5 gruesome ghosts of Malaysia

Malaysians love a good ghost story to spook family and friends. (Pixabay pic)

If there’s anything that Malaysians love more than food and gossip, it is probably a good ghost story.

From nature spirits to malevolent demons, stories of things that go bump in the night never fail to send delicious chills down the spine, even of the most sceptical.

Malay culture has a wide array of ghosts that range from the somewhat humorous to the downright terrifying.

Here is a list of the most famous Malay ghosts to send even sceptics running for the hills:

1. Pontianak

Probably the best-known supernatural entity on this list, a Pontianak is believed to be the evil spirit of a woman who died while pregnant.

She commonly appears as a beautiful woman, with long flowing hair, a bloodstained dress, pale skin, scarlet eyes and with a tell-tale hole in the back of her neck.

That hole is her weakness, and driving a nail into it will restore her humanity.

The smell of frangipanis in the air is a warning to men that they should run for their lives. Another plant associated with the Pontianak is the banana tree, where she is said to live during the day.

2. Pocong

A recent attempt by Indonesian authorities to keep people indoors during the Covid-19 lockdown involved dressing volunteers up as Pocong. (Reuters pic)

Not dissimilar from the Chinese Jiangshi, the Pocong, or shroud ghost, is the ghost of a deceased person that remains trapped in its burial cloth.

Pocong are often depicted with pale faces and their eyes wide open – their faces being the only part of their bodies left uncovered by their shrouds.

At Malay funerals, the dead are buried in white shrouds that are tied over the head, beneath the feet and on the neck. These tight restraints restrict the Pocong’s movements, and they are often depicted hopping about.

According to traditional belief, the soul of the deceased lingers for 40 days on Earth, and if its restraints are not loosened after the 40 days, the Pocong will leap out of its grave and demand to be set free.

3. Toyol

Similar to house imps of Western folklore, the Toyol is mischievous but under its master’s control.

This supernatural creature has a rather unpleasant origin; it is said to be an undead infant repurposed to serve its master’s needs.

According to traditional belief, Toyol come into being when a bomoh reanimates the body of a dead baby through black magic.

Toyol are actually closer to house imps, requiring certain offerings such as milk and toys to remain loyal to their masters.

They are mischievous creatures that do their master’s bidding, often stealing the possessions of others to enrich their masters.

While they are by no means stupid, Toyol are said to be easy to deceive and to distract, usually with mirrors and needles.

4. Penanggalan

The Penanggalan has several variations throughout Southeast Asia. (Wikipedia pic)

A creature that could be considered the Malay vampire, Penanggalan stand out with their gruesome appearance.

During the day, Penanggalan appear as a beautiful woman. At night, the creature’s head detaches, floating away with its entrails trailing behind.

Penanggalan are not undead, they are practitioners of black magic who have taken a ritual bath of vinegar.

During their nocturnal excursions, Penanggalan prey on pregnant women, using their long tongues to feast on the blood of these unfortunate souls, often infecting them with a fatal disease.

Penanggalan are vulnerable during these excursions though, for their body is vulnerable to destruction when their head is away.

5. Orang Minyak

A still from P Ramlee’s Sumpah Orang Minyak, about a man who makes a pact with the devil. (Shaw Brothers pic)

Literally “oily man”, the Orang Minyak is a supernatural creature that is covered from head to toe in black grease.

Traditionally, the creature preys on young women at night, breaking into their homes in an attempt to kidnap, or worse, sexually assault them.

Attempts at apprehending the Orang Minyak are often made difficult by how slippery their skin is, and they are often said to be stark naked.

In the P Ramlee film, Sumpah Orang Minyak, the Orang Minyak was endowed with supernatural powers by the devil on condition he defile 21 virgins within a week.

While some people believe the Orang Minyak is a black magic practitioner who has made a pact with the devil, others believe the Orang Minyak is under the control of such a practitioner.