The Legend Behind Johor’s ‘Puteri Gunung Banang’ & The Mysterious Allegations That Follow

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source: Berita Harian

Among the vast variety of Malayan princesses, Puteri Gunung Banang is a name we seldom hear despite multiple representations of the story in film, books and traditional music.

In fact, a movie featuring the princess’ lore was released back in 1959, starring the “hero of Malaya” in the past, Ahmad Mahmud. This came in addition to the legend being immortalised through several songs as well as qasidah (religious chants) that accompany the zapin dance.

source: TV Guide

Unlike Puteri Gunung Ledang from Muar, whose story is widely known and published in the form of books and theatre , the existence of Puteri Gunung Banang has mainly circulated only amongst the locals.

The original song highlighting Gunung Banang including the one once popularised by one of the country’s most famed vocalists at the time, Allahyarhamah Datuk Sharifah Aini, narrates how the mountain towered high enough to serve as an important symbol for sailors passing through the Straits of Melaka.

source: Twitter

In the classic movie produced by Malay Film Production Limited, Gunung Banang is depicted as a beautiful mountainous area inhabited by a beautiful bunian (elf) princess who helps an “unattractive and poor” young man turn handsome and rich simply due to his kind, honest and hardworking nature.

There is also a belief claiming that Puteri Gunung Banang is related to Puteri Gunung Ledang, in fact they have seven common relatives from Java, Indonesia who dominate Gunung Banang. Among their other relatives are Puteri Gunung Panti in Kota Tinggi, and Puteri Gunung Beremban along the border of Johor and Pahang.

However, it is known that these princesses cannot be seen with the naked eye since they are said to be supernatural beings and only encountered by certain individuals and people who find themselves lost with no sense of direction along the mountain.

Despite these tales and the variations they come in, the actual story or legend of Gunung Banang is not factually known by the residents, and many have even raised the questions as to the origins of how it has been portrayed in songs and films.

Many people, even locals, are also unaware that Gunung Banang exists and is still standing tall to this day. The mountain is located on the outskirts of Batu Pahat with a peak as high as 432.38 metres above sea level, and is a popular recreational area whereby people jog around and climb it, in attempt to witness the bird’s eye view overlooking the Straits of Melaka.

source: Wikipedia

A member of the Johor State Malaysian History Association, Dr Md Akbal Abdullah, described the legend of Puteri Gunung Banang as a Malayan myth, related to the political and geographical patterns of past rulerships.

Md Akbal, who is also a member of the National Association of Writers (GAPENA), contended that the story is closely related to the ancient Malay kingdom but the validity of Puteri Gunung Banang‘s existence itself cannot be explained verily.

“The presence of supernatural creatures in our living realm, including elves, is hard to deny. My friend who is a lecturer and his student once came across these creatures and their ‘secret’ village when conducting research on Gunung Ledang.

source: Dailymotion

“It is definitely interesting, especially when there is an original song that also perpetuates the subject of Gunung Banang from ages ago, expressed in such a majestic and beautiful way through the parable of looking at the mountain as if it is the gate of heaven.

“What we can conclude is that the Malayan realm which is synonymous with the sea symbolises the power of the kingdom; the land is the king and the mountain its princess. It’s also notable that Batu Pahat used to be one of the ports that many traders visited daily because of its proximity to Melaka.

“For me, the legend of Puteri Gunung Banang has become a traditional story passed down by word of mouth mostly among sailors who pass through the Straits of Melaka to stop by to trade here. That is the attraction of Batu Pahat, and why sailors couldn’t wait to come here to see the area for themselves,” he said.

Contrastingly, a resident who lives at the foot of Gunung Banang, Zainab Ahmad, 69, told Berita Harian in 2016 that her family had come across several unexplained and mysterious instances while living there after the area was explored by the “original residents”, including her late grandfather.

She said that her late grandfather strictly forbade them from damaging any area on the mountain and never to pick fruits, flowers or trees in the forest by sheer will, as well as always maintaining the cleanliness of grounds since it is a sacred place that is shared with other beings.

“At first, we thought it was only mythical taboo until my family and I experienced some things for ourselves. My late husband once came across an ‘elf village’ when he was hired to cut the grass on the top of the mountain where the telecommunications tower is located.

“After a few days of being pale with fear, he claimed to have come across a beautiful village with residents all clad in white and draped with luxurious items, in addition to being enveloped in a fragrant scent. He saw this while working on the top of the mountain,” she explained.

Image AI-generated via Dall-e

Zainab claimed that she herself had seen a woman in a scarf with two children dressed all in white passing through her house, which was full of trees and herbs including white sandalwood, but the unknown woman never stopped to say hello.

“Some climbers have had terrible experiences when they came across a group of women with long hair and scary faces in white clothing, so much so they wished to avoid the area in the future.

“Another strange incident once occurred to some telecommunication tower technical workers and soldiers who used to guard the top of this mountain. Besides coming across a silhouette dressed in white, a worker once got lost around the tower area before being found in a confused state at the foot of the mountain near Jalan Tanjong Laboh,” she said.

source: Instagram

To speak of a more modern and perhaps the most recent adaptation of the story, Malaysian artist Iman Troye released a song titled ‘Nang’ in 2021, lightly portraying the tale via the lyrics coupled with ethnic background music.

Check it out here:

Have you heard of this legend? Do you have a story to share of your own? Let us know in the comments.