15 September 2009

Malay Vampires

Pain from child birth crumples the face of a young woman. Sweat saturates her glossy hair, matting it into stringy, dark locks. Shuddering, she lets out a final groan before collapsing from exhaustion.

The midwife whispers, "The child is already dead."

Malay vampires emerge into the world through sorrowful suffering like this. "The vampire has two manifestations in Malaysia: the langsuyar [langsuir] and the pontianak" (Bush 195). These 'undead' creatures are intimately related, and often confused in the folklore of Malaysia and the surrounding regions.

"Any woman giving birth who died upon discovering that her child was stillborn was thought to become" a langsuyar (Konstantinos 24). The original "langsuyar was a very beautiful woman who had a stillborn baby. The woman flew off into the trees. She is denoted by her ankle-length black hair, green robe and her long fingernails, a Malaysian indicator of female pulchritude" (Bush 195). "The langsuir was not described as having fangs like other vampires, rather," she "sucks the blood of infants through a hole in the back of her neck, hidden by her copious hair" (Konstantions 24, Bush 195).

Malay folklore provides a way that the langsuir "can be captured and cured of her curse in such a way that she can once again live an almost normal life" (Konstantinos 8). This revival may be "accomplished by a mortal who would cut the vampire's nails and hair, and stuff them into the hole in her neck" (24). The task is not easy, but it will return the woman to the mortal condition prior to her miscarriage and subsequent transformation into a langsuyar.

"The pontianak is curiously complimentary to the langsuyar. It's a stillborn child that transformed into an owl-like creature" (Bush 195). "In the Malay Peninsula the Pontianak (or Mati-anak) is usually distinguished as the ghost of a child who has died at birth." This ghost may take possession of living humans and impart impossible powers upon them. "There are many references in Malay literature to the flying performances of Malayan heroes" who were supposedly under the influence of the childlike creatures (Folklore 135).

"Before we move away from Malaysia, one more vampire (not a species, but an individual, legendary creature) deserves mention--the penanggalan. That creature was also believed to be female; a woman who was interrupted in the middle of a penance ceremony. From her great shock and rapid movement, her head became separated from her body and flew off as an evil spirit. The creature was later heard whining on the roofs of houses where children were being born. She apparently wished to get inside the houses to drink the children's blood." (Konstantinos 24). They are also known to be "evil spirits that take possession of women and turn them into predatory witches" (Stevenson 96).

"Just to confuse matters, it is also believed that sorcerers can often raise bodies from the dead and command them to do their bidding...such beings could drink blood or spread disease. Malaysia was a case in point for many of these vampires" (Curran128). Vampires in Malaysia are terrifying and mournful creatures. "Such demons may have served in part to frighten women into upholding the responsibilities of wifedom and motherhood, lest they, too, become monsters" (Stevenson 84).

Kopiruba kawagu,

Read the blog article about Malaysia, monkeys, and malaria.

Bush, Laurence C. Asian horror encyclopedia: Asian horror culture in literature...
Curran, Bob. Vampires: a field guide to the creatures that stalk the night.
Folklore Society (Great Britain). Folklore.
Konstantions. Vampires: the occult truth.
Stevenson, Jay. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vampires.

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