“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” that’s what Ghostbusters said. However, when it comes to Southeast Asian ghosts, you have the right to be afraid.
The southeastern part of Asia is a vast, exotic area which fills about 1.737 million square miles of the entire Asia continent. Even though it are now consisted of different countries, it is actually united by same life principles, same historical perception, same ancestors, thus Southeast Asians have similar ghost stories in their vast region. The role of animism and early Southeast Asian religions also take part as the factors of the similarities between Southeast Asian ghosts.
Unlike ghost stories from Western world which is mostly about dead people’s spirits, Southeast Asian ghost stories aren’t filled by the stories of dead spirits who haunt a certain place. They have several ghosts resulting from dead people’s revenge such as Kuntilanak (in Indonesian) or as Malaysian people call Pontianak, but they also have ghost stories about demons and evil spirits that weren’t humans in their past lives. Southeast Asian ghosts are mostly depicted as scary-looking ghosts, similar to Japanese ghosts.
In this article, there will be a few examples of Southeast Asian ghosts, with or without pictures. The pictures being shown in this post are only illustrated versions of the ghosts, for one cannot easily take pictures of real ghosts (that person must have been a very brave one, I suppose). Another reason I don’t want to attach a lot of pictures of the ghosts being mentioned is that the visuals of them can be so scary, so I ask you kindly to google how they look like, in case curiosity stings you. So, are you ready? Brace yourself, who knows you’re not the only one reading this article. Someone or something might be creeping behind you right now………..
If western people know Banshee, then you’ll probably think this ghost is similar to it. Pontianak/Kuntilanak is a form of vampire, depicted in a woman’s body. This type of ghost is very popular in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. It is said that a woman will become a kuntilanak if she died while giving birth. Another version said that she is dead while still being a pregnant lady. Her spirit will wander around the mortal world, seeking for her baby. It is said that if a woman died while giving birth, two pairs of spikes will be nailed on her feet during her funeral ceremony, making her unable to ‘wake up’ to become a kuntilanak. She usually lives in a tree, mostly banana tree, but any large trees will do. Kuntilanak is usually depicted as a woman with white clothes, long black hair, and sometimes she will transform herself to be a beautiful woman to lure men. There have been stories of kuntilanak getting to a taxi and attempting to trick the taxi drivers to their deaths. Another myth is that a kuntilanak will feed herself from by kidnapping and sucking the blood of children who stay outside to play after sunset. There is a difference between Pontianak and Kuntilanak. In Malay region, it is said that a pontianak can suck blood. However, in Indonesian version, kuntilanak doesn’t suck blood, they only scare you.
How to know if there is a kuntilanak/pontianak near you? Rumors say that if you hear a clucking sound (like baby chicken sounds) around you or a crying laugh at night, there might be a kuntilanak near by. If the clucking or the laughing sound sounds near, you can assure yourself that the kuntilanak is far from you. But if you hear a distant clucking or laughter, then you should be afraid, because she might be very near………..
Langsuir is another popular form of pontianak, known only in Malaysia. However, it is different from pontianak. If a pontianak is a ghost caused by death while pregnant or delivering a baby, langsuir is a result from dying because of laboring sicknesses. A woman will most likely to turn into a langsuir 40 days after her death. To prevent such events, glass beads are placed inside the corpse’s mouth.
Unlike pontianak who can change her appearance into a beautiful lady, langsuir cannot transform at all. She is usually seen with her red eyes and long, sharp nails. They feed from pregnant women by sucking their blood through a hole behind their neck. That is why Malaysians consider langsuir scarier than pontianak.
Tuyul/Toyol is another form of ghost, famous for its’ existence in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. A tuyul is usually illustrated as a small boy with big bald head, grey skin, big red eyes and pointy teeth. Tuyul is said to be a product of a dukun (Indonesian shaman) or pawang (Malaysian witch doctor). Since a tuyul is most likely portrayed as a child, to maintain a strong relationship with it, the owner should offer these things regularly: 1) a cup of milk every morning, 2) toys, biscuits, clothes, and 3) a black candle being powered by mantras.
You may wonder, what does a tuyul do? Well, mostly, a person raises a tuyul to gain instant wealth. They will cast off their tuyul to a certain house to rob the money or jewelries. It is said that you keep on losing your money or your valuable items, a tuyul might be the reason behind it. One way to avoid your money and your valuables from being stolen by tuyul is to keep them with a needle, for it is said that needle is tuyul‘s biggest fear. Another form to prevent your money from being stolen by a tuyul is by keeping the money near a mirror, because they are scared of their own reflection.
Another form of ghosts famous in Indonesia and Malaysia is Orang Bunian. A lot of people say that Orang Bunian is a form of ghost living in the thick forest of Sumatra island (an island in Indonesia, nearby Malaysia) and it has the appearance like an ordinary human being, dressed in Muslim-Malay attires. Their social structure is said to be similar to a traditional Malay Peninsula social structure, with families, clans, and loyalty.
People say that Orang Bunian like to kidnap kids who play outside way past after sunset. However, a lot of people and shamans say that Orang Bunian are benevolent spirits, for that they can always be called to assist in solving mythical cases. There are also cases of Orang Bunian who marries a human being, form a family, and bear invisible children.
Moving on from Indonesian and Malaysian ghosts, Aswang is probably the scariest ghost in the Philippines. In general, they are shape shifters who can transform from humans by day to whatever animals by night. As humans, they are depicted as shy towns-people. Another specified version of aswang is Manananggal.
What does an aswang do and why people consider it as the scariest ghost? Probably because of their habit: entering people’s homes to drink their blood. They can also turn humans to aswangs by tricking them to bite them in return. They enjoy devouring unborn fetuses and small children, naming livers and hearts as their favorite part of human body. A specific aswang called manananggal have long proboscis so they can suck unborn children out of their mother’s wombs. They are said to be able to move very swift and fast. Some of them can make loud noises to distract their preys. Sometimes they break into funeral homes and steal recent corpses. All of these activities can be done after sundown, or whenever an aswang feels hungry.
How to distinguish if a person is an aswang? The first way that can be done is to look in to their eyes while they are talking to you in human form. Aswangs are human beings by day, so they also have emotions and they can socialize with their neighbors. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be afraid because aswang won’t prey on their neighbors. While talking with them, if you look at their eyes, you will know if they are an aswang if your reflection is upside-down from their eyes. Another way to check if someone is an aswang is to bend over and look at them between your legs, upside-down. Aswangs can also be repelled by using holy water, salt, or garlic, as well as decapitating them or killing them by using a whip made out of a stingray’s tail.
What would you do if you could predict your family’s death? Kumakatok is another famous spirit in the Philippines during the World War 2. It is said that Kumakatok (literal translation: door knockers) is a group of three hooded figures which comprises one beautiful young woman and two elderly men. They will knock on your door, late at night, as a symbol that someone in your family will die soon.
If Malaysians and Indonesians have tuyul, the Philippines have tiyanak (also known as impakto). It is said to be the soul of miscarried or aborted fetus. It usually takes form as a human baby and cries deep in the jungle to lure potential travelers. Once its’ prey have found them, they will turn to a creature with sharp claws and fangs, and then drink the prey’s blood and devour their organs.
There are a lot more of ghosts wandering around Southeast Asia, but these are the most common ghosts people can relate to. In Indonesia, you can also find several other kinds of ghosts, like leyak (from Bali island), Jelangkung (similar to western’s Ouija Board), and many more. As a closing, here’s a ghost story that I recently experienced in my former office.
One afternoon, I was working in my office. My office was an English course. That day, I had the duty to assist a teacher in a teacher-parent meeting as a live interpreter, in case the parents didn’t understand English really well. The teacher-parent meeting was held inside a classroom on the second floor with a huge window facing the main street. It was still on the afternoon, about 4 PM, so the classroom was well-lit.
I sat on a chair next to the teacher, facing the classroom’s door. A student’s parent was discussing his son’s grades with the teacher. I occasionally helped the teacher to explain difficult terms to Indonesian so the parent would understand him. I was really focused, although there were times when I found myself staring blankly at the door.
Next thing I remembered, the teacher was explaining something to the parent and I saw the classroom door being opened by someone. A girl entered the room, slightly running, followed by my senior who walked casually. My senior was holding a paper which I thought was a re-test paper. The school girl was a girl familiar to me, because I had seen her wandering around my office. That day, she wore her school uniform; a white shirt with red plaid skirt. That was very common in my office because students often came to the course directly from their schools.
The teacher-parent meeting had ended sooner than I expected it would be. After the last parent left the room, I walked out from the room behind the teacher. I suddenly wondered, where were the girl and my senior? I really knew that I saw them walking to the room a few minutes ago. I brushed my weird thoughts off from my brain by thinking that they probably left when I was busy talking to the parent or the teacher.
And then I walked downstairs to the staff room. I found my senior was sitting on her chair, working on her computer. Out of my curiosity, I asked her, “Did you go inside the teacher-parent meeting room with a girl?”
She looked at me with a puzzled look, and she replied, “No, I was here the whole time.”
I was a bit confused, so I asked her again, “Are you sure? Because a few minutes ago I saw you going to the classroom with a girl wearing her school uniform. I thought you were conducting a re-test for her or something.”
She was really shocked and she kept denying, telling me she was in the staff room the whole time. Moments later, it struck me, and I had goosebumps all over my body. Usually, a re-test would be done in the computer room which was located on the first floor. My senior should had known about it because she was the one who told me that rule during my first weeks working in the office.
If my senior and the student had never entered the classroom, who did I see?
P.S.: It was crowded in the staff room when I told my senior about my eerie experience. My co-workers were very shocked, especially the office security who happened to be there. After I managed to calm down, they told me that there were entities in the school, and they sometimes liked to show themselves to the employees by transforming to other people. Now that’s a horror story to remember.
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