Belief in “hantu-hantu” (spirits, demons and ghosts) remains strong despite the strong imprint of Islam on Malaysia. As s true elsewhere in Southeast Asia, people go out of their way to avoid, appease and overcome evil spirits and occasionally call on guardian spirits or dead ancestors for help.

Malaysians often seek spiritual aid from an assortment of faith healers, mediums and witch doctors to solve personal problems and work issues. Authorities periodically crack down on unauthorised sects including ones involved in exorcisms and other weird stuff. Belief in the supernatural has long been entrenched among Malaysia's main Malay, Chinese and Indian ethnic communities, though occult rituals have waned in recent decades.

Beliefs in ghosts, demons and goblin is strong despite the fact that Islam forbids Muslims from having anything to do with such beings. Shamans (known in Malay as dukun or bomoh) are said to be able to make use of spirits and demons for either benign or evil purposes. Although Western writings often compare this to the familiar spirits of English witchcraft, it actually corresponds more closely with the Japanese inugami and other types of shikigami, in that the spirits are hereditary and passed down through families.

Julia Zappei of AFP wrote: “Malays were animist before Islam's 15th-century arrival, but belief in the existence of spirits separable from physical forms and black magic still persist. Claims of real-life "sightings" remain common. In January 2012, local media reported residents of a suburb of the capital Kuala Lumpur patrolling streets after two "orang minyak" were spotted. Meanwhile, reports of school classes being disrupted by suspected cases of "possessed" students are regular. In one publicised incident in 2008, when 35 students were gripped by hysteria in a school in eastern Pahang state, school authorities reportedly held special religious recitals and prayers and engaged a spiritual healer to "cleanse" the school. [Source: Julia Zappei, AFP, March 20, 2012]

One Malaysia wrote on a bulletin board for The Star: “I believe ghosts exist and they call the forest their home. I love the Supernatural Survival Tips [See Below] that you had. It’s better to be safe than sorry. I just want to add another tip: if you see anything weird in the forest or on a lonely stretch of road at night, don’t acknowledge it or point it out. It might end up following you home. A Malay custom is to take a bath (wudu) when you return home at night before playing with your children. I would also like to further clarify on the term “buang hantu”(discarding ghosts). Some modern readers may have no clue as to what this means. Some people believe in acquiring ghosts for witchcraft, to improve business or for whatever greedy/selfish/evil intentions they may have. After a while, these beings may turn on them or be passed on to their children when they die, so the act of “buang hantu” means literally getting rid of the ghost/s.[Source: The Star, April 22, 2006]

Haruspicy (searching for omens in the entrails of animals) to predict the future has been practiced in Malaya. The job of Haji Ahman Haji Abdullah, who was in his 80s in the 1990s, was preventing rain. His services are most sought for sporting events, especially golf tournaments.

Malaysia: Truly Bizarre?

In January 2007, Reuters reported: “Malaysia has launched its biggest tourism drive since independence under its famous slogan "Malaysia: Truly Asia", but it may as well read "truly bizarre". Recent visitors to the Southeast Asian nation have read serious newspaper articles about miracle healers and a mysterious giant ape in the country's southern jungles. Now, there is a woman who apparently secretes gem-stones out of her big toes. The wondrous toes of 23-year-old Siti Suhana Saadon, a rubber-tapper's daughter, have become a media sensation, drawing serious commentary from health officials and medical experts. Welfare authorities have even offered to pay for tests to be carried out on the poor villager and her collection of clear round stones, the New Straits Times said on Thursday. "I would like to see her. Her condition is very unusual," the mainstream daily quoted a senior academic as saying. [Source: Reuters, January 25, 2007 ^]

“Malaysians are willing to suspend disbelief when dealing with the supernatural, if recent newspaper coverage is any guide. Last year, conservationist Vincent Chow captured headlines at home and abroad by saying he had found evidence of a "Bigfoot" wandering the jungles of Johor state, leaving footprints the size of dinner plates and impressive piles of scatological evidence. "Malaysians may be in for the biggest scientific discovery in human history if the theory of the biodiversity expert Vincent Chow on the origin of the creature called 'big-foot' is proven true," state news agency Bernama declared last June. ^

“For tourists who like the bizarre and unexplained, Malaysia also offers a crocodile-whisperer and until recently a special exhibit of ghoulish human-looking remains, known as 'jenglot', which are vampires according to Malay folklore. Standing up to a metre (3 ft) tall, 'jenglot' appear to have charred skin, long black hair and sharp fangs. They are used in villages as a spiritual guard dog to scare off trespassers. Last year's exhibit drew big crowds to a small museum outside Kuala Lumpur, including a local paranormal investigation group, Seekers, which reportedly put some of the figures in a room under 24-hour camera surveillance to catch any of them moving about. Seekers has yet to announce a breakthrough. ^

“It is also too late to see Malaysia's "Snake King", Ali Khan Samsuddin, who spent 25 years mesmerising scorpions and snakes during live performances. He died last month after being bitten by a king cobra that failed to fall under his spell. But famed crocodile whisperer Cheek Inu, aged in his 70s, is still communicating with the fearsome reptiles, in the frontier state of Sarawak, on Borneo island, though some refuse to listen. "His prowess is not a myth as he has proven his ability in various past incidents," the New Straits Times said in September after Cheek Inu was called in to help capture a crocodile that had eaten a 12-year-old boy swimming in the Sarawak River. Seven years ago, Cheek Inu was credited with coaxing a 5.5 metre (18 ft) crocodile to come out of hiding, crawl up a river bank, turn over and die. Unfortunately, the 12-year-old boy's killer proved to be far more stubborn and remained at large.” ^

Traditional Healers in Malaysia

Spiritual healers are known as “bomoh” or “dukun”. They preside over curing ceremonies in which they go into trances. Patients are sometimes treated with a body smoking ritual in which the bomoh calls on friendly spirits to remove the source of the illness. Bomoh also employ a wide range of potions and herbal medicines. Bine-setting if often done by local healers. In many placed midwives still assist in the delivery of babies.

Some traditional medical practices in Malaysia are pretty bizarre and creepy. In October 2004, Associated Press reported: “A practitioner of traditional medicine in Malaysia was arrested for allegedly using kidnapped children as human guinea pigs while trying to find new cures, a newspaper reported on Sunday. The man was detained with four children. The man was detained with four others after a 14-year-old boy escaped from a house on October 4, and told police he had been held captive for three months and was the subject of bizarre experiments. The boy claimed that in one of the experiments, leeches were placed all over his body. [Source: AP, October 2004]

Ghost, Demons and Goblins in Malaysia


Malays, as with other Southeast Asians, have always taken great interest in stories of ghosts and spirits. It must be stressed that due to the animistic root of Malay folklore, these ghosts are seen as sharing the plane of existence with humans and are not always considered evil. However, when the delicate line that separates the boundaries of existence is crossed, or a transgression of living spaces occurs, a conflict ensues that may result in disturbances such as possessions. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Malay word for ghost is hantu. However, this word also covers all sorts of demons, goblins and undead creatures and are thought to have real physical bodies, instead of just apparitions or spectres. The most famous of these is the pontianak or matianak, the ghost of a female stillborn child which lures men in the form of a beautiful woman.

There are many Malay ghost myths, remnants of old animist beliefs that have been shaped by Hindu-Buddhist cosmology and later Muslim influences, in the modern states of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and among the Malay diaspora in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. The general word for ghost is hantu, of which there exist a wide variety. Some ghost concepts such as the female vampires pontianak and penanggal are shared throughout the region. While traditional belief doesn't consider all ghosts as necessarily evil, Malaysian popular culture tends to categorize them all as types of evil djinn.

History of Ghosts and Traditional Spiritual Beliefs in Malaysia

Traditional ghost beliefs are rooted in prehistoric animist beliefs. However, the area has long had extensive contact with other cultures, and these have affected the form of some of the legends. Trade links with southern India and China were established several centuries BCE, in large part shaping the local culture and folklore. The Indian faiths of Hinduism and Buddhism were particularly influential in Southeast Asia. Islam was also introduced from India, and had become the dominant religion in Java and Sumatra by the end of the 16th century. The Muslim beliefs overlaid and mixed with existing cultural and religious influences, rather than eradicating them altogether. One example is the festival of Mandi Safar, originally a Tamil Hindu practice where people bathe in the sea or river and perform ceremonies that purify and protect against sickness and misfortune, and which also serves to introduce marriageable young people. After the introduction of Islam it was given new meaning as a festival to celebrate the recovery of Mohammed from an illness. The ritual has long been banned in Malaysia on the grounds that it contravenes the teaching of Islam, but continues to be practiced in Malaysia and Indonesia. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to traditional Malay lore, the human soul (semangat or essence) is about the size of a thumb and appears as a miniature form of the body (sarung or casing) in which it resides. Able to fly and quickly "flash" from one location to another, the soul is often compared to and addressed as if it were a bird. It temporarily leaves the person's body temporarily during sleep, trance and sickness, before departing permanently at death. When the soul leaves the body it assumes the form of a sort of homunculus, and in this form can feed on the souls of others. At death, the soul usually passes 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. Ghosts may also return and take possession of a living person, causing madness or illness. Ghosts are generally are believed to be active only at night time, especially during a full moon. 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 (dukun or bomoh) in a village would burn incense, recite incantations, and in some cases sacrifice an animal and wash its blood into a river to appease the ghost. Healing dances may also be performed, such as the mak yong, saba, main puteri, or the Ulek Mayang.

Toyol, Lang Suir and Other Malaysian Birth Spirits

Childbirth-spirits are ghosts which are in some way related to birth or pregnancy. A significant number of them are the malignant spirits of stillborn children, while others prey on infants. All are a reflection of a formerly high infant mortality rate. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]

Bajang is a kind of familiar spirit acquired by a male who says the proper incantations over the newly-buried body of a stillborn child. It takes the form of a civet or musang and may cause convulsions, unconsciousness or delirium. In exchange, its master feeds it eggs and milk. As with other spirits of this type, a bajang may turn on its master if it is neglected. Although a bajang can be made to attack any whom its master chooses, it is considered particularly dangerous to infants and young children. In former times, some children would be given "bajang bracelets" (gelang bajang) made of black silk to protect them against it, and sharp metal objects such as scissors would be placed near babies for the same purpose. Even the striations of pregnancy are somewhat jokingly said to be the scars left by a bajang's attack.

Chinese gods

Lang suir, also spelled langsuir or lang suyar, is version of pontianak (see Below) but said to be the deadliest banshee in Malay folklore. The Lang suir is said to be the ghost of a woman who died while giving birth to a stillborn child which turns into a pontianak, or during pregnancy before the forty days of uncleanness have expired. The mother's grief changes her into a type of flying banshee. To prevent a pregnant woman's corpse from becoming a lang suir, glass beads are placed into the mouth, an egg is placed in each armpit, and needles are placed in the hands. Lang suir can appear as beautiful women with long nails (a traditional mark of beauty), ankle-length hair and dressed in green. They also have the ability to take the form of an owl with long talons. Being fond of eating fish, they usually haunt coastal areas and attack pregnant women out of jealousy. It is possible to tame a lang suir by cutting off her long nails and stuffing the hair into the hole at the back of her neck.

The toyol is a small creature created from a dead human foetus using black magic. Toyol is often translated into English as "goblin", but actually it is a small child spirit invoked from a dead human fetus. Traditionally described as looking more or less like a naked or near-naked toddler, modern depictions often give them green or greyish skin, fangs, and pointy ears. The toyol may be used by its master to steal things from other people, or to do mischief. Because they are 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 toyol may become rich, but at the expense of the health, fortune and even the lives of members of their family.

To create a toyol a baby is revived by a Bomoh (a Malaysian shaman) using dark magic. The main intention of creating a Toyol is to use it to steal for its owner. The Toyol will go from one house to another at night, looking for money and jewelry which it will steal for its owner. There are three ways of preventing a Toyol from stealing from you. The first method is by scattering beans around the floor where you keep your money. The Toyol will be distracted by the beans and will spend the entire night trying to count the beans. The second method is by placing some sweets near your money. Instead of stealing the money, the Toyol, being formerly a child, will steal the sweets instead. The last way is by placing toys near the place where you store your valuables. the Toyol will stop and spend the entire night playing with the toys instead. In order to sustain the Toyol's loyalty, the owner of this imp will feed it with his own blood every once in a while. A Toyol that is not fed will eventually go on a rampage.

Pontianak and Vampire-like Female Demons

The Pontianak is the most famous Malaysian ghost. Also known as matianak or kuntilanak, it is the ghost of a stillborn female and a type of vampire in Malay folklore. According to the legend, a Pontianak (pronounced "pone-tea-ah-nark") is either the restless spirit of a dead pregnant woman or the vengeful spirit of a woman murdered by her own lover. The former version generally does little harm except probably scaring the heebie-jeebies out of you. She would usually be found standing by the side of a road cradling her tombstone like a baby and asking for a ride to her graveyard. The later is very violent, known to go on a blood lust until she either kills her lover or the male ancestor of her lover. The classic Pontianak would have very long hair flowing down to her hips, usually covering her face, full white dress sometimes with bloodstains, long fangs and long fingernails. When she's near, you will smell a very strong flowery smell. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]

To prevent a stillborn baby from becoming a pontianak—as with its mother the lang suir—a needle is placed in each of the corpse's hands and a hen's egg under each armpit. Depicted as an ugly woman wiith sharp nails and a white dress, the pontianak can also take the form of a beautiful young woman or a night-bird. When she is close, she gives off a strong smell of frangipani. It is usually encountered by the roadside or under a tree, and attack men and drink their blood. The Indonesian kuntilanak, however, typically uses its bird form to attack virgin women. 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. A pontianak can be made into a good wife, by placing a nail into the hole at the nape of its neck (called Sundel Bolong). Modern popular culture often confuses the pontianak with its mother the lang suir. However, traditional myth is clear that the pontianak is the ghost of a dead baby and not a pregnant woman. A similar ghost called tiyanak exists in Philippine lore.

The penanggalan is a flying head with its disembodied stomach sac dangling below. Another type of female vampire, it is attracted to the blood of newborn infants and uses entrails trailing behind her head to grasp her victims 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 a type of thistle are placed around the doors or windows to protect the house, since her entrails will be caught by the thorns.

The penanggalan is known in Thai as krasue and a similar Philippine ghost called the manananggal which preys on pregnant women with an elongated proboscis-like tongue. The manananggal is spirit of an older, beautiful woman capable of severing its upper torso to fly into the night with huge bat wings to prey on unsuspecting pregnant women in their homes. The hantu kum-kum is the ghost of an old woman who sucks the blood of virgin girls to regain her youth.

Chinese graveyard in Borneo

Hantu Ray (“Supreme Ghost) and Malaysian Ghosts Used In Black Magic

The hantu raya (pronounced "harn-too rah-ya") is considered one of the most powerful of Malay ghosts. Possessing great strength, it usually takes on the appearance of its owner and carries out manual labour on their behalf. However, it is said to have a limited range, being unable to go far from its home. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]

The Hantu Raya is actually the leader of a legion of demons. Its name translates as "supreme ghost" or "great ghost". A person who has made an alliance with the Hantu Raya will be granted immense power over man and spirits. In exchange all it wants is to be provided with whatever it asks for, some occasional offerings and a new owner before the current owner dies. The Hantu Raya will then be inherited from generation to generation. If the current owner fails to provide it a new owner, he will suffer horribly when dying and return either as a zombie or become one of the Hantu Raya's minions.

Polong is a kind of bottled-imp, created by keeping the blood of a murder victim in a bottle and saying certain incantations over it for seven or fourteen days. The owner, who is treated as the polong's parent, must feed the spirit daily with blood from their finger. A person who has been afflicted by the polong will cry out and wildly strike at people nearby, all the while blind and deaf to their surroundings, and unconscious of what they are doing. In such cases, a bomoh would be called into question the polong and find out who is its parent and where they are located. If the polong lies or conceals the identity of its owner, the victim will die after one or two days.

The pelesit a type of grasshopper or cricket that precedes the polong's arrival. It is created from the tongue of a newly-buried first-born child whose mother was also the eldest of her siblings. Its appearance is that of a cricket and it is kept in a bottle which is buried if the owner wishes to rid herself of it. In advance of a polong's arrival, the pelesit will enter the body of whomever its mistress has told it to attack. A person who has been thus afflicted might rave about cats. The pelesit is in many ways comparable to the bajang, but whereas the bajang's owner is always male, the pelesit may only be kept by a female. It may be fed on blood from the tip of the fourth finger or, alternatively, with saffron rice. Like the polong, the pelesit can be forced to reveal the name of their owner through magical questioning.

The hantu bulu is a demon that is summoned by practitioners of black magic. The hantu pusaka is a spirit that had been summoned by a Bomoh and is handed down from one generation to the next. Hantu kuda is spirit that resembles a horse and possesses dancers who do the Kuda Kepang dance.

Ghosts and Spirits Linked to Water

Hantu air (water spirits) live in large bodies of water, such as a river or lake. Some are said to be the ghosts of people who drowned, but they are generally independent spirits. If they show themselves, it is usually in the form of a floating log. They can be dangerous, and may drown or eat people. Until the 1960s, Malays in Trengganu would regularly pay respects to the sea spirits in the puja laut ceremony. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]

Hantu laut (sea spirits) are animistic water spirits who assist fishermen and sailors. Until the 1960s, Malays in Trengganu used to regularly pay respects to the sea spirits through the puja pantai or puja laut ceremony.

Hantu jerambang is an evil spirit that lives in the middle of the sea and loves to cling on the mast of passing ships. Hantu balung bidai is an evil spirit that lives in water. It is flat and shapeless and will wrap itself around anyone swimming in its water and drown them. Hantu bandan is spirit that lives under waterfalls.

Ghosts and Spirits of the Forest and Nature

Jembalang tanah are earth demons, which may act dangerously if not appeased with the proper rituals. Mambang are animistic spirits of various natural phenomena. They are very ancient demons that originate from Indonesia. Penunggu are tutelary spirits of particular places such as caves, forests and mountains. Hantu anak gua batu is a spirit that lives in small caves. Hantu lubang live in large holes or between large rocks. Hantu Hantuan is a spirit that lives in forests. Hantu gunung lives on mountains. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]

Jenglot are doll-like vampiric creatures said to be found in the jungles. They are usually female. What are claimed to be dead jenglot are sometimes sold or exhibited, but they appear to be man-made.

Hantu galah (pole ghost) is a tall male ghost with extremely long and thin limbs. It is ound among trees and bamboo. To make it disappear, a person simply picks up a stick or twig and breaks it. Hantu pisang (a Mah Meri belief) is A beautiful ghost that is supposedly formed when the heart of the banana bud is pierced with a nail attached to a thread.

Orang bunian are said to inhabit jungles. They are similar to elves except they are invisible to most people. Orang halus (invisible people) are dwarfs that live in the jungles and are conversant in Malay! They usually cannot be encountered unless one is purified by cleansing the body and wearing clean clothes.

Hantu beruk is a spirit that takes on the form of an ape and usually possesses dancers. Hantu belian is a spirit that takes on the form of a tiger. Hantu songkei is a spirit that protects animals and frees from from a hunter's trap. Hantu denai is a fierce demon that lives in forest and has the characteristics of a wild beast.

Hantu puteri is a spirit that will seduce men and lead them deep into forests where they will get lost. Hantu punjut is a ghost that takes children who wander into the forest late at night. Hantu bunyi-bunyian is a formless spirit—just a voice in the forest that beckons to people—causing then to lose their way. Hantu jembalang is a spirit that is bound to a certain area. If any construction is done at that area, offerings need to be made to appease it. Puaka are nature spirit of a place which are typically said to reside in abandoned buildings.

Ghosts Related to Death, Murder and Funerals

Pocong (pronounced "poh-cho-ng") or hantu bungkus (wrapped ghost) is the ghost of a dead person still bound in its white burial shroud. When a person is buried, the shroud is supposed to be untied. If it remains tied at the top, the body is supposed to become a pocong. All that needs to be done to liberate the sprit of a pocong is to untie the shroud and the spirit will be released. The Pocong is generally harmless. Sometimes they feed on the blood of babies. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]

When a Muslim person dies, he is wrapped tightly in his death shroud and placed into his grave without a coffin. Over a few weeks, the cloth will begin to degenerate and fall off and the spirit of the person is released. However, if the body is still bound by its death shroud after more than 40 days, the person will rise from the dead as a Pocong, still wrapped up. Because it is tightly bound, all the Pocong can do is hop.

Hantu golek is just like the Pocong, a ghost that is bound in its death shroud. But rather than hopping, the Hantu Golek rolls on its side. The hantu kocong is an evil spirit that roams graveyards and pounces on passers by. Hantu kubur is the generic term for any ghosts that haunts graveyards. Hantu harimau/keramat is a spirit that lives in and protects graveyards.

A polong (pronounced "poe-low-ng") is one of the worst spirits to encounter. The Polong is the enslaved spirit of a murdered person. The Bomoh would pour the blood of the murdered person in a small bottle for a couple of weeks before using dark magic to invoke the spirits. When the Polong is ready, the bottle will begin to emit sounds of crying and moaning. Then, periodically, the owner would feed it some of his own blood to tie the demon to him. A Polong does not have an identifiable form but can resemble a thumb-sized woman. It is created to be used as a weapon and is only unleashed when the Bomoh wants to badly hurt or kill someone. If it is no longer fed with blood, the Polong will grow extremely wild and go on a bloodhunt.

Hantu bangkit is the ghost of a murdered person which hangs around his grave. Hantu jerangkung is a skeletal ghost of a murdered man. Hantu pelak is a ghost that is seeking revenge and haunts the place where he had died. .Hantu daguk is sort of like a will-o-wisp. It resembles smoke or mist ans is usually the ghost of a murdered person.

Other Malaysian Ghosts

Hantu kopek (nipple ghost) appears as an old woman with pendulous breasts. Hantu It lures men who cheat on their wives. Hantu apu is a spirit that loves to hang around parties and gatherings. Hantu jamuan is a spirit that must be invited to any party or gathering or else it will wreck havoc. Hantu batu is a formless ghost that loves to throw stones at passers by. The Mumiai (pronounced moo-mee-eye) is a ghost who throws things around and attacks people who are especially lazy or criminal. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]

Orang minyak (oily man) is a cursed man who rapes women at night. Because he is covered in oil, he's difficult to catch. According to legend, Satan offered to grant all worldly desires to the orang minyak if he raped 21 virgin girls within seven days and worshiped Satan as a God. Orang minyak usually douse themselves with oil and run around naked. Although the orang minyak is believed to be human, there are countless stories of them being related to the supernatural world.

Health-related spirits and demons include: 1) Hantu gengal, an evil spirit that causes a person to be mute; 2) a jembalang, a demon or evil spirit that usually brings disease; 3) Hantu bisa, an evil spirit that causes blood poisoning; and 4) Hantu buta, a spirit that causes blindness.

Hantu kuang is spirit that has 100 eyes. Hantu langut/longgak is a spirit with the head of a dog and body of a man that loves to hunt. Hantu tenggelung is A headless ghost. .Hantu kertau is an evil spirit with the head of a wild boar and horns of a deer. It preys on woman during childbirth.

Other Malaysia ghosts includes 1) the bota, a type of evil spirit, usually a giant; 2) hantu lilin: a wandering spirit that carries a torch or a lit candle at night; Hantu Pemburu: the Spectral Huntsman whose head is always looking upwards with a shoot growing from his neck; 3) Hantu tinggi (literally "tall ghost"), a type of giant that will flee at the sight of a naked body; 5) Raksaksa, humanoid man-eating demons, often able to change their appearance at will.

Ghosts in the Media and Popular Culture in Malaysia

In both Malaysia and Indonesia, ghosts and the supernatural have long been the popular subject of stories in television, documentaries, film, and magazines like Mastika and Tok Ngah. The 1958 black-and-white horror movie Sumpah Orang Minyak is one of many films based on the orang minyak concept. It told of a hunchback who through supernatural means becomes handsome, but turns invisible after violating his oath. The devil offers to help achieve his worldly desires, on condition that he rapes 21 girls within 7 days. [Source: Wikipedia]

Other Malay ghost films such as Pontianak and Revenge of Pontianak received tremendous response at their time of release. With the rise of the Islamization movement, the Malaysian government suppressed production of local films involving ghosts out of concern that they would encourage superstition. However, access to foreign horror movies made such a ban futile, and these restrictions were eventually lifted with the release of Pontianak: Harum Sundal Malam. The film was well-received, spawning a sequel and a follow-up TV series. Numerous other horror films followed suit but, in keeping with current religious trends, they usually portray all supernatural beings as evil, far removed from traditional beliefs. This is particularly so in documentaries and television series involving ghost hunters.

2007's Jangan Pandang Belakang ("Don't Look Back") holds the record as Malaysia's highest-grossing film. It centers around a malicious spirit which the hero had unknowingly brought to his fiancé's home after picking up a small jar found washed up at the beach. The 2010 Indonesian soft-porn horror movie Hantu Puncak Datang Bulan (The Menstruating Ghost of Puncak) caused considerable controversy at the time of its release. Telling the experiences of a group of young adults in a haunted house, it has much semi-nude sexuality, and has been condemned by conservative Muslim leaders.

Supernatural Survival Tips in the Malaysian Jungle

How do you deal with the paranormal to have a pleasant jungle trek? Here are a few tips provided by the interviewees and the Internet gathered The Star, a Malaysian newspaper: 1) If you suddenly smell jasmine, don’t turn around. Just move on quickly. Or say a silent prayer. 2) Quietly ask for permission before entering a jungle. Some 4WD convoys, for example, pray and burn joss sticks at the shrine to Datuk Kong, guardian spirit of the jungle, before entering. 3) If a particular rock formation looks like an abnormally comfortable resting place, don’t use it. 4) Don’t call your friends by their names, instead, agree on codenames beforehand and use those.
6) If you hear somebody calling out your name, don’t answer or follow the voice. 7) If a particular tree is surrounded by an unusual clearing, avoid it. [Source: The Star, April 15, 2006 **]

8) If you see strange things like a mansion, white-robed elderly person, someone playing the drums up a tree or a well-tended garden in the middle of the jungle, walk away from it. Stick to your path. People get lost easily because they are drawn to these things by the forest goblins or bunian. 9) Don’t pick up ‘souvenirs’, especially at ‘suspicious-looking’ places. They are the jungle’s. An aside: A group of rangers were deep in the forests of Belum one day when they came across a field of beautiful flowers. They walked away but kept coming back to it, despite trying several paths out. It then occurred to the leader to ask if anyone had taken anything from the field. One of them admitted he had plucked a flower. He was told to leave it behind. After a prayer, they found their way out easily. **

How do you look for people lost in the forest? Here’s how some folks searched for the four boys that got lost on Fraser’s Hill last year. 1) Mohd Radzuan Mohd Nordin, the imam there, trekked through the forest and when he ‘felt’ the boys’ presence, he would say the azan and ask the bunian to release them. Chamba Mohammad, one of the Orang Asli rescuers, read mantras and followed the direction of kemenyan (incense) smoke. 2) Say prayers – “There are spirits in the jungle,” says Yap Kok Sun. “Don’t try to defy or challenge them, and say ‘I don’t believe, I don’t care’. Since becoming a Christian, I always say a prayer before entering the jungle. It has helped me.” 3) According to jungle guide Yusof Aziz, the makhluk halus or forest goblins don’t like blood. So when a woman is menstruating, she should wash out her sanitary pad later. Burying it doesn’t work because an animal may dig it up. 4) Some people who see spirits, says Loh Foh Seng, may have bad luck in work and health. The traditional Chinese remedy is to go to a temple to jeen wunn (change your luck). 5) Loh’s general advice is: “Don’t kacau the spirits. Just tell them quietly, you go your way, I’ll go mine. Mutual respect is the way. After all, we are just visiting and it is their territory. It’s like you go to your friend’s house, of course you will greet the parents, ‘hello aunty, hello uncle’.” **

Malaysian Man Dumps Wife for Being a Demon

In January 2011, a Malaysian man abandoned his wife after a temple medium convinced him she was a demon who wanted to kill him. Reuters reported: “The Star newspaper quotes the wife, who gave her name as Loh, as saying her factory-manager husband now wants a divorce and also refuses to meet their two teenage children for fear his wife will use them to kill him. "The medium told my husband I had been casting spells on him for the past 15 years," Loh was quoted as telling a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. "He refused to eat or drink at home because he thought I poisoned the food." [Source: Reuters, January 6, 2011]

“Loh says the medium was heavily in debt and likely taking advantage of her husband, who had withdrawn their children's savings before deserting the family. Malaysians often seek spiritual aid from an assortment of faith healers, mediums and witch doctors to solve personal problems and work issues. But there has been a steady increase in complaints of cheating and sexual abuse, which has prompted the government to announce it will table a bill this year requiring faith healers to register with the Ministry of Health.

People Killed in Malaysian Exorcism Rituals

In January 2010, a Malaysian court has sentenced a man and his cousin to 10 years each in prison over the death of the man's parents during a violent spiritual cleansing ritual that involved beating the slain couple with brooms and motorcycle helmets. AFP reported: Defence lawyer Supramaniam Kasia Pillai said a third man accused over the grisly 2008 murder of the couple, during a ceremony to expel evil spirits, was acquitted on the grounds of insanity. Supramaniam said the couple had been beaten "with everything the men could get hold of - helmets, table tops and even the table legs, with the aim to drive out evil''. He said the High Court found Muhamad Fauzi Abdul Razak, 23 and his cousin, Muhammad Nizam Mohamad Ibrahim, 21, guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced them today to 10 years in prison for each of the deaths, to be served concurrently. [Source: AFP, January 25, 2010]

“Public prosecutor Aidatul Azura Zainal Abidin said the three accused had testified that their victims were willing participants in the cleansing ritual. "But this is something terrible. Normal people will not do this harmful act. They took a video of the session. The victims were beaten with helmets,'' she said. Mohamad Ilyas, the acquitted third suspect, said during the trial that he had gained spiritual powers through his association with a banned Islamic cult, and that he could heal sick people and raise the dead.”

In August 2012, Associated Press reported: “A 3-year-old Malaysian girl was killed in a suspected exorcism ritual by family members who believed she was possessed by evil spirits, police said. Police raided a house in northern Penang state after receiving a distress call from a family member and found a group of eight people lying on top of the girl in a bedroom, said district police chief Azman Abdul Lah. The girl was face down under the human pile, which comprised her parents, grandmother, uncle, aunt, two cousins and their Indonesian maid, he said. The room was dark and chanting could be heard from under a blanket covering the group, Azman said. The girl died of suffocation, and all eight involved have been detained, he added. [Source: AP, August 7, 2012]

In August 2004, a court aquitted three Malaysians with killing an American woman in 2001 in an occult ritual to obatain lottery ticket numbers. The body of Carolyn Janice Ahmad, 35, of Duluth, Minnesota, were discovered in a shallow grave at an oil palm plantation in northern Malaysia in June 2001. The three were acquitted because of discrepancies in the testimony of a key witness.

News services reported in 2001: “Malaysian police arrested the last of four suspects in the slaying of an American woman who authorities believe was killed in a ritual to obtain lottery numbers from the spirits. The remains of Carolyn Jamaica Noraini Abdullah, who was 35 when she disappeared near the northern city of Ipoh in November 1999, were unearthed in a shallow grave at an oil palm plantation. Authorities believe the killing was carried out by three men and a woman. The female suspect, who is in her 20s, surrendered to authorities in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, said Zuber Shariff, a senior police official in Ipoh. Police said one of the suspects led police to the grave last week. Another male suspect died in a car accident earlier this year, and the third is in prison for a firearms offense. Police said the woman’s Malaysian husband has refused requests for an interview. [Source: Wire Reports, June 27, 2001]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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