Nyi Roro Kidul: Respecting The Green Queen of the Sea


Nyi Roro Kidul: Respecting The Green Queen of the Sea

Leonny Margaret Ong | Explore Indonesia

8 April 2021

The following interview quotes have been translate from Indonesian to English

PELABUHAN RATU, SUKABUMI, WEST JAVA, INDONESIA – Waves crash over my bare feet as I walk along Pelabuhan Ratu Beach, crunching white sand underfoot. Johan Jayadi, 24, is beside me, wearing a bright blue t-shirt and khaki shorts. A sticker on his bag advertises his tour agency, Pelabuhan Ratu Tours. At the other end of the beach, fishermen prepare offerings for the sedekah laut ceremony.

As an Indonesian who has lived in Singapore all my life, I’ve long been curious to learn more about Indonesian culture and mythology. Today, I met with Johan to observe the ceremony and learn more about how we can pay our respects to Nyi Roro Kidul, uncovering my heritage myth by myth.

One of the most prominent figures in Indonesian mythology, Nyi Roro Kidul is worshipped by the Javanese, Balinese and Sundanese people. Her powers and myth are well-known throughout Indonesia.

Cursed with snakeskin by a pearl goddess stepmother jealous of her beautiful looks, Princess Dewi Kadita of Pajajaran’s family was so ashamed of her that they chased her out of the kingdom. Driven to desperation, she jumped into the fierce waves of the South Java Sea. It’s still debated whether she did so to get rid of the curse or kill herself.

Now, she’s known for her resurrected form – Nyi Roro Kidul, the myth we know today. She goes by many names – Ratu Kidul and Ratu Laut Selatan, to name a few – and her powers range from controlling the waves of the South Java Sea to shapeshifting from a snake to a beautiful woman.

As I interview Johan, we walk towards the sedekah laut site. Fishermen are bustling around the site, preparing the offerings to be larung.

“The fishermen larung so Ratu Kidul will keep them safe when they’re sailing, provide better seafaring conditions and give them plenty of fish,” Johan explains, pointing at one large pile of offerings. “The offerings range from ternak, batik, fruits, vegetables to the fishermen’s own harvests.”

The annual ceremony, also known as Nyadran, is held every April 26. It likely originated from Ratu Kidul’s role as protector of fishermen, controlling the waves of the South Java Sea.

Fishermen and their families wear their batik (some women wear their kebaya), and bring their offerings to the ocean.

It’s a glimpse of traditional Indonesia I hadn’t previously seen, having only been to the tourist-friendly parts of Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta.

On my way out of the Grand Inna Samudra Hotel, where I’m staying, I heard a driver telling a tourist to change out of green shorts before going swimming. When I tell Johan this, he clicks his tongue.

“Locals, they never wear green. I always remind tourists not to wear green,” Johan tells me. It’s then I realise that nothing on him is green. “It’s better to wear light colours to appease Ratu Kidul. She’s always wearing a green kebaya – it’s her colour. Whoever wears green will become tumbal.”

Tumbal means ‘sacrifice’ in Indonesian. Whoever wears green here will be dragged into the South Sea and drowned.

This rule doesn’t just apply to Pantai Selatan, but the entire south coast of Java. In fact, there was an incident on this very shore in which a Bulgarian embassy official died in 1965 because he reportedly wore a green undergarment.

Respecting Nyi Roro Kidul isn’t limited to ceremonies and not wearing green. Seaside hotels also reserve rooms for Ratu Kidul.

About 1200 kilometres away in Bali, the Grand Bali Beach Hotel – built by the first Indonesian President Sukarno – reserves room 327 for Nyi Roro Kidul. The room was in near-perfect condition after a 1993 fire left most of the hotel ravaged. It’s believed that this is Ratu Kidul’s doing. As such, the room was converted into a shrine for her.  The Grand Inna Samudra Hotel here in Pelabuhan Ratu, paid for by war reparations from Japan, similarly reserves a room for her.

“Since a long time ago, Ratu Kidul must always ‘rent’ room 308,” security guard Melati Sulaiman tells me as she leads me down the hallway.

Legend has it that Nyi Roro Kidul frequented Pelabuhan Ratu Resort around the time it was built. Resort guards didn’t welcome her, instead requesting that she return to her Parangtritis Beach residence, nearly 11 hours away in Yogyakarta. Perhaps rightfully enraged, she kept trying to visit the resort in her green kebaya.

President Sukarno, namesake of Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport, reportedly got his spiritual inspiration under a ketapang tree opposite Room 308. The Samudra Hotel, one of the oldest in the area, eventually reserved room 308 for her.

When asked why, Megawati tells me, “Because he reserved a room for Ratu Kidul… that is why she shows kindness to the guests here. And as the legend spreads here, she visits more often, with her coach and seven horses.”

She echoes Johan on wearing green, which is to say – don’t. “If you wear green, then she will invite you to join her in a voyage to the sea.”

On that ominous note, we reach Room 308. I hand Melati 50,000IDR (SGD$4.57), and she opens the door to Room 308.

My first impression of it is that it is green. The entire room is decorated in a luxurious aqua green she tells me is known as gadhung m’lathi in Javanese, which is the specific shade of green Ratu Kidul is associated with. My 50,000IDR buys me ten minutes in the room to meditate, although there is the option of paying more (price unspecified) to meditate for an hour.

Inside, a large reproduction of Basuki Abdullah’s renowned painting of Nyi Roro Kidul leans against a wall. In front of the painting are two flower vases and a table-shrine with offerings such as incense.

It’s easy to see why people want to meditate here – there’s a very distinct aura about the room. Bedcovers made of green silk are immaculately folded, as if Ratu Kidul herself would check in any minute.

My ten minutes pass quickly. I murmur a quick prayer to Ratu Kidul and, with one last glance, leave Room 308.

Nyi Roro Kidul’s presence can be keenly felt in every corner of Indonesia. Nearly every Indonesian knows the Green Queen of the Sea’s story, which carries nearly five centuries’ worth of Indonesian history and culture, from the Pajajaran Kingdom to the founding of the Mataram Sultanate.

When I think of mythology, Greek or Roman typically comes to mind. I didn’t even know Indonesian mythology existed until this article, but I’m glad I do now. It was eye-opening to learn about my mythology and traditions, and it’s made me feel a little closer to my heritage.

Ratu Kidul’s story is just one of many I hope to explore in the future as I delve deeper into my cultural roots. Her story is unique to the various areas around Indonesia, and yet ubiquitous enough to be found in nearly every ethnic group’s oral traditions.

If you’re ever in Jakarta, I highly encourage you to visit Pelabuhan Ratu. It’s just 3 hours away, ideal for a day trip to its white-sand beach and a quick visit to Ratu Kidul. Just remember – don’t wear green!

 1. Ratu Laut Selatan: (Indonesian) Queen of the South Sea

2. Larung: (Indonesian) Literally translates to ‘float’ in English. During the sedekah laut ceremony, this refers to floating the offerings out to sea.

3 . Ternak: (Indonesian) Livestock. In this case, livestock meaning pigs, chickens, etc.

4.  Batik: (Indonesian) An Indonesian technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to the whole cloth. The term batik can also refer to clothing made with this technique.

5.  Kebaya: (Indonesian) A traditional long-sleeved blouse.


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Andayani, Ambar, and D. Jupriono. “REPRESENTATION OF NYI RORO KIDUL IN MYTH, LEGEND, AND POPULAR CULTURE.” ANAPHORA: Journal of Language, Literary and Cultural Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, July 2019, pp. 28–36. ResearchGate, www.researchgate.net/publication/339742160_REPRESENTATION_OF_NYI_RORO_KIDUL_IN_MYTH_LEGEND_AND_POPULAR_CULTURE, 10.30996/anaphora.v2i1.2724. Accessed 24 Mar. 2021.

Jogja Archive. “Jogja Archive: TRADISI SEDEKAH LAUT PANTAI KUKUP.” Www.youtube.com, YouTube, 5 Oct. 2016, youtu.be/BzU97D2tf2U. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021. Video of the sedekah laut ceremony.

Kurniasih, Anisa. “Misteri Ruang Nyi Roro Kidul Di Kamar 308 Pelabuhan Ratu.” Www.urbanasia.com, Feb. 2021, www.urbanasia.com/misteri-ruang-nyi-roro-kidul-di-kamar-308-pelabuhan-ratu-U25183. Accessed 18 Apr. 2021. Image of the Grand Inna Samudra Hotel’s Room 308 used.

The Jakarta Post. “‘Java Southern Sea’ Documentary: Where Science Meets Myth.” The Jakarta Post, 19 Nov. 2019, www.thejakartapost.com/life/2019/11/18/java-southern-sea-documentary-where-science-meets-myth.html. Accessed 8 Apr. 2021.

Wessing, Robert. “A Princess from Sunda: Some Aspects of Nyai Roro Kidul.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 56, no. 2, Jan. 1997, p. 317. ResearchGate, www.researchgate.net/publication/271788827_A_Princess_from_Sunda_Some_Aspects_of_Nyai_Roro_Kidul, 10.2307/1178730. Accessed 24 Mar. 2021.

Leonny Margaret Ong (Class of 2025) is a lifelong reader and writer who loves to tell stories about family, friendships and what it means to grow up. Through her writing, Leonny hopes to share her heritage and open new worlds for people to explore.