_Karo, accessed on 17 December 2007.
  4. Anonymous. 2005. “Ketika Legenda Sudah Tidak Lagi Dihormati”, http://kompas.com/kompas-cetak/0505/14/Wisata/1749127.htm, accessed on 17 December 2007.
  5. Arif, Ahmad. 2005. “Pesona Danau Lau Kawar yang Semakin Terlewatkan”, http://www.kompas.com/kompas-cetak/0505/14/Wisata/1749058.htm, accessed on 17 December 2007.
  6. Effendy, Tenas. 1994. “Ejekan Terhadap Orang Melayu Riau dan Pantangan Orang Melayu Riau. Pekanbaru: Regional Development Planning Agency (Bappeda) I Riau.



Translated from the Indonesian version by (MA)


[1] Lau means water

[2] Selamatan: ceremony which includes the custom of giving away sacred food which will provide security for a host and his family.

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