Indo Myths 2: The Dangers of Self-Massaging Swine (Babi Ngepet)

Javanese myth of thieving pigs.

Just in case you can’t piece this one together yourselves…

Have you ever seen a pig itching its rump against a wall? It was likely a babi ngepet, you know. You ought’a have done anything to interrupt this union of hide, bristles, and wall.

There is no such thing as a simple back-rub – and especially for babi ngepet; an auto-massaging swine is actually sucking all of the jewellery and money out of a house – and into its belly.

It’s suggested this mitos (myth) functioned to keep dirty pigs from roaming town centres, but that’s besides the point. The important thing is that you know the entirety of this tale – as twisted as that of Mister Ngepet.

If ever you’ve bore witness, what you actually saw was a person: a thief in a pig’s body. To perform this trick takes two people: one person willing to become swine, and another to keep an eye on a candle floated in a bowl of water. While the hog is out thieving, the watch-person waits for the candle-light to lick and lap violently in the night – meaning that perhaps Ngepet is in trouble, cornered, or on a spit.

In the event of its discovery, the watch-person blows out the flickering candle and saves their friend’s hide. The wandering piggy bank then returns to its human form – but without any of its earnings.

These are the origins of the piggy bank; created perhaps as a fixed model for how a Javanese pig should behave. Because of this, you can use the Javanese word celengan, meaning ‘a likeness to wild boars’, to point out a domestic bank, when in Indonesia.


This Majapahit Terracotta ‘celengan’ piggy bank was found in East Java and dates back to the 15th century.

The oinking icon of all things haram, the title of ‘thief’ hardly mars the pig’s name – sometimes synonymous with westerner.


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