Pontianak – Malaysia’s undying vampire

The video recording doesn't show any figures or apparitions, but you can hear the laugh of a girl breaking the quiet of the night. The recording was made at 1.48am at an old abandoned Chinese cemetery in Sungai Petani, Kedah in March 2009.

Paranormal investigator and Malaysian Ghost Research founder Augustine Towonsing said the "girl's distinct laugh", recorded during his investigations, is one which most people have described as the laugh of a Pontianak.

Towonsing is a firm believer that ghosts exist in the form of pure energy which has no fixed physical appearance, rather they are based on electromagnetic fields, making their presence felt on electrical scanners and cameras.

"Therefore, seeing ghosts in the form of Pontianak, for instance, is only an explanation of another metaphysic of a ghost appearance, and this appearance may still be relevant in modern days based on how we like to see them," he told Yahoo! in an email interview.

But, despite having almost a decade of experience in paranormal studies and ghost research, Towonsing still believes configurations like the Pontianak exist based on evidence he obtained from that investigation in Sungai Petani. This belief is strengthened by his ability to "see" spirits, which caused Towonsing to continue his career in the paranormal field.

History of the Pontianak

In Malay and Indonesian folklore, the Pontianak is known to be a female vampire or a ghost of a woman who has died in childbirth. Some researchers argue that the Pontianak evolved from another type of vampire, known as the Langsuir, while others believe that the Pontianak is actually a "child" of the Langsuir. These theories are raised in a popular source of Malay folklore, Walter William Skeat's book, "The Malay Magic — An Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula".

He writes that a Pontianak was formed after a woman of dazzling beauty dies from the shock of hearing that her child was stillborn.

"On hearing the terrible news, she clapped her hands and without further warning, flew whinnying away to a tree upon which she perched," he wrote.

The Pontianak is known to wear a green robe, accompanied by a mark of "beauty" — her tapering nails and long jet black hair, which she allows it to fall down to her ankles. Most believe she lives like an owl, perched on trees while others believe she lives near banana trees.

"Stories have it that her hair is left that long to hide the hole in the back of the neck, through which she sucks the blood of children," points out Skeat. Others believe the Pontianak specifically targets newborn babies.

Based on Malay mythology, the strategy to combat a Pontianak is to catch her and cut her nails and tresses, stuffing the hair and nails into the hole behind her neck. Skeat explains that this method will turn the Pontianak into an ordinary woman.

Fishing villages and newborns

There are other versions about the Pontianak's existence. Some believe that as a ghost of a woman who died during childbirth, the Pontianak returns as a vengeful spirit, bearing hatred for ordinary women. The Pontianaks then would appear to men as ordinary women to seduce them and suck their blood.

Another take on the Pontianak is that these woman-vampires are also fond of fish and are often "seen" sitting amidst the crowds at the fishing stakes at the river mouth, waiting for the chance to steal the catch of the day.

This notion of association with fishing villages could be explained in this recollection of how Kampung Pontianak in Pulau Pemanggil off Mersing earned its name and illustrates another version of the woman-vampire.

Villagers from Kampung Pontianak told paranormal investigators from Singapore that on the island, there lived a Pontianak who fed on newborn babies. This type of Pontianak could detach her head when she began an attack, usually at night. This woman vampire favoured male babies. One particular night, the Pontianak had heard the groans of a woman in labour in the village. The Pontianak detached her head from her body and flew to the house in question, unaware that a group of villagers had set up an ambush. The villagers captured her with a net, resulting in her body rushing to unite with it. However, another group of villagers killed the Pontianak's body by setting it on fire. Hence, without a body to return to, the Pontianak was destroyed.

Lifetime legend

The Pontianak myth is popular in all different mediums, particularly the silver screen. The first movie ever made on the Pontianak was created when Malaysia achieved independence in 1957. Sadly the then film producer Cathay Keris owner Ho Ah Loke threw the films away in a mining pool due to lack of storage space in his home.

But though the the woman vampire in Kampung Pontianak is destroyed, she continues to "live" in the modern world.

More than 50 years later, comedies like "Tolong! Awek aku Pontianak" still receive a strong following - it's no surprise that Malaysians still love the Pontianak.