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Anak Agung Pandji Tisna: Sukreni Gadis Bali (The Rape of Sukreni)

The key event of this novel is given away by the title but it starts off in a relatively low key way. Men Negara runs a small food stall in a small village. She has a daughter, who lives with her, Ni Negari, and a son who does not live with her. We later learn that she had been previously married and had a child but had left her husband to run away with her lover, her husband’s cousin. The couple had moved to Bingin Banjah, where most of this novel is set. Men Negara had showed herself to be very adept at making money and had done quite well for herself and was now able to not only run this food stall but also to buy land from neighbours. Many of her clients are the men who climb the coconut trees and collect them, who come from further afield and have their lunch at Men Negara’s. One of the ways Men Negara entices clients to her stall, making sure that they do not go to her rival’s stall, is through Ni Negari, who is very attractive, and many men come to the stall to see her. Men Negara hopes that the new police chief, I Gusti Madé Tusan, will be attracted to her and marry her. However, Ni Negari is more interested in the supervisor of the coconut pickers, Ida Gdé.

Much of the early part of the novel is how Men Negara cleverly uses her daughter’s charms both to woo Madé Tusan and attract clients. Men Negara had been caught illegally slaughtering a pig by the local police spy, I Madé Aseman, whose brother-in-law happens to own the rival food stall. Madé Aseman had reported this to his superior, Madé Tusan, who was going to charge Men Negara till he set eyes on Ni Negari. He was immediately smitten and, to Madé Aseman’s annoyance, fails to pursue the charges against Men Negara, despite Madé Aseman’s continual reminders. Indeed, he does much to help Men Negara, all, of course, to appeal to Ni Negara.

However, despite her charms he gradually comes to the realisation that she is of too low birth for him and wonders if it would be possible to seduce her without having to marry her. Then everything changes. Ida Gdé has a relative who is in dispute with his brother over an inheritance and he has come to visit Ida Gdé to ask him his advice. He has brought his daughter, Ni Luh Sukreni, with him. She is also a particular beauty, not unlike Ni Negari in appearance and Madé Tusan is immediately taken with her. But she and her father do not stay long and soon go home. However, she later returns on her own, looking for Ida Gdé. He is away but Men Negara offers to put her up, not out of charity but to be able to keep an eye on her, as she knows full well that Madé Tusan is interested. Indeed, Men Negara makes a deal with Madé Tusan, whereby he can seduce Sukreni, if he agrees to later marry Ni Negari. The title tells us what happens.

The rape, of course, has a devastating effect, not only on poor Sukreni, but on virtually all the other main characters and the novel takes a new turn, ending up in what can only be described as a cataclysmic event. The postword to the book says that Balinese readers would have immediately recognised some of these events as coming straight from traditional Balinese theatre but I would argue that Westerners may well recognise in it some Shakespearean elements, such as mistaken identities, revenge, bloody battles and much of the cast wiped out. It is a fairly straightforward tale of lust, greed and ruthless ambition and the price paid for such actions. It is interesting to read a book by a Balinese writer and one who was a leading member of the Balinese aristocracy.

Publishing history

First published 1936 by Balai Pustaka
First English translation by the Lontar Foundation in 1998
Translated by George Quinn