April 2, 2020
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Malayan Vampire | Penanggalan


The Penanggalan is a nocturnal vampiric entity of Malay folklore. Its name comes from the word “tanggal” meaning to remove or take off because its form is that of a floating disembodied woman’s head with its trailing organs still attached. From afar it twinkles like a ball of flame providing an explanation for the will of the wisp phenomenon. During the day she will appear as a normal living person but when darkness falls her head will detach from the body trailing all of her internal organs behind her as she seeks out food. She will wait near the houses of pregnant women for their newborns to come into the world then she will strike. She will either herself enter the building if possible or will insert her long invisible tongue through a window, door or a crack in the roof and will feed on the blood of the newborn and the mother. The Penanggalan will not just take the blood but also the flesh if possible. Those who Penanggalan have fed on and survived will suffer from a wasting disease that only a “Bomu” (Shaman) can cure. Before sunrise the Penanggalan will return to its hollow body before resuming its human guise it will soak its trailing organs in a vat of vinegar that it keeps in its home. This both cleans and shrinks them making for a much easier entry through the open neck. Due to its preferred food a Penanggalan will seek out work as a midwife or any other job that will bring her closer to pregnant women and newborn children. There are different versions of the origin of Penanggalan. The first involves the death of a beautiful woman after becoming disengaged from her baby during childbirth. Shamans and Blackmagic practitioners would dig up bodies of these women to create the Penanggalan. The medium or shaman will use the blood of the dead mother to call its spirit to form this vampire. Experts explained that the medium or shaman could become masters of the Penanggalan if they made yearly offerings to it. The second is to make a bargain with some sort of dark all-powerful creature like the devil. You hold up your end of the bargain and the demon will give you magic powers but failed to live up to the deal and you’ll be cursed to become a Penanggalan. Plausible version of this legend states that the original Penanggalan was an ugly young woman who had become consumed by bitterness at her single status and was feverishly jealous of all married women. Her unchecked rage eventually resulted in a murderous rampage during which she murdered many innocent pregnant women. As punishment for her heinous crime the people of her village hung her head from a tall tree and tied her legs to a bull when the bull charged her body was torn away and her severed head was left dangling from the tree with all of the internal organs still intact. While the people of the village celebrated their triumph over evil they were less than pleased when they discovered that the severed head had gone missing later that night and that they had unwittingly unleashed a hellish demon on their small settlement. One lady had related her close encounters with the said creature as follows: I was about 10 years old and my family and I used to live on the third floor of a flat in Bukit Batok. The time was 3 a.m. in the morning when I was sleeping together with my siblings in the living room while my mother was busy sewing clothes near the kitchen. The mattress I slept on was adjacent to where my mother’s sewing machine was separated by a wall. While I was half asleep, I heard my mother’s voice and it seemed she was having a phone conversation. Back then we didn’t have mobile phones as they were not a necessity and our house telephone was at the living room so it was rather strange when I hear my mother asked, what do you want? Puzzled and curious, I peek at my mother by the side of the wall and once again I heard my mother as she firmly said stay away from me and my family. Who was my mother talking to? That question on my mind was answered when I heard an eerie voice that came through the window in the kitchen. The drone-like voice sounded like that of a person with a lisp when it said. Want to be friends with me? Absolutely not, I’m a human and you’re a devil, my mother responded. In a split second the voice cackle heeheehee my eyes kept searching for the source of that odd and creepy voice. However, what I saw still haunts me till now, even though that was 15 years ago. What I saw was a head together with its dangling intestines, stomach and liver. That creature was a Penanggalan but there is something odd. In addition to its hideous face, the mouth was deformed, chin bone was dislodged and was hanging loosely with the dead skin and veins. Now I understand why its voice sounded like a toddler who was learning to speak for the first time. Even more creepy when I saw its deformed mouth swaying as it spoke with mom again. I witnessed the whole event until the creature disappeared from my view. Strangely enough, my mother didn’t seemed afraid at all. Perhaps my mother was used to seeing these kinds of creatures in her village. I thought the creature didn’t realize I was peeping from behind the wall the whole time as its eyes never did looked in my direction. Trapping or killing the Penanggalan is not easy but Malay folklore believers suggests several practical measures to destroy this terrifying woman vampire. Keeping a knife or scissors nearby a newborn infant. The vampire fears sharp metal instruments as her entrails could get caught in them. New mothers were advised to have a midwife who was skilled with chants that could be used to protect the infant from this vampire. The Midwife would have to prepare a concoction made out of rice, salt, diced turmeric, tamarind and soot together with a special chant. This would prevent the mother and child from being victims. Other remedies offered by the Malay community was to place sharp and thorny pineapple plants under the houses of women in labor or scatter thorny mengkuang leaves in the surrounding areas of homes of new mothers. The Penanggalan’s dangling intestines would get caught in the thorny leaves and once captured you could kill the Penanggalan with a machete. If you’re braver, follow the Penanggalan to find out where her body is. Before her head could return to the body pour pieces of broken glass into the cavity. These bits of glass would cut her intestines when her head returns. The story of the Penanggalan may seem like no more than that a story. However, for many people this horrific vampire was and is very real. Even today, many regions of the Malay Peninsula still believe in her existence. Even those who don’t believe in the Penanggalan have heard her stories. Movies like Penanggal: The curse of the Malayan vampire helped to keep the legend of the Penanggalan alive in modern Malaysia. Every now and then someone reports seeing a pale face floating through the night with bloody organs trailing behind it. Some even say that they’ve trapped a Penanggalan, posting photos and videos as proof. Either way, it is obvious that this legendary creature has had a lasting impact on the peoples of Malaysia

Jean Kelley

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