Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Malay Ghost and Spirit World

There are many Malay ghost myths, remnants of old animist beliefs that have been shaped by later Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim influences in the modern states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Some ghost concepts such as the female vampires Pontianak and Penanggalan are shared throughout the region. Ghosts are a popular theme in modern Malaysian and Indonesian movies.
In traditional religions, still held by some isolated groups, Semangat is the general word for "soul", which can leave the person's body temporarily in dreams and finally at death. When the soul leaves the body it assumes the form of a homunculus, and in this form can feed on the souls of others. At death, the soul either returns to the creator passes, directly or indirectly, into another person, animal or plant. The spirit or ghost, usually called the anitu, continues to linger and may be harmful to its survivors.

An old Malay belief is that a person's ghost the haunts their grave for seven days before departing to the underworld. Ghosts may also return and take possession of a living person, causing madness. Ghosts are generally are believed to be active only at night time, especially during a full moon. Ghosts may torment the living, causing illness and misfortune. One way to evade such a ghost is for all the victims to formally change their name, so that when the ghost returns it will not recognize them. Another is to tempt the ghost with a meal. When the ghost turns into an animal such as a chicken so that it can eat, it may be killed and destroyed.
Ghosts traditionally were blamed for some illnesses. To cure them, the shaman in a village would burn incense, recite incantations, and in some cases sacrifice a goat and wash its blood into the river to appease the ghost. The Ulik Mayang dance might be performed to heal the person by driving out the ghost.

Other Common knowledge about ghosts:
  • Ghosts don't have a material body; they are pure energy.
  • Ghosts can be scary.
  • Ghosts are not impeded by material barriers. They can fly through walls.
  • Ghosts float around and are not subject to the laws of gravity.
  • Ghosts are able to manifest themselves visually and selectively so that sometimes only one person can see them.
  • Ghosts are never naked. They always wear clothes or are covered with sheets.
  • Ghosts can possess and control a person, such as a medium, to convey their wishes.
  • Ghosts may take possession of a living person, causing madness or bizarre behavior.
  • A person possessed by an evil spirit or demon can be healed by casting out the demon through exorcism.
  • Ghosts normally appear in the middle of the night.
  • Ghosts are frequently encountered around cemeteries.
  • Ghosts have the ability to move objects to make their presence known.
Ghostly Types
A pocong is an Indonesian/Malaysian ghost that is said to be the soul of a dead person trapped in their suit. The pocong suit (shroud, in Indonesia/Malaysia also known as kain kafan) is used byMuslims to cover the body of the dead person. They cover the dead body with white fabric and tie the clothing over the head, under the feet, and on the neck. According to the native beliefs, the soul of a dead person will stay on the earth for 40 days after the death. 

When the ties aren't released after 40 days, the body is said to jump out from the grave to warn people that the soul need the bonds to be released. After the ties are released, the soul will leave the earth and never show up anymore. Because of the tie under the feet, the ghost can't walk. This causes the pocong to hop.

Pontianak is a Malay vampire. She is said to be the ghost of a woman who died during pregnancy or childbirth, or the vengeful spirit of a woman murdered by her own lover. Normally she is seen at the roadside or under a tree, sometime accompanied by a baby. The vengeful Pontianak may appear young and beautiful to entice men to come near, when she will turn into an ugly old woman with sharp teeth who will attack the victim and try to drink their blood. She can be killed by an iron nail driven into her neck, but if the nail is ever removed she will come back to life. She is depicted as wearing a full white dress, which may be bloodstained, with very long hair, long fangs and long fingernails. When she is close, she gives off a strong smell like flowers. Hantu Langsuir is another name for this ghost, generally used for the woman who has died in childbirth, and who is less dangerous.



The Indonesian Kuntilanak is similar to Pontianak, but more commonly takes the form of a bird and sucks the blood of virgins and young women. In the female form, when a man approaches her she suddenly turns and reveals that her back is hollow. The bird, which makes a "ke-ke-ke" sound as it flies, may be sent through black magic to make a woman sick, the characteristic symptom being vaginal bleeding.

Penanggal is another type of female vampire attracted to the blood of new born infants, who appears as the head of a woman from which her entrails trail, used to grasp her victim. There are several stories of her origins. One is that she was a woman who was sitting meditating in a large wooden vat used for making vinegar when she was so startled that her head jumped up from her body, pulling her entrails with it. Another has her as a normal woman during the day, whose head and entrails leave her body at night. If a baby is expected, branches from the thistle, jeruju placed around the doors or windows will protect the house, since her entrails will be caught by the thorns. The Philippine Manananggal is a similar vampire who can separate her upper torso from her lower body in order to fly in the night with huge bat-like wings to prey on unsuspecting, pregnant women in their homes, using an elongated proboscis-like tongue. A similar concept is also found with the Thai Krasue.
Polong is a spirit ghost that can be used by a black magic practitioner to harm someone. It is said to have been created from the blood of a murdered person and this blood is put into a bottle for one to two weeks before the spirit is invoked with incantations and magic spells. The owner must feed the polong daily with blood from his finger.


The Pelesit is reared by a woman as a shield for protection, guidance, and most probably as a weapon to harm other people. In that way it is associated with a black magic practitioner. It is the female version of Hantu Raya which confers great power on the owner.
In old Malay culture some people chose to live alone thus isolating themselves from society. They practiced black magic in order to gain strength, power, protection, beauty, but not popularity. Some gained a certain level of popularity or renown but there were others who remained in secrecy and refused to mingle with people.
This practice is popular among Malays who are animists and involved in the so-called Saka (the inheritance of a spirit from one generation to another). Pelesit is commonly associated with the grasshopper since it has the ability to turn itself into one. Some say it is the green sharp pointed-head grasshopper.
Pelesit is one of the ghost mentioned in "Hikayat Abdullah", written by Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, much to the amusement of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, his employer.

Toyol or Tuyul is a small child spirit invoked by a bomoh from a dead human fetus using black magic. It is possible to buy a toyol from such a bomoh. The toyol may be used to steal things from other people, or to do mischief. A toyol is considered to be childlike in their thinking. Valuables can be protected by scattering beans on the floor, or leaving sweets or toys next to them, all of which will distract the toyol. It is said that the owner of a Tuyul may become rich, but at the expense of the health, fortune and even the lives of members of their family.

Hantu Raya

Hantu Raya originates in Malaysia and is said to be the master of all ghosts (hantu). It is the leader of the underworld legion and those who make alliance with it, are considered powerful. Hantu Raya is the acronym for Hantu or Ghost and Raya, large, huge, supreme, enormous, great, as in "Malaysia Raya" and "Asia Raya" and Hari Raya (Great Celebration or Festival).

In modern Islamic Malay culture, the belief in Hantu Raya is no longer valid, but rather it is identified with a demon, Satan and the Djinn (Genie). Muslims believe that djinns and demons are more powerful than man but less intelligent.

Hantu Bajang                                                                                
Hantu Bajang is a spirit who takes the form of a fox or polecat and who eats fetuses and drinks the milk of lactating women. A variant is Hantu Kopek (Nipple ghost), who appears as an old woman with pendulous breasts. The striations of pregnancy are said to be the scars left by the attack of the bajang. Sharp metal objects such as scissors placed near the baby will help to protect it from the bajang.

Orang Minyak
The Orang Minyak is one of a number of Malay ghost myths. Orang Minyak literally means oily man in Malay.
According to one legend, popularised in the 1956 film Sumpah Orang Minyak (The Curse of the Oily Man) directed by and starring P. Ramlee, the orang minyak was a man who was cursed in an attempt to win back his love with magic. In this version, the devil offered to help the creature and give him powers of the black arts, but only if the orang minyak worshipped him and raped 40 virgins within a week. In another version it is under control of an evil shaman or witch doctor. Another movie based on Orang Minyak was produced in 2007.
According to legend, in the 1960s the orang minyak lived around several Malaysian towns, where he raped young women every day. The orang minyak of the 1960s was described as human, naked and covered with oil (supposedly to make it difficult to catch). However, there were also stories of the orang minyak where it was supposedly supernatural in origin, or invisible to non-virgins, or both. The mass panic has also led to unmarried women, typically in student dormitories, borrowing sweaty clothes to give the impression to the orang minyak that they are with a man. Other defense supposedly include biting its left thumb and covering it in batik.
In short, the orang minyak is a supernatural serial rapist that is hard to see and hard to catch. It is most likely that the orang minyak is a regular criminal who uses black grease as a night-time camouflage. Due to the use of black grease, it makes the orang minyak hard to catch, as pursuers would not be able to hold on to him.
Reputed sightings of the orang minyak, or events later ascribed to it, have continued with reduced frequency into the 2000s.
In 2005, there have been cases reported of rapists covered in oil roaming around, armed with knives.

Hantu air
The term Hantu Air may sound spooky to Malays but when the term is translated into English it creates a new understanding of the meaning that besets the culture of the Malay people. For a long time the Malay Archipelago was ruled by animism and people tended to associate almost anything with the spiritual world including nature.
Some people believe that spirits discarded by their previous owners will haunt places associated with water. The unguided and lost spirit roams the area and feeds on anything available, including humans.
Superstitions arising among the locals tell of this evil spirit dwelling in watery places where it sometimes disguises itself as an old tree trunk, a beautiful lady, fishes or other animals in order to lure people into its trap. When caught the human will be eaten or drowned.

A jenglot is a type of mysterious creature or vampire in Indonesian culture and mythology. It is described as looking much like a tiny, living human doll. It is usually depicted as a mythical creature, sometimes seen in cryptozoology, and occasionally purported to have actually been a human body. Its appearance also resembles the Medusa of Greek mythology.

You can read more about Malay beliefs in the supernatural here: 

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