The Pontianak is a legendary creature that stalks the forests of South-eastern Asia at night, and is similar to vampires of Europe. Unlike vampires, pontianaks are all females and either died in childbirth or were killed by other pontianaks. "Pontianak" is a Malay word and means the same creature both in Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesian (variants of the same tongue). The story of the pontianak originates from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Women who died in childbirth in Asia (at least, the parts of Asia that I know) have always been regarded as tragic figures who left before they had fulfilled their task on earth. Being a superstitious people, nightly disturbances were often attributed to ghostly beings of darkness. It's possible that this was how the myth of the pontianak came into being.

Pontianaks were said to reside in banana trees. (I have no clue as to why this is so.) People who have reportedly seen pontianaks said that they wore long white dresses and had long hair. They possess the ability to fly (floating past windows in a mysterious way) and had sharp teeth (the better to suck your blood with, my dear).

The presence of a pontianak is often preceded by a strong whiff of frangipani, which are common trees in South-east Asia and bear flowers white in colour, the colour of mourning. One might also hear the cry of the pontianak, the loudness of which is said to be inversely proportional to its distance from you.

Pontianaks have no compulsion to eat neatly; they tear the victim apart and feed on the blood ensuing from the body. (Compare this to the neatness of the vampire -- just two tiny puncture holes on the neck is evidence of feeding.) They favour females, especially pregnant females who remind them of what bliss they had enjoyed before.

Although they have a tendency to kill only females (there has never been a male pontianak), they have no inhibition towards terrorising men as well. Many pontianak sighting stories in Singapore are about a male cab driver picking up a beautiful female passenger late at night, and upon reaching their destination (usually near a cemetery), discover that their passenger had vanished, leaving some dried leaves or Chinese "paper money" (commonly burnt as offerings to the dead) as payment. This is also why many cab drivers hang their favourite talisman in their cabs.

Pontianak-busting is similar to vampire-killing. First, the body must be located. It is dug up and a nail is hammered into the back of its neck. Glass beads might be stuffed into its mouth to stop it from screaming (it has the cry of a banshee). Eggs placed under its armpits and needles stuck in the palms of its hands stop it from flying. (I understand the part about the needles, but not the eggs; perhaps the pontianak has a maternal instinct towards eggs?)

Hammering a nail into the back of the neck is also said to turn the pontianak into a marriageable beautiful young woman, although I wonder who would be willing to marry someone with a nail in her neck. Removing the nail causes the pontianak to revert to her true self.

For other scary night creatures of Malay origin, see Toyol and Hantu.

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