“Misuh” competition gives you a chance to swear at COVID-19 in Javanese

Javanese culture is often portrayed as overly polite and non-confrontational. But Jawasastra, a Javanese cultural community, is breaking that stereotype through their uniquely humorous Sayembara Misuh Internasional 2020 – an international competition where participants try to become the best at coming up with swear words or insults in Javanese.

Every year, the competition picks a target for its participants to swear at. This year’s competition theme is – we’re not surprised – COVID-19, which has obviously been the source of sadness and general frustration for many people across the globe. 

The origins of the misuh competition

Misuh competition - Jawasastra logo
Image credit: @jawasastra

Jawasastra was formed in Yogyakarta in 2017 out of the desire to recontextualise Javanese culture in the modern era. The community is made up of people working in literature, linguistics, and philology. 

The word “misuh” itself can mean “to swear” or “to rant” (misuh-misuh), though the competition leans toward the former translation. Sayembara Misuh, the newly lauched misuh competition, was created so that people can see Javanese culture in its entirety, rather than just its reserved and polite side.

This year’s competition is the third of its kind, and given the current circumstances, the theme of COVID-19 is too timely and one that can definitely induce plenty of strong feelings.

Compete to become “the world’s first Emperor of Misuh”

Misuh competition - E-flyer for contestantsJawasastra’s promotional e-flyer 
Image credit: @jawasastra

Despite the jovial tone of the contest, Sayembara Misuh Internasional 2020, it takes itself very seriously. The requirements and rules are explained in detail on the flyer as well as on their website. It started on 8th July and will continue until 11th August. 

To compete to become “the world’s first Emperor of Misuh,” potential participants have to be “living creatures of at least 18” who are ready to “commit small or big sins.” Clearly, you have to be able to swear in Javanese to join, and you’ll need an active Instagram account. No official identification is needed.

Participant Danendra Juno Elua jokingly picks a fight with COVID-19, symbolized by a tree
Image adapted from @junoelua 

Participants who meet the requirements set by Jawasastra are welcomed to upload a three-minute video on Instagram of themselves swearing in Javanese, provided that they don’t include any racist or sexist messages. By tagging @jawasastra and using the hashtag #misuhipandemi, the video will be included in the list of submissions to then be judged.

misuh competition swear word
A contest participant swears at the camera, then runs away playfully
Image adapted from

The most creative and innovative pisuhan (insults) will be shortlisted. Winners, or “emperors,” can win items such as books, coffee, t-shirts, and more.

There are indeed many ways to celebrate culture

As the misuh competition shows, there are many ways to celebrate culture. It can be inclusive and definitely doesn’t have to be highbrow – the plus side of Jawasastra’s contest is that you don’t even have to be polite while doing it.

If you want to know how the contest will unfold, or if you’re a Javanese speaker who wants to blow off steam, peep their website, Instagram page, or Twitter account

Also read:

Cover image adapted from: Jawasastra

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