Monster Month: Pontianak


Coming from Malaysia, the Pontianak is a ghost that is similar to Indonesia’s Kuntilanak.  Both of them kept coming up because they’re supposed to be similar.  Not sure how once I sifted through things.  So, we’ll touch on the second one near the end.

The Pontianak is a type of vampiric ghost that takes the form of a pregnant woman who cannot give birth.  They only appear under a full moon.  They have long, dark hair, red eyes, and wear white gowns smeared in blood.  Some areas call them white ladies who are vengeful spirits.  They lure men to them in order exact their revenge and getting a meal.  A Pontianak will drive their long claws into a victim’s stomach and eat the organs. They locate their prey by sniffing clothes that have been left out to dry.

There are some signs that a Pontianak is nearby.  A potential victim may hear an infant crying or a woman laughing.  If the sounds are quiet then she is nearby, but loud means far away.  Dogs can also be a warning.  Howling means one is around and not too close while whining means it is near.  There is a smell as well.  A potential victim will catch a whiff of plumeria flowers before smelling a rotting corpse.

So, where does a Pontianak come from?  Well, they seem to be vengeful ghosts of women who died during childbirth.  This is why they are pregnant, but cannot give birth.  It could also be that they died along with the child.  Some versions have it that they are carrying the baby who died and this is why they can’t give birth.  There is another aspect where the Pontianak was a pregnant woman killed by men, which is why it wants revenge.

The only other habit of the Pontianak that I could find deals with it being a nocturnal creature.  They hunt only under a full moon.  During the day and other nights, they hide in banana trees.

Here is where you get the sense that this creature had something to do with how women were perceived.  To subdue a Pontianak, you need to drive a long nail fully into a hole at the nape of their neck.  You need people to help subdue the ghost because it is incredibly strong.  The Pontianak transforms into a beautiful and good wife . . . Yeah . . . I’m sure good means obedient here.  Also, it goes right to wife and seems to forget about the pregnancy thing.  If the nail is removed, the ‘good wife’ returns to being a bloodthirsty Pontianak.  There’s some definite social commentary here.

As for the Kuntilanak, I don’t understand how these two are connected.  This specter takes the form of a bird and sucks the blood of virgins and young women.  They can make their targets sick with a symptom being vaginal bleeding.  If a man approaches the Kuntilanak while its in human form, it turns around to reveal it has a hollow back.  They can be subdued by jamming a long nail into the top of their head, which is the only real similarity that I could find.  Why does this one sound like an ancient culture’s attempt to explain a woman’s period?

The Pontianak is found in a lot of Malaysian horror movies.  I thought it was really interesting and then plain strange as I learned more.  Hope everyone else went ‘wuh?’ at least once here.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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24 Responses to Monster Month: Pontianak

  1. L. Marie says:

    Never heard of this one. But it makes sense that it would be a horror movie staple.


  2. It used to be so common that women died while birthing, I guess it makes sense that people would think of such a spirit.


  3. noelleg44 says:

    I had several ‘wuhs’ reading this. Perfectly horrible!


  4. elizaseymour says:

    Interesting blog series. I’m trying to write a story set in each country of the world, so I’ll be coming to you for inspiration!


  5. I went, “wuh?” a couple of times. I could see the nail as a way to subdue but the good wife? Nuh-uh. Good ones, Charles.


  6. V.M.Sang says:

    It does sound horrific. And, as you say, shows something of the attitudes toward women.


    • Yes and no after thinking about it a bit more. It looks like a big aspect of this ghost is that of a woman dying and seeking vengeance. Dying during childbirth may have been blamed on men because they got women pregnant. So Pontianak seems to be all about a woman getting revenge on men. I have a feeling the nail into a hole on the neck came later to allow some form of protection and reclaiming of power.

      Liked by 1 person

      • V.M.Sang says:

        Yes, and ‘subduing’ a nasty, vengeful woman and turning her into a ‘good’ and biddable wife I suppose gives the power back to me. Yuck!


      • The wife thing was strange. I get the subduing a murderous female ghost part because you need a defense. The wife thing feels like a wrong turn, but it’s an ancient myth from a different culture and time. No way to know for sure why that part came about beyond making modern day conjectures.

        Liked by 1 person

      • V.M.Sang says:

        Btw, that was supposed to say. ‘giving the power back to men’, not ‘to me’.😊


      • You know, it actually reminds me of the ‘woman tames the male monster and makes him human’ thing. That’s a fairly common theme where a monster regains his humanity because of the ‘love’ of a woman. Beauty and Beast is an example of this. The difference here seems to be the level of violence since the Pontianak is going around killing men and doesn’t seem to be killable itself. So, subduing seems to be it. Guess with men it’s by physical force and women it’s by emotional manipulation.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting thing is that most folklore ghosts seem to be either women or can be both. Men don’t seem to be turned into specific ghosts with any powers. Headless Horseman is the only example I could find easily. Guess men simply just die and stay dead even if we’re brutally murdered.


  7. This one is just weird. Asia has some scary ghosts.


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