Travellers to Bali are no strangers to roosters and hens. Clucking and cockadoodling all day long, chickens are an inseparable part of Balinese life. In fact, many folk stories feature chickens as the main protagonist. The rooster is often regarded as a symbol of bravery and vanity at the same time, while the hen represents maternal values. One popular story is that of Siap Selem, the Black Hen, and her confrontation with the sly civet, Meng Kuwuk.

Siap Selem, or literally “Black Hen” is an iconic animal in Balinese folklore. The story of Siap Selem has been passed down for generations, making it a well-known fable. It basically tells the story of the clash of wits between a hen, which is a supposedly “weak” animal, and a civet, a much stronger predator. Let’s start, shall we?

There was a story of a hen, named Siap Selem. She had many chicks, each had a unique name. The smallest of the lot was Ulagan, or “no feathers”. Siap Selem was a good mother; she cared equally for her children and was very protective of them. Now, the archnemesis of this happy family of chickens was the sly civet named Meng Kuwuk.

One day, Siap Selem and her family were out looking for food. At twilight, they lost their way in the forest due to a sudden heavy downpour. They managed to find shelter at the house of Meng Kuwuk. Now, it is known that civets love the taste of poultry and will deny no opportunity to feast on chicken meat, especially when they come lurking willingly into his territory. Meng Kuwuk already had ideas on what to make of Siap Selem and her family. But, he couldn’t show that he was interested in eating them. So, he put up an act and welcomed Siap Selem into his house to take shelter from the rain.

Siap Selem was wary of Meng Kuwuk’s nice polished act. She had been told by those before her to always be careful around civets, their natural enemy. So, she tried to make a plan so that her family can evade becoming Meng Kuwuk’s dinner.

At night, when the rain stopped, Siap Selem began to execute her grand escape plan. One by one, she ordered her chicks to fly over Meng Kuwuk’s high gate. Ulagan was the only one left; his wings weren’t strong enough to carry him over the fence. With a heavy heart, Siap Selem left Ulagan to face the civet alone. He had to rely solely on his wits to face the superior civet. Once Siap Selem left him, he began to arrange stones to resemble chickens in the room where Meng Kuwuk allowed them to stay. After he was done, he hid himself.

Midnight came. Meng Kuwuk was ready for dinner. He beckoned Siap Selem. There was no reply. He assumed she was already asleep. Surreptitiously, he sneaked into the room. He saw outlines of chickens. His mouth started to water. Without hesitation, the hungry civet leaped and munched on a decoy chicken. He screamed in pain and his fangs were shattered! Ulagan, hiding in the closet, laughed and gloated at his victory. Ulagan escaped Meng Kuwuk’s house and was reunited with his mother.

The particular moral of the story is to always have your wits with you. When faced with a seemingly desperate situation, there’s always a way out; you just need to get that old noggin running and brainstorm for ideas!