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Celeng and the Symbol of Emasculated Masculinity


By Teguh Affandi, ‪Desca Angelianawati
Nov 08, 2023

This novel stands on the very edge; a slight misstep could invite criticism. It is perhaps due to its potential for machismo and the objectification of women by male authors. However, through Mustika Zakar Celeng, Adia Puja offers something different by consciously presenting empowered female characters, who assert control over their bodies and are aware of their sexuality.

Nurlela, the main female character in Mustika Zakar Celeng, voices her protest to Tobor, her husband who ejaculates too quickly when it comes to the pleasure department. Tobor is already withered and exhausted even before Nurlela reaches the peak of sexual pleasure. A grand premise for what seems like a deeply personal issue. Upon hearing her protest, Tobor, who has been married for over a decade, is shaken to his core. His boasted masculinity crumbles instantly. Nevertheless, rather than exploding in anger, Tobor, in an egalitarian gesture, apologizes. “Dan satu-satunya pihak yang harus memohon maaf adalah aku.”- And the only one who should apologize is me. (p.5)

Nurlela sheds the stereotype of women as sex prey or sexual victims. Women can also be sexual predators who know how they want to be satisfied. Although this assumption is hard to dispel, our society often views women as destined to be passive, accepting, and not allowed to protest. There are limitations: religion (a woman’s willingness is seen as devotion, and heaven is her reward) and social norms (women are taboo to discuss these matters in front of their husbands).

Nurlela is portrayed as a rebellious girl who has been persistent in pursuing what she desires since her teenage years. She rejects suitors and only harbours desires for Tobor, a farmer in her father’s field. “Nurlela selalu memiliki sejuta siasat untuk melancarkan penolakan. Jauh di dalam lubuk hati, Nurlela telah menambatkan hatinya bagi seorang lelaki” – Nurlela always has a million strategies to reject advances. Deep in her heart, Nurlela has anchored her love for a man. (p.7)

Nurlela also protests against her female peers. Marriage belongs to both parties, husband and wife. No one holds more power; both have equal rights. Jika istri tidak boleh meminta atau menolak, apa bedanya dengan jongos?- If a wife cannot request or refuse, what distinguishes her from a servant? (p.28)

The opening section, where Nurlela’s mounting frustration with the stigma of masculinity in general is based, sets the tone for the novel.

Tobor and the enigma of masculinity

Yan Ge, a Chinese female author, cleverly states in “Elsewhere” (2023): nothing is personal after modernity. There are no more personal boundaries in the post-modern era. Barriers have melted away, although elsewhere in her work, Yan Ge also mentions that not everything is political, to refute the notion that a writer only needs to delve into political matters.

The Tobor-Nurlela household issue is domestic, and it can be further narrowed down to Tobor’s groin problem. However, Tobor’s virility issue subsequently drags the reader into more profound matters. Adia Puja skilfully touches upon class, socioeconomic concerns, and, in general, exposes the vulnerabilities of the patriarchal system.

Tobor’s guilt and shame drive him to do many irrational things. After various stamina-enhancing pills prove ineffective, Tobor bizarrely seeks guidance at Kembangan, a brothel complex, where he learns the art of sexual performance from Rosalinda, an aging prostitute who has few clients and harbours a web of trauma. “Prajurit paling jempolan pun akan tampak bodoh di laga perang jika tidak pernah berlatih.”- Even the most accomplished warrior would appear foolish in battle without training. (p.45)

If, at this point, we are inclined to label Tobor as a madman who solves one problem by creating another. He would always remain prepared for further tests of patience in the subsequent chapters. When Tobor’s efforts to conduct some “practices” in the shaggy-pleasure department with Rosalinda yield no results, he starts losing his mind and begins to believe in the legend of Ratu Siluman Celeng – the King of the Pig Evil, possessing thirteen phalluses. Tobor must embark on a journey into the forest, meditate in a cave to meet the King, and request one of his phalluses as an amulet, a charm for his virility. Benda di antara paha ini bisa menjadi berkah sekaligus musibah yang mengerikan.” – This object between his thighs can be both a blessing and a terrible curse (p.168).

Tobor hunts for the amulet. He follows the requirements for possession, and he dreams that after the hunt, he will become a mighty man, a perfect man with unparalleled sexual prowess.

At the beginning of the groin, the mockery is resolved

In the book Sex, Sastra, Kita – Sex, Literature, and Us, Goenawan Mohamad touched upon the idea that sex is a logical part of the freedom to act, an extension of illegitimate power and wealth. Sex (and the ornaments within it) affirm class disparity and the era it represents. In the novel “Mustika Zakar Celeng,” Tobor’s sexual dysfunction indeed disrupts the social norms regarding women. In many cases, women are often side-lined, including in matters of sexual fulfilment.

Although perhaps unintentional, Adia Puja still maintains a division between women and men. Tobor, the wanderer, seeks knowledge. Meanwhile, Nurlela, at home, protests through her sexual affairs with other men. At this point, Adia Puja has not completely eliminated gender-based role division. Men venture out of the house, and women handle dapur, kasur, pupur dan sumur – the kitchen, the bed, chores, and the well.

Nevertheless, the efforts of a male author to understand gender roles should be appreciated. It is especially regarding Tobor’s illogical behaviour, which remains a striking element until the end. The novel concludes with Tobor being humiliated, pitted against a dog. Tobor, in the form of a celeng – wild boar, is dragged into a fight with a dog—an old Sundanese tradition of pitting wild boars against dogs, where victory and defeat are determined by death.

“…maka nasibnya bisa lebih buruk: mati atau sekarat dalam keadaan terluka parah. Celeng yang terluka parah atau mati, akan diambil dagingnya untuk dijadikan satai atau dijual. Yang mana pun tidak ada yang menguntungkan bagi Tobor.”

“…then his fate could be worse: death or near death in a severely wounded state. A severely wounded or dead wild boar would have its meat taken for skewers or sold. In either case, there’s no benefit for Tobor.” (p.220)

This novel also elaborates on the mystical wealth, legends, fairy tales, and traditions deeply rooted in rural society. They believe in many mystical things, even though, like Haursepuh, Tobor’s village has been penetrated by modernisation and Islamization. Therefore, it’s not surprising that this manuscript drew the attention of the judges in the DKJ Novel Competition in 2021.

Tobor in the novel “Mustika Zakar Celeng” is a portrayal of the reality of most men and society in general, who idolise masculinity, co-opt themselves within its paradigm and are subsequently humiliated by the same concept.


This article was written by Desca Angelianawati in Bahasa Indonesia and was published in Jawa Post, 12 August 2023. This article was translated by Teguh Affandi for IDWRITERS.

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