Today we are taking a break from the ongoing narrative. Several podcasts tell spooky stories for their late October episodes, so this episode will look at myths and legends from Southeast Asia, especially those about monsters. You may not want to listen to this alone!
<Creepy sound effects>
Good evening. No, you did not download the wrong podcast by mistake. Let me get the opening credits out of the way first, and then I will explain.
Episode 76: Monsters of Southeast Asia
Greetings, dear listeners! In case you haven’t figured it out by now, we’re going to do something different today. I am recording this in the middle of October 2019; when Halloween approaches, some podcasters take time out from their usual topics, and tell spooky stories instead. For example, I have listened to podcasts about Egyptian and Chinese history, and their podcasters told spooky stories from those cultures.
Before we get into today’s content, I want to give a shout-out to Dean H., who made a donation to the podcast last week. Dean, this episode is dedicated to you. I hope you’re doing well as the seasons change, wherever you happen to be, whether it’s fall in the northern hemisphere, spring in the southern hemisphere, or the end of the rainy season if you’re in Southeast Asia itself. And may the monsoon winds blow in your favor, in the months that lie ahead.
Anyway, a lot of the monsters in horror stories are associated with specific places. Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are from Germany, Count Dracula and the Wolfman are from Transylvania, the Minotaur is from the island of Crete, the Yeti or Abominable Snowman is from Tibet, and while mummies were made by several cultures, the Mummy in horror stories usually comes from Egypt. So what kind of monsters do Southeast Asians tell stories about? Well, in this episode I will share an assortment of those stories. In searching for them, I found mythological creatures for every Southeast Asian country except two of the smallest ones, Brunei and East Timor, so the whole region of Southeast Asia is well represented here.
In the past, I ignored the inclination to tell scary stories in October. I could have ignored it this year as well, because as veteran listeners will know, lately this podcast has been covering the wars in Vietnam and Laos, during the mid-twentieth century. I can imagine some of you don’t want me to break off from the war narrative; you’re saying, “Oh come on, the Vietnam War is scary enough!” And the typical war is scary, without the need to add a supernatural element, but there was one even here.
In the case I am thinking about, American soldiers tried to scare the Viet Cong by playing on their fear of ghosts. The Vietnamese believed that if a dead person isn’t buried near the place where he lived, the soul will wander the earth, sort of like Jacob Marley’s ghost with the chains. So in a project the Americans called Operation Wandering Soul, they recorded an eerie voice that was supposed to be a dead Viet Cong soldier, and played the recording where they thought the enemy would hear it. A quote from The Tropic Lightning News, dated February 1970, reported how the recording shook up the Viet Cong. Quote:
“If you were a Wolfhound of the First Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, and were at Fire Support Base Chamberlain on the night of February 10 you might have sworn the place was being haunted by poltergeists, ghosts that is. The moans, groans and weird sounds began at eight that night, a likely time for the cloudlike forms to reveal themselves. Of course, ghosts are nonexistent, or are they? In this case the ghosts and weird sounds were furnished by the Sixth PSYOP Team and the S-5 Section of the 1/27th Wolfhounds who were conducting a night mission at Chamberlain. With the help of loud speakers and a tape of ‘The Wandering Soul,’ a mythical tale of a Viet Cong gone to Buddha, the mission was a success.
The Wandering Soul is a tape about the soul of a dead Viet Cong. It describes the wandering of this soul about the countryside. ‘The dead VC tells his comrades to look at what has happened to his soul and that he will never be at rest, always wandering,’ said Captain William Goodman of Philadelphia, the battalion S-5. ‘Buddhists believe very strongly that if they aren’t properly buried and properly mourned, their soul will wander through eternity,’ added First Lieutenant Peter Boni of Boston, the officer in charge of the Sixth PSYOP Team. ‘We play upon the psychological superstitions and fears of the enemy. The method is very effective,’ Boni said.”
I assume the Viet Cong were supposed to believe that if they were killed in action, they would suffer the same fate as the dead soul they heard. But they did not always run away when they heard the tape. In fact, helicopter crews reported receiving heavier fire when playing the Wandering Soul tape and they would even use it to goad Viet Cong ground troops into shooting at them. One swiftboat reserve lieutenant even recalled how the Wandering Soul tape got their boat pelted with rockets, so they switched to blasting Tina Turner songs — for some reason the Viet Cong stopped shooting when they heard the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the middle of the night.
Podcast footnote: It just occurred to me that one of Tina Turner’s songs is appropriate to play in a war zone – “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” Unfortunately the swiftboat crew couldn’t play that hit, because it was recorded in 1985, a full decade after the Vietnam War ended. End footnote.
<Tina Turner sound clip>
Okay, the Vietnamese believe in ghosts, but so do many people from other cultures. Let us look for some monsters that are truly unique to this part of the world. We will try to visit one country at a time, but we can’t stick to that itinerary because there are cases where people in more than one country believe in the same monster.
Even the little city-state of Singapore has a monster to call its own, the Merlion. We are starting here because I told Singapore’s story already, in Episode 11, so for those of you who didn’t hear it, here is a summary. Singapore was founded in 1299 by an Indonesian prince named Seri Teri Buana; in fact, he was the last prince of Indonesia’s first important state, Srivijaya. The prince came to an island with a fishing village called Temasek, which means “Sea Town” in Javanese. Because Srivijaya was no more, he was looking for a place to establish a new kingdom for himself, and while hunting here, he claimed he saw a lion. However, lions have never lived in Southeast Asia, and the animal Seri Teri Buana described sounds more like a tiger. Still, the prince took this as a sign that this was the place for his kingdom, so he took over the island, and changed the name of Temasek to Singapura, meaning the Lion City; from Singapura we get the present-day name, Singapore.
Now fast-forward to the twentieth century. When Singapore became independent, a subject we will cover in a future episode, the Merlion was invented to be the national symbol. As you might have guessed from the name, this creature looks like a lion from the waist up, and a fish from the waist down. As far as I know, there are no myths or legends behind the merlion; Singaporeans will tell you that the lion part represents the modern city, and the fish part represents the original village, Temasek. Personally, I like to think that the fish part of the merlion also represents the seaborne commerce with other nations that has made Singapore rich. Today five statues of the merlion stand in Singapore, and they are the city’s most famous landmarks.
Myanmar, formerly Burma
Next, we will visit the country farthest to the west. As you might expect, because Myanmar contains many ethnic groups, they have plenty of myths about monsters, too. I counted twenty-seven different monsters in the Wikipedia article on Burmese monsters. Some of these, like the nagas, originally came from Hindu mythology; we saw in the earliest episodes of this podcast how important India was in getting Southeast Asia’s civilizations started. Others, resembling crocodiles and snakes, were probably inspired by the wildlife living in the wide Burmese rivers. For instance, when I submitted to Google the phrase “Monsters in Myanmar,” one of the entries I got back was a photo of a one-hundred-pound catfish, caught in the Salween River. Finally, the Burmese carve statues of an animal called the Chinthe, and put them at the entrances of their pagodas. Supposedly these are lions, but they look more like dogs; obviously the first chinthe was carved by a sculptor who never saw a lion up close. You may remember a British guerrilla unit called the Chindits in Episode 48; they were named after the chinthe.
The most famous Burmese monster is the Belu, an ogre with fangs and shapeshifting powers. This is the Burmese version of an Indian monster, the Rakshasha. Belu appear in the Yama Zatdaw, the Burmese version of the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic, and they are also important characters in a series of stories about the Buddha called the Jatakas. They are called Pan-kike Belu if they are evil and eat people, while Panswé Belu eat flowers and fruits, and are generally considered good.
Because the largest communities in Laos are all along the Mekong River, the chief monster of Laos, appropriately, lives in the Mekong. This is the Phaya Naga, a river serpent that protects the nation’s capital, Viangchan or Vientiane. As you can tell from the name, this is a variation of the Hindu naga. Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Vietnam also claim to have nagas within their borders.
One of my sources suggested that the Laotians got the idea for the Phaya Naga from the oarfish, a giant, rarely-seen fish that looks like a sea serpent. I don’t think so myself, because the oarfish is an ocean fish, and it has never been seen in fresh water. Remember, Laos is hundreds of miles from the sea. Occasionally, in the part of the Mekong next to Laos, fireballs rise from the water and burst; these range in size from just sparks to basketball-sized balls of flame. Laotians used to believe the Phaya Naga produced these fireballs, but it now appears they are bubbles of methane gas, produced by fermentation at the bottom of the river.
In a lot of countries, people used to believe in dragons. One of those countries was China; because the Vietnamese people originally came from China, and because they got most of their culture from China, it should not surprise any of you that the Vietnamese used to believe in dragons, too. In fact, I already told you about it in Episode 8 of this podcast, where I mentioned that the present-day capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, was founded on a stretch of the Red River where an eleventh-century emperor claimed he saw a dragon.
The Vietnamese have another important dragon legend going way back beyond the beginning of their long history.
<Troglodyte sound clip>
All right, not THAT far back, but far enough in the past. In Episode 4 we saw that the Vietnamese claimed the oldest kingdom in Vietnam was named Van Lang, and it was supposedly founded in 2879 B.C. According to Vietnamese legends, the second king of Van Lang, Lac Long Quan, enjoyed a long reign of 269 years, from 2793 to 2524 B.C. Yes, I know the dates I threw out are probably not accurate, but they will have to do until someone can come up with a better chronology. If these dates are correct, it means that Lac Long Quan ruled while the ancient Egyptians were learning how to make a big pile of stones and call it a pyramid.
Anyway, like other legendary founders of kingdoms, Lac Long Quan is credited with heroic deeds; the Vietnamese claimed he slew a great fish and a nine-tailed fox that were killing his people. In fact, all the people had to do was call his name or “Father” and he would appear to help them. But what interests us here is Lac Long Quan’s ancestry. His father was Kinh Duong Vuong, the first king of Van Lang, of course, but his mother, Long Mau Than Long, was a dragon goddess that ruled the sky and the ocean.
One day Lac Long Quan met an incredibly beautiful woman, an immortal mountain fairy named Au Co. It was love at first sight, and they got married immediately. Au Co became pregnant shortly after that, but instead of giving birth to a baby, she produced a large sack of eggs. This grew larger and larger until the seventh day, when it burst and 100 children were born to the dragon lord and his fairy wife. Each child already had one of the 100 Vietnamese family names.
This instant royal family lived in harmony after that, but there was one problem. Because Lac Long Quan was part dragon, and Vietnamese dragons are water reptiles, he needed to live near water, while Au Co was homesick for the mountains she came from. In the end they separated, but stayed married. Lac Long Quan took fifty of the children and moved to a beach, where he taught them how to survive around the sea – how to fish, how to sew, how to cook rice, and how to wear tattoos to scare away sea monsters. Meanwhile Au Co took the other 50 children and moved back into the highlands, where she taught them to raise animals, grow fruit trees and to build homes on sturdy bamboo stilts. Still, the king and queen continued to watch over their country for the rest of their lives. And that is how the Vietnamese explain where ethnic Vietnamese and the country’s hill tribes came from. You may want to compare this with what I said about the hill tribes in Episode 70.
Speaking of hill tribes, the Vietnamese also believe in a manlike creature. Sightings of it come from the remote parts of Vietnam, especially the Vu Quang nature reserve. The Vietnamese name for these creatures is Nguoi Rung, or “forest people,” and they are described as being about four feet tall, covered with hair, and pot-bellied. More sightings have been reported in Laos and North Borneo; Laotians call the creature Ujit, while Malaysians call it Batutut.
A French colonist in Vietnam reported seeing the creature in 1947, and called it an homme sauvage, meaning wild man. Some tribesmen in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam claimed to have captured two Nguoi Rungs in 1971. In 1974 a North Vietnamese general, Hoang Minh Thao, requested an expedition to find evidence of the creatures, but it found nothing. Then in 1982, Professor Tran Hong Viet of Pedagogic University of Hanoi, reported that he found mysterious man-like footprints in 1970; they measured 28×16 cm., or 11×6 inches, and he made casts of them. You can say this is the first hard evidence found so far, for the Vietnamese equivalent of Bigfoot. All the way back in Episode 1 of this podcast, I mentioned that teeth from a prehistoric ape, Gigantopithecus, were found in Vietnam; is it possible that Gigantopithecus is still alive today?
Thailand has a legend about a couple with names that rhyme, Mak and Nak, who were deeply in love. When Nak was pregnant, her husband Mak was sent away to fight in a war, and while he was gone, Nak and her unborn child died. As bad as this sounds, Mak returned home to find his wife and child alive and well. They lived together happily for a while, but eventually Mak realized, through a mixture of rumors from his neighbors, and some strange things happening at home, that he was living with two ghosts. Mak fled to a temple, because Buddhists believe that supernatural beings like ghosts are not allowed on holy ground. Nak was enraged so much that she haunted the region of Phra Khanong. This sounds like a job for the Ghostbusters, and sure enough, an exorcist captured her spirit in an earthenware jar and tossed it into the Menam River.
<Ghostbusters sound clip>
Like many legends, this one has more than one ending, because it has been told many times by many people.
Ending number one: Nak later escaped when a fisherman accidentally pulled her jar out of the river, so she is now at large again.
You didn’t like that ending? Okay, here is ending number two: This one starts out with Nak escaping, like in ending number one, but a famous nineteenth-century monk, Somdej Toh, recaptured the soul, trapped it inside some of the bones from Nak’s body, and made the bones into a wrist band. This may sound gross, but I have heard of other cases where Buddhists made beads for necklaces and wrist bands out of human bones, to remind themselves that nobody lives forever. At first the monk wore the wrist band, but later, for safe keeping, he passed it on to the Royal Family of Thailand. So if you want to see the wrist band today, the king has it.
Did you say you wanted a happy ending? Maybe you will like ending number three: Here Nak escapes again, and Somdej Toh captures her again, but this time the monk tells Nak that if she lets herself be reincarnated, she can be reunited with Mak in their next life. Convinced, Nak leaves this world in peace.
Phra Khanong, the area where this story took place, is a neighborhood in the heart of present-day Bangkok. Today there is a shrine to Nak here, called the Mae Nak Shrine, and women go there to pray for favors, such as successful births. Most of all they pray that their husbands will be left at home, meaning they won’t be forced into military service, so maybe in Thailand, peace depends on this holy place.
If any of the monsters on this list are real, the best candidate is from Cambodia, the Kting Voar or snake-eating cow. It is described as looking like a cow, but with spotted fur and twisted horns about 20 inches long. There have been reported sightings in Vietnam as well, and the Vietnamese call it Linh Duong. However, this is also the name for a goatlike antelope living in Vietnam, what we call the serow. The best evidence available for the kting voar’s existence is a set of horns found by a biologist, Wolfgang Peter, in a Ho Chi Minh City market. The horns looked so strange to Peter that he declared in a 1994 paper that they must belong to a new species. Another Vietnamese antelope, the saola, was only discovered in 1992; I am assuming that the horns Peter found look nothing like saola horns, which are long and slightly curved.
Cambodians also believe in elflike creatures called Mrenh kongveal, which look like human children, and spend most of their time guarding animals, especially herd animals like elephants. People living in or near the jungle may leave offerings in baskets for the mrenh kongveal, when seeking their help. Hunters will leave offerings if they want a successful hunting trip, especially if the goal is to capture young elephants or water buffalo, while farmers will leave offerings to keep those same animals away from their crops. It was once believed that the mrenh kongveal were nomads, wandering in the jungle, but today they are seen as supernatural guardians, associated with a specific person, place, or institution. They will protect or offer guidance to their benefactors, either through telepathy, which sounds like whispering, or by influencing dreams. They can only be seen by children between the ages of 6 and 14 who are "pure of heart," and some Cambodians claim they saw mrenh kongveal when they were kids.
Before we leave Cambodia, I will introduce you to Southeast Asia’s most gruesome monster. What amazes me is that most of Southeast Asia believes in this one. Cambodia calls it the Ap, Laos calls it the Kasu, Thailand calls it the Krasue, Malaysia calls it the Penanggalan, Bali calls it the Leyak, and the Philippines call it the Manananggal. We will use the name ap here because it is the easiest to say and spell, having only two letters. In most places, the ap looks like a beautiful woman with a normal body in the day, but at nightfall she becomes a disembodied flying head, with a bloody mess hanging down from it, made up of her spine and internal organs. A mysterious red glow appears just before the ap becomes visible, and she smells of vinegar because she has to clean her entrails with it and stuff them back into her body when morning arrives. The myths go on to say that the ap eats blood and fetuses, and that her favorite snack is the guts of pregnant women. Southeast Asians believe that they can keep the ap away from their houses by planting thorny vines around them, because these dangly heads with equally dangly entrails don’t want to risk getting caught in the vines. There are two ways a person can become an ap. First, women who practice too much black magic can be turned into an ap as punishment for their wicked ways. Second, a person can turn into an ap by ingesting the saliva of another ap. So if you think the person offering you food, a drink, or a kiss is an ap, I recommend you politely refuse her offer, and get away as fast as you can.
The Filipino version of the ap, the manananggal, looks different in that it resembles an old but attractive woman, instead of a young one, and she has bat wings to fly with. When she goes flying she has to separate at the waist, and leave the bottom half behind. The good news is that if you find the bottom half, you can kill the whole creature by covering the bottom half with salt, garlic or ashes. Next, I will tell you where to get the garlic – the Philippines has a myth about that, too!
Once upon a time there lived a beautiful young girl, and her mother made arrangements for her to marry the son of one of the richest people in the land. Unfortunately, the girl was so beautiful that a rival suitor murdered her fiancé. And as we all know, romances that lead to murder start blood feuds, violence causes more violence, and that rival was, in turn, killed by the dead fiancé’s exceptionally loyal slave. The girl couldn’t stand being the reason for all these deaths, so she climbed a sacred mountain and screamed at the heavens, directly to Bathala. Before the Spaniards and their missionaries came to the Philippines, the Tagalog people believed in many gods, of which the most important was Bathala, the creator of the universe. Anyway, the girl pleaded for Bathala to take her away so that her beautiful face will cause no more deaths. In the fashion of hairy thunderers from other myths, Bathala killed her instantly with a lightning bolt. Her body was retrieved by her mother, who buried her and cried, watering the grave with her tears.
Not long after that, the mother was tending her daughter’s grave, and noticed some grass-like plants sprouting from it. Thinking these were just weeds, the mother pulled them and noticed that they grew from seeds that looked like her dead daughter’s teeth. Then out of the sky, she heard a supernatural voice boom, saying, quote: “Those are your daughter’s teeth.” Unquote. The mother gave thanks, knowing that Bathala had given her something that would remind her of her beautiful, tragic daughter, so she planted the seeds all over her land to help spread the memory of her daughter. And that is where garlic plants came from.
Podcast footnote: My Filipina wife uses garlic in her cooking all the time, so it makes sense that the Philippines has a story about garlic. It is also appropriate that the story has a mountain in it, because the only place you can grow garlic in the Philippines is in the mountains; the lowlands are too hot. End footnote.
When it comes to monsters, the Philippine specialty is the Tikbalang, or man-horse. This is not like the centaurs of Greek mythology. I think of them as reverse centaurs, because they have the head of a horse and the body of a man. In addition, the tikbalang is ten to fifteen feet tall, has hooves at the end of its legs instead of feet, and its arms and legs are much longer than those of an ordinary human, so much longer that when a tikbalang sits in a squatting position, its knees are higher than its head. My sources suggest that the tikbalang was inspired by Hindu mythology, because a Hindu god, Hayagriva, is also portrayed as having a man’s body and a horse’s head. Or maybe the Filipinos got some strange ideas about the first horses Spain brought to the islands, because they had never seen horses previously.
Some believe the tikbalang is the spirit of an aborted fetus, sent back to earth for a second chance at life. Legend has it that the tikbalang is not a malevolent creature looking for people to kill, but a mischievous trickster. They are known to scare travelers, or give them directions that cause the travelers to keep returning to the same place, no matter how far they go or what direction they go in. Some versions of the myth claim that the tikbalang can also change its appearance or become invisible, to deceive its victims some more. If you think the person you are walking with is a tikbalang in disguise, the best way to tell is by the smell of tobacco around them – tikbalang love to smoke cigars. If a tikbalang rapes a woman and she becomes pregnant, she will give birth to another tikbalang. Parents in the Philippines will scare their children with stories about the tikbalang, to keep them from going outside at night.
Because there are many versions of the myth, they also give you many ways to control or outwit a tikbalang. One says a tikbalang cannot trick you if you wear your shirt inside out, another says you may make yourself immune to tricks by asking a tikbalang’s permission to pass by. And tikbalang are terrified by stingrays, so if a tikbalang is lurking on your property, placing a stingray’s tail where the creature can see it will cause the creature to leave. However, the most effective way to subdue a tikbalang is by jumping on it and holding on until you can get at its mane, before it can throw you off or kill you. One version of the myth says you need to pull out the three thickest spines in the mane, and make them into a talisman; another says you have to pluck three golden hairs from the mane. Either way, if you can do it, the tikbalang will serve you for the rest of your life.
Malaysians tell a fairy tale about a 4,000-foot-high mountain on the Malay peninsula. When the British were in charge, they called the mountain Mt. Ophir, after a mysterious, wealthy kingdom mentioned in the Old Testament, but today it is known by its Malay name, Gunung Ledang. According to the story, a beautiful fairy princess lived on the mountain, and vowed to never take a husband. Naturally, many men saw this vow as a challenge. One of them was the sultan of Malacca, Mahmud Shah. He was already married to a princess from Java and a princess from China, but he felt that if he married this princess as well, he would have a wife unlike any other.
Accordingly, the sultan sent his finest warriors to the mountain, led by his best soldier of all, Hang Tuah, to deliver the marriage proposal. On the mountain, they encountered strong winds, singing bamboos and clouds close enough to touch, which kept them from climbing it. However, one of the warriors, Tum Mamat, made it through these obstacles, and he reached a beautiful, lush garden where he found four women. When he gave them the sultan’s proposal, the women abruptly vanished. The warrior stayed there for the night, and at one point during the night, a withered old woman appeared before him. She gave the warrior a list of things the princess demanded; the sultan had to make all of these before the princess would accept his proposal:
1. A bridge of gold running from Malacca to the mountain.
2. A bridge of silver that also ran from Malacca to the mountain. In case you’re wondering, the distance between Malacca and the mountain is 32 miles.
3. Seven trays of mosquito hearts.
4. Seven trays of flea or mite hearts.
5. Seven large clay jars of betel nut juice.
6. Seven large clay jars of virgin’s tears.
7. A bowl containing the blood of the sultan’s young son.
Obviously the princess gave these impossible demands because she did not want to marry the sultan. Once again, the legend breaks off into several different versions to explain what happened next. One simply says that the sultan could not meet the requests, and the princess has lived in a secret cave on the mountain to this day. Another says that the sultan fulfilled the first six requests, which caused the ruin of the Malacca Sultanate, but he would not give the bowl of blood because that would have meant killing his son. Personally I like this version, because history records Sultan Mahmud Shah as ruling from 1488 to 1511, making him the sultan when the Portuguese conquered Malacca; go to Episode 12 to hear what I said about that conquest. A third version of the story has the sultan approach his sleeping son with a dagger to get the blood. Before he could commit the deed, an image of the princess appeared, and she said that she could not possibly marry a man willing to wound his own son; then she vanished, and was never seen again. Still another version asserts that the two get married, another says that the princess has an army of sisters, and one even claims that the princess is the sultan’s own daughter.
In the islands of eastern Indonesia, the chief monster is the Orang-bati, meaning “man with wings.” Described as five feet tall and a combination of half-monkey, half-bat, this creature claims the island of Seram as its home, but there have also been reports of sightings on the surrounding islands. If you were scared by the flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz,” you will want to stay away from this one! Supposedly its favorite food is children; it will steal kids from villages, and take them to its home in the local volcano to eat later.
When the first Christian missionaries came to this part of Indonesia, nearly five hundred years ago, the locals told them about the Orang-bati. One missionary, an Englishman named Tyson Hughs, claimed he saw one in 1987. We already know the world’s largest bat, the fruit bat or flying fox, lives in Southeast Asia, and I saw a photo on the Internet of somebody holding a fruit bat, claiming it was a captured Orang-bati. If the Orang-bati exists, it is either an oversized bat, or the world’s only flying primate.
Finally, Southeast Asia has its own vampire, and I saved it for last, because Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all believe in this one. It is called Pontianak in Malaysia and Indonesia, and Asuwang in the Philippines. However, for Filipinos, Asuwang is also an umbrella term that can mean ghouls, witches, gut-suckers, and werewolves as well as vampires; in short, the name is given to any creature that goes bump in the night.
The Pontianak is said to be the spirit of a woman who died while pregnant or giving birth. They are said to look like beautiful, pale-skinned women with long hair. The way you can recognize one is that they have red eyes and always wear white clothing. Besides looking for blood, the pontianak may use her long fingernails to rip open a victim’s stomach, so she can feast on the internal organs. It is said that a pontianak is nearby if a baby cries softly or a dog whimpers; you know one is around if you first smell a flowery fragrance, then a horrible stench.
On the west side of Borneo is a modern city of half a million people named Pontianak. Supposedly it got its name because the sultan who founded the city in 1771 was haunted by these creatures, until his army drove them away by shooting cannonballs at the site; then the sultan built a mosque and his palace right where the monsters had their nest. Even so, many Southeast Asians don’t want to speak the word “pontianak,” out of fear that it might summon one of those monsters.
I mentioned near the beginning of this episode that American soldiers in Vietnam tried to make the Viet Cong think ghosts were close at hand. In the Philippines, during the Hukbalahap Rebellion, Americans did the same thing with vampires. In case you don’t remember, we covered this conflict in Episode 62, and America’s man on the spot was Edward Lansdale, the CIA agent we introduced in that episode. Lansdale’s favorite tricks were psychological ones, and here is his account of how he spooked the communist rebels by staging a fake asuwang, or vampire attack. Quote:
“To the superstitious, the Huk battleground was a haunted place filled with ghosts and eerie creatures. A combat psy-war squad was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of an Asuang living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to make their way up to the hill camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along the trail used by the Huks […] When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol, their move unseen in the dark night.
They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the Asuang had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on that hill. When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity.”
End quote. Where’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer when you need her?
<Creatures of the Night sound clip>
All right, have I spooked you enough with these stories? Next time we will return to our narrative about another scary situation – the Second Indochina War. At this point, I’m not sure if we should resume coverage of the war in Vietnam, or finish covering the war in Laos first. But don’t worry, I will have made my mind up by the time you hear this.
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Maybe you’re saying, “I cannot give right now. What else can I do to help?” I’m glad you asked! You can rate the podcast, on the website or app where you download or listen to it! And maybe write a review, while you’re at it; reviews attract more potential listeners. And if you’re active on Facebook, “Like” the History of Southeast Asia Podcast Page, so you will catch the content I share that’s related to the show, like pictures, videos, and articles. At the end of the previous episode, I noted that the page had been liked 493 times, and I asked you to give it enough likes to make that 500. Well, you did it! As I look at the page now, the number of likes is exactly 500, so thank you again for your support! And finally, tell others about the show; you never know who may be interested enough to give it a listen. When it comes to advertising, the simplest kind, word of mouth, is still the most effective. That’s all for today. Thank you for listening, and pleasant dreams.