Pocong! Kuntilanak! Sundelbolong! Wewegombel…Ghosties and Ghoulies of Indonesia


We here in Indonesia who like scary stories and horror movies have many resources to feed our habit, which are unavailable to Western afficionados.

This was brought home to me yesterday when I passed the Rumah Hantu Terminal Blok M, an instant haunted house erected in less than a week outside Blok M Square near the bus terminal.

Naturally I toted my trusty new camera and now I think I should add my descriptions of the awful things that local mums use to frighten naughty children who won’t go to sleep at inght.

Mind you, here, there seems to be no curfew for most kids. My younger students often tell me they hit the pit around 11pm. When I was their age I had to be tucked up by 9pm on an easy evening.  

And those students of mine come from the better off strata of society. Kampung kids appear to play, or, sadly, work, till any old time of night.

Anyway, here are some of the beings to be encountered in the Rumah hantu.

Pocong  

These are the living dead. Muslim burial entails wrapping the corpse in sheets of white cloth, so the poor old pocongs can’t walk, but have to hop. They shouldn’t be able to speak, either, but some silly films have allowed them to do so.

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Kuntilanak  

They hang about in trees. Said to be the vengeful spectres of women who died in childbirth, they wear long white gowns, have red eyes and long black straggly hair. This one is sitting outside Blok M Square, and you can have your photo taken beside her!

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Sundelbolong  

More women – Indonesian ghosts are often female – usually dashed cute, except they have a large hole in their back in which writhe worms and maggots.

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Wewegombel 

Large female predatory creatures who steal children. In stories, they often do so because the kiddies are unhappy and the wewegombel takes pity on them, but they won’t return them, which causes a lot of grief. They have huge pendulous breasts and are invariably ugly.

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Genderwu 

These guys live in forests, are large, wild-looking individuals, and have the gift of shape-changing, which is handy, for most of them are lusty monsters. They change into the shape of husbands or boyfriends of girls they take a fancy too, and thus in the legends, and the cinemas, many half-breeds are born to the deceived ladies!

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Tuyul 

These are very small spritely creatures, who are adept at stealing. They can get into any safe, cupboard or locked room and remove valuables as they please.

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Buto Ijo 

He’s a green giant, whose footsteps echo through the jungles like thunder. Not a welcome guest.

I wrote a collection of short ghostly tales a few years ago, my favourite being KuntilCanuck, about a rather sweet kuntilanak who falls in love with a Canadian English language instructor here.

One can do worse!