An Identification Task toward Engendering a Malaysian Folktale Classification System for Preservation


Malaysian folktales are one of the intangible cultural heritages that mirror and carries the lineage of the past generations to the present. It deserves to be preserved systematically but thus far; such effort is scarce if not lacking in this country. Consequently, a study is conducted to create a structural classification of the folktales with an aim to preserve such valuable heritage. Nevertheless, before the classification begins, an important task precedes which are an identification of the Malaysian folktales in a form of literary sources. The identification taskis guided by a combination of two qualifying factors: an operational definition established in the study and also an ownership of the folktales. Ultimately, this paper presents the method employed in the identification process and also the number of the accepted and excluded Malaysian folktales along with the titles of the folktales as findings of the process.

Keywords: Malaysian folktalesintangible cultural heritagefolktale classificationidentification of folktalepreservation of folktale


In the past, the cultural heritage of the world purely represented the tangible artefacts of old but at present, the cultural heritage also encompasses the similarly valuable intangible heritage of the forefathers(UNESCO, n.d.). The intangible cultural heritage is composed of many aspects, and one of them is folklore which embodies social and cultural identity of a community (UNESCO, 1989). Several facets of folklore reflect the traditional practice of a society namely music, dances, festival, and also stories, which persist through times in a form notably known as folktale (Mohd Hussein, Mohd Nor, & Abdul Manap, 2001). Folktale, as well as legend and myth,forms the three basic categories of folklore (Bascom, 1965).

In this digital age, folktales, myths, and legends are treasured inheritances which need to be preserved to avoid total disappearance as a result of globalization and commercial entertainment (Dorji, 2009). Wisely used, folktales offer various benefits toward the society. For instance, it teaches positive morals, behaviour changes, self-endurance, rational decision-making, the distinctiveness of cultures, and communicate the worth of compassion that when combined, induce the growth of a nation with outstanding cultural values (Babalola & Onanuga, 2012; Kirmani & Frieman, 1997). Six stages are underlined as significant in the preservation of folklore: identification, conservation, preservation, dissemination, protection, and international collaboration. The first stage which is identification addresses a couple of recommendations, and one of them is a creation of register that the current study accomplished via classification. Folktale classification system offers systematic and integrated identification of folktale which is in line with UNESCO’s recommendation in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage (UNESCO, 2003). The undertaking of folktale classification had been initiated by many other nations such as Japan, China, and Spain but not yet by Malaysia (Abd. Wahab, 2005). For that reason, this study identified and analyzes the Malaysian folktales to create a systematic classification system apt to preserve the precious literature legacy of Malaysia. Nonetheless, before commencing the classification task, it is essential for the study to obtain a reasonably comprehensive collection of Malaysian folktales because it is the fundamental building blocks of the classification system. Hence, the subsequent section considers the requirements for obtaining the Malaysian folktales.

Malaysian folktale identification

Classification of folktale begins with sufficient sample of folktalesand it is plainly stated a minimum number of texts is crucial to making a valid conclusion in a study conducted (Jason, 2000; Propp, 1998). In a structural study of Burmese folktales, the analysis was performed only on a collection of 27 folktales, but yet significant findings were yielded (Lwin, 2010). Propp (1998) also claims that in classifying folktales, a collection of 100 tales are more than enough for the quality of the folktales weights more than the quantity. Therefore, the current study chose to employ the folktales collected from four diverse literary sources.The literary sources are 366 A Collection of Malaysian Folk Tales , Stories From Sarawak: Orang Ulu Stories , Stories From Sarawak: Orang Melanau Stories , and Malaysian Fables, Folk Tales, and Legends and the total collected folktales are 426 (Munan, 2006, 2007; Puteh & Said, 2010; Skeat & Gomez, 2012).

After the samples of folktale had been obtained, the identification task began. Two qualifying factors were established as the condition of acceptance. They were the operational definition developed in the study and the ownership of the folktales (Harun & Jamaludin, 2014). The purpose of the qualifying factors is to ensure the folktales identified from the samples are consistent and not contaminated by other forms of folklore. Besides, they also warrant the identified folktales were initially transcribed from the narrators of past generations. It is necessary for all the folktales to be classified to satisfy these two qualifying factors. Table-1 presents five essential formal features of the operational definition of folktale, for a tale be considered as a folktale and used in the study. Meanwhile, Table-2 exhibits the 14 ownerships of the folktales that assist in determining the cultural value of the folktales and also possessed by Malaysia (state or national).

Table 1 -
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The succeeding section provides the number of acceptance and exclusion of the Malaysian folktales based on the two qualifying factors established.

Acceptance and exclusion of Malaysian folktale

Based on the two qualifying factors, the narrative body of the 426 Malaysian folktales were analyzed to separate from the ones that were accepted and excluded to create the folktale classification system. The result of the analysis exposed a total of 269 folktales fulfilled the two qualifying factors hence accepted although 157 folktales failed to do so thus excluded. Table-2 presents the frequency of the accepted folktales distributed based on the ownerships and Table-3, on the other hand, shows the frequency of the excluded ones together with the causes of the exclusion.Based on the frequency of the accepted folktales in Table-2, the titles for each of the folktales are shown in Table-4 arranged evidently by the ownerships. The next section deliberates on the allocationof the number of folktales accepted for the ownerships and also the prominent causes of exclusion of the folktales.

Table 2 -
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Table 3 -
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Table 4 -
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Table-2 shows that the average distribution of the folktales accepted is even. However, there are two extreme distributions of folktale based on the ownership which is National and Malacca. The highest distribution belongs to Malaysia in general while Malacca, the lowest. The national folktales are the ones that were transcribed from the narrator in Malaysia but lack information on any particular state ownership hence labeled as a national folktale. Moreover, some literary sources identified and accepted explicitly claimed that the printed folktales are national folktales and belong to Malaysia in general thus regarded as national folktale too. Nevertheless, the lowest distribution in Malacca does not signify the lack of literary folk literature culture in that particular state. What it does represent is either the minimum number of Malacca’s verbal folktales that were transcribedin literary form or the restricted number of identified folktales that met the established qualifying factors.

Meanwhile, Table-3 shows a total of 157 folktales that failed to fulfill both the qualifying factors. Concerning the first factor, the majority of the excluded folktales do not meet the formal features of Place, Attitude, and Belief. The formal feature Place explicitly states that a folktale is not to have a particular place of the event in the body of the folktale itself. However, the mention of a fictional place is acceptable for example the nation of Chempaka Sari in the national folktale of The Unfortunate Pak Kadok. Furthermore, in the case where the place mentioned in the folktale is fictional but similar to a real place in Malaysia, it must still be excluded. The analysis conducted was based on the apparent meaning that offers a clear, direct, and straightforward interpretation of the folktales. Consequently, a fictional place that bears similarity to the real place in Malaysia cannot be accepted.

Likewise, the folktales identified must also void of any religious or sacred element in its content. To cite an instance, the folktale entitled God Who is Just tells the story of a boy who challenges God’s fairness to his creations hence not accepted as part of the collection to be classified. For the formal feature Belief, the folktales must be a pure fiction and has never occurred in the far or recent past. In the folktale Danjai and the Were-Tiger’s Sister , it is clearly stated in its body of narrative that the tale actually occurred in the past (Skeat and Gomez, 2012)thus excluded from the collection as well.

Regarding the second factor which is ownership, it is found that a selection of the folktales that were transcribed and collected have a questionable origin and some are not Malaysian. One of the instances is The Tune that Makes the Tiger Drowsy that its source is anonymous whereas there are folktales that were mistakenly declared as Malaysian but, in reality, belongs to another country such as The Elephant Princess and the Prince that is owned by Thailand. As a consequence, this kind of folktales was also excluded from being classified.


This study proposes to create the Malaysian folktale structural classification system to preserve the Malaysian folktales. Before the structural classification system, however, it is essential to identify and collect the Malaysian folktales because the tales are the vital pieces in creating the classification system. The two qualifying factors have been established to guide the identification process: the operational definition and the ownership of folktale. These qualifying factors promote in confirming consistency toelude contamination of other folklore’s forms and also distinguish folktale of cultural value from the modern fictions. The factors abovebeing focal of this paper, decide the acceptance and exclusion of the Malaysian folktales identified to create the Malaysian folktale classification system for preservation.


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