Hopping spirit, the legendary Hantu Pocong

Susan Tam

In a traditional Malay funeral, a body is wrapped in a white cloth before it is prayed over and laid to rest.

Now imagine driving back from work late and night and suddenly having to step on the brakes as a body — wrapped in similar deathly white linen- comes to life and hops across the road.

This is the Hantu Pocong, which in Malay and Indonesian folklore, is said to take the form of a body enshrouded in 'coffin cloth' or kain kafan. According to the Muslim funeral practice, a body has to be tied at several places to keep the cloth in place. When the wrapped body is laid into the grave, the knot keeping the coffin cloth in place is usually removed. Malays believe that after death the soul of this body will stay on earth for 40 days.

If the knot is not removed and stays on beyond 40 days, the body could turn into a ghost and literally jump out of its grave. Only when this knot is taken away will the ghost stop haunting people.

Also known as Hantu Bungkus, this ghost goes by many names, but its traits are similar: tied up like a white package and hopping about because the knots tied near the feet restrict its movements.

Hop, hop.. hantu!

People believe that this type of ghost tends to 'disturb' or meet those who have weak 'semangat' or spirit. It is common knowledge among Asians that this ghost can move as fast as its Chinese counterpart, the jumping vampire. The Hantu Pocong's leap ranges from 50 metres per jump to over 100 metres. This energetic spirit is believed to be able to roll around and move as fast as a speeding car and is usually found in villages wandering around and jumping about as though in search of something or someone. Many believe that brave people who catch these ghosts will become very wealthy.

Animism expert associate professor Dr Zainal Abidin Borhan points out that these ghosts are not different from other spirits. "When these ghosts appear, the place tends to turn eerie.  Their faces look ugly and they are smelly," he told Yahoo! Malaysia.

Ding, who contributes to a website on ghost stories, wrote that he had "met" such a ghost when taking a short cut home in a hostel near Ipoh.

Seeing that the day was getting late, Ding and his friends took this route after a long wait for the bus.  The route followed a railway track and pebbled trails. Night fell and the group had to rely on the moonlight to guide them through this short cut. The night was windy, and the group passed a row of banana trees, which were being blown by the wind.

Ding wrote that they came across one of the trees and saw a dark figure wrapped in white cloth standing on top of it.  Needless to say the group bolted and swore never to take the same short cut again.

Other contributors to this website, shared there had been sightings of the Hantu Pocong or Hantu Bungkus near the Sungai Penchala area, bordering Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) and near the toll plaza on the highway due to its close proximity to a cemetery.

Bungkus and Pocong in the Modern Culture

As always, script writers and movie producers draw upon this popular Asian ghostly legend to produce award winning and popular horror films.

In 2000, television stations in Indonesia had reportedly filmed ghostly appearances to be featured as part of their daily programmes. Indonesian producer Rudi Soedjarwo had made a movie of this hopping ghost, called Pocong 1 but censors in the country found it to be too gory and violent.

The movie ended up being banned.

Rudi went on to produce a slightly toned down Pocong 2, which was screened in cinemas in 2006. Since then many versions of the Hantu Pocong have emerged on the silver screen including 'The Real Pocong' and '40 Hari Bangkitnya Pocong' or the Rise of the Hantu Pocong after 40 days.