Pontianak (folklore)

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The pontianak (Dutch-Indonesian spelling: boentianak, Jawi: ڤونتيانق) is a carnivorous female vampiric ghost in Indonesian and Malay mythology. It is also known as a matianak or kuntilanak, sometimes shortened to kunti. The pontianak are said to be the spirits of women who died while pregnant. This is despite the fact that the earliest recordings of pontianaks in Malay lore describe the ghost as originating from a stillborn child.[1][2][3] This is often confused with a related creature, the lang suir, which is the ghost of a woman who died while giving birth.


The word pontianak is reportedly a corruption of the Malay : perempuan mati beranak, or “woman who died in childbirth”.[4] Another theory is that the word is a combination of puan (woman) + mati (die) + anak (child). The term matianak means "death of a child". The city of Pontianak in Indonesia is named after this wicked creature, which was a ghosts' nest until Syarif Abdurrahman Alkadrie and his Army fought and extruded ghosts who attacked his group by shooting cannon balls.[5]


Pontianaks are usually depicted as pale-skinned women with long black hair, red eyes, and white dresses smeared in blood, but they are said to be able to take on a beautiful human appearance since they prey on men and helpless people. They can also be beasts due to their bloodthirsty and carnivorous nature.

In folklore, a pontianak usually arises at full moon and announces her presence through high-pitched baby cries. If the cry is soft, it means that the pontianak is near, and if it is loud, then she is far. Some believe that if one hears a dog howling at night, it means the pontianak is far, but if a dog is whining, that means the pontianak is nearby. Her presence can sometimes be detected by a nice floral fragrance identifiable as that of the plumeria, followed by an awful stench (resembling that of a decaying body) afterwards. The Indian version, the Churail, can be identified by her feet turning backwards just before her transformation into her vampiric form.

A pontianak kills her victims by digging into their body with her sharp fingernails and devouring their bodily organs. In some cases where the pontianak desires revenge against a male individual, the beast rips out the bodily organs with her hands. It is said that if one has his or her eyes open when a pontianak is near, she will suck them out of the victim's head. Pontianaks locate their prey/victims by sniffing out the hanging laundry outside. For this reason, some Malaysians refuse to leave any piece of clothing outside of their house overnight.

The pontianak is associated with banana trees, and her spirit is said to reside in them during the day.

To fend off a pontianak, a nail should be plunged into the hole on the nape of her neck. This is said to make her turn into a beautiful woman and a good wife until the nail is removed. In the case of the kuntilanak, the nail is plunged into the apex of her head.

The Indonesian kuntilanak is similar to the pontianak, but commonly takes the form of a bird and sucks the blood of virgins and young women. The bird, which makes a "ke-ke-ke" sound as it flies, may be sent through some black magic to make a woman fall ill; the characteristic symptom is vaginal bleeding. In her female form, when a man approaches her, she suddenly turns and reveals that her back is hollow, but this apparition is more specifically referred to sundel bolong.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Indonesian films, see also id:Kategori:Film kuntilanak
    • Kuntilanak (1962) starring Ateng
    • Kuntilanak (1974)
    • Lawang Sewu (2007)
    • Casablanca Tunnel (Red Kuntilanak) (2007)
    • Kuntilanak's Nest (2008)
    • Kuntilanak (2006), Kuntilanak 2 (2007), Kuntilanak 3 (2008)
    • Kuntilanak's Morgue (2009)
    • Kuntilanak Beranak (2009)
    • The Nail of Kuntilanak (2009)
    • Santet Kuntilanak (2012)
  • Indonesian Video Game
    • DreadOut (2014)
    • Pamali: Indonesian Folklore Horror(2018)
  • Malaysian films
    • Pontianak (1957)
    • Dendam Pontianak (1957)
    • Sumpah Pontianak (1958)
    • The Pontianak Child, also known as Anak Pontianak (1958)
    • The Return of Kuntilanak (1963)
    • Pontianak Musang Cave (1964)
    • Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam (2004)
    • Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam 2 (2005)
    • The Scream of Pontianak (2005)
    • Help Me, I'm a Pontianak (2011)
    • Pontianak vs Oil Person (2012)
    • The Nail of Kuntilanak (2013)
  • Singaporean films
  • Malaysian fiction
  • American fiction

Related folklore[edit]

In Philippine folklore, the vampiric tiyanak shares many similarities in terms of origin with the pontianak. However, the tiyanak is the ghost of the child rather than the mother.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Skeat, William Walter (1900). Malay Magic. New York: MacMillan and Co.
  2. ^ Skeat, Walter William; Blagden, Charles Otto (1906-01-01). Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula. Macmillan and Company, limited.
  3. ^ Talbot, D. Amaury (1915-01-01). Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People: The Ibibios of Southern Nigeria. Cassell and Company. pp. 216–217.
  4. ^ Lee R. The Almost Complete Collection of True Singapore Ghost Stories. 2nd ed. Singapore: Flame of the Forest, 1989.
  5. ^ Amrizan Madian; Matahari Tegak Dua Kali Setahun di Kota Khatulistiwa; Situs Berita Nasional Malaysia (in Indonesian)
  6. ^ "Revenge of the Pontianak". IMDb. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  7. ^ "The House of Aunts". 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2015-04-13.

External links[edit]