While the movies have given us various takes of terrifying demons, witches, zombies, werewolves, vampires and uh, Edward Cullen, leave it to our local supernatural residents to really instill that scare factor that’s much closer to home (or maybe under your bed).
Admit it, each time you watch an American horror film you’d definitely 9 out of 10 times go:
“Oh, that ghost in America only la. Here where got this ‘Exorcist’ one.”
And admit it, each time you watch any Thai, Chinese, Japanese or Malaysian (Asian) horror, 10 out of 10 times you’ll be saying something like:
“Wah, this ghost looks just like someone I saw at the train station yesterday! I can imagine this Asian ghost haunting me.”
“I heard of this ghost story from my grandma/grandpa/uncle before. Happen to a friend of a friend, then have to go to Bomoh! You go to that Bukit Tunku place, surely got.”
I don’t know, maybe, we just identify with Asian ghosts better cause we’re, well, Asian too?
When we look at Malaysia and its stories where the supernatural are concerned, we are well-known to have quite a number of local ghost and creatures that are unique to our country. Some of these creatures are also often associated with the neighbouring countries of Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand such as the Pontianak, Pocong and Toyol. Must be a regional thing. Hey, don’t discriminate, even the supernatural can be border-jumpers too!
Allegedly the supernatural beliefs in Malaysia were shaped by Hindu-Buddhist cosmology with a mix of Muslim influences. The word that Malaysians usually use to refer to these beings is Hantu; the Malay word for ‘ghost’. FYI- It is also locally acceptable to use Hantu to refer to any kind of supernatural entity. After all, we don’t expect you to know the exact creature (touch wood) that you’re dealing with and run screaming its proper name!
However with this mini-list, you can now get to know some of your local Hantu-s, should the need to address them by name ever come about. (We kid.)
Also known as Matianak or Kuntilanak, the Pontianak is a female vampire-like ghost from Malaysian and Indonesian mythology and folklore. Unlike American vampires who are, how to say, ‘co-ed’, our local Pontianak is believed to be the spirit of a woman who died while she was pregnant. The Pontianak is usually depicted as a pale-skinned woman with long black hair, wearing a white dress. It can take on the form of a beautiful woman in order to lure men.
Pontianak is often confused with another Malaysian ghost known as the Langsuir which is the spirit of a woman who died whilst she was giving birth.
Oh so famous is the Pontianak in our culture over others, like the Regina George of the Hantu world, that it has appeared in many Malaysian and Indonesian films such as “Kuntilanak” (2006), “Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam” (2004) and “Pontianak Menjerit” (2005).
The Pontianak is the Regina George of the Hantu world.
Also a spiritual being derived from Malaysian and Indonesian folklore, the Pocong is said to be the spirit of a dead person trapped in its white burial shroud. Legend has it that during an Islamic burial ritual, a dead person body should be enshrouded in white coffin cloth (Kain Kafan) before the person is buried. But before the burial, the tie that is tied over the head of the corpse should be removed. If it is not removed, the spirit will then become a Pocong who wakes up from its grave and haunts people until the tie is removed. Sounds like a good premise for a localised Mummy movie, no?
Pocong unwrapped, a.k.a Mummy
It is quite easy to identify a Pocong, apparently. As it is covered in white cloth all around and hops around. The reason why the Pocong hops is because its legs are tied, so it is unable to walk properly. In terms of ‘swagger’, the Pocong is also sort of similar to the traditional Chinese vampire called Jiangshi, as the Jiangshi also hops around.
To catch a Pocong on the silver screen, check out the 2006 movie called “Pocong” directed by Rudy Soedjarwo. The DVDs of the film was banned and censored in France and Germany due to its disturbing and scary scenes. Other movies where the Pocong have starred in are; “The Real Pocong” (2009), “40 Hari Bangkitnya Pocong” (2008) and “Pocong Ngesot” (2011)
The Malaysian equivalent to the West’s Goblins, the Toyol seems to be much scarier as it is believed to be a child’s spirit that is summoned from a dead human fetus. The Toyol is usually depicted as a bald naked toddler with green or grayish skin, fangs and pointy ears. A Toyol are said to be used by certain humans that practice the ‘dark arts’ (Not Harry Potter, more Mona Fandey) to do dirty deeds such as stealing, sabotaging or any petty crimes. A malevolent Toyol can be used to commit murder.
A Chinese version of the Toyol is called Kwee Kia in Hokkien while in Thailand it is called Koman-tong (Male) and Koman-lay (Female). All these creatures can be grouped under the same supernatural sub-species, as most of them are used to perform dirty deeds under the command of their human masters.
A 2011 comedy movie called “Alamak, Toyol” was made in Malaysia. Apparently, we don’t take them seriously enough.
Also called Penanggalan, this is another variation of the Pontianak which we would like to coin as the Pontianak-Lite 1.0. The Penanggal appears as a detached head of a woman capable of flying on its own as its stomach and the entrails hangs freely below it. There many variation of its origin, though the most common one is that the Penanggal is actually a normal human female in the morning who becomes a Penanggal at night with the use of black magic.
A Penanggal usually targets pregnant women and young children and is similar to the Philippines’ Manananggal who is capable of severing its upper torso to prey on pregnant women using an elongated proboscis-like tongue. In Indonesia, the Penanggal is called Leyak while in Thailand, it is called Krasue.
A recent film in Malaysia based on this creature called, “Penanggal” was released in 2013. It was scary, real Mastika stuff right there!
Unlike its name, there is nothing festive about this Hantu. The Hantu Raya is considered one of the most powerful Malaysian ghosts that has unlimited strength. It takes the form of its master and performs manual labour on the behalf of its owner, similar to the Toyol.
The Hantu Raya usually comes as a Saka, a legacy-like thing that is passed down from generation to generation within the family, beginning when the first ‘owner’ in the family forms a pact with a demon. When the owner dies, he must appoint a new owner for the Hantu Raya or it will end up haunting the rest of his/her lineage.
If the owner fails to cut off their bond with the Hantu when he dies, it will then take on the form of the owner and roam around at night.
A famous local horror movie based on the Hantu Raya was made in 2007 entitled “Jangan Pandang Belakang”.