Folk Beliefs

The Hantus in the Banyan Trees

Informant: There’s these things in Singapore, they’re called Hantus, they’re basically ghosts. So because Singapore was part of Malaysia at some point, a lot of our culture has to do with Malaysian culture. There’s this story about Hantus where, around Singapore, there’s a lot of these trees called Banyan Trees. These trees have huge stems, and are super wide. There are a ton of roots that hang from their canopies down.

Because of these roots, Banyan trees are very dark, especially at night. Their canopies are thick, so light can’t get through them, and the stems obscure everything else.

There’s this legend that when you go into the forest at night and you see all of these Banyan trees, you’re not supposed to shine light up into them, or like, if you have a flash, you’re not supposed to shine it into the top of the trees, and you can’t touch the hanging roots either. If you do, these ghost things, these Bantus, jump out of the trees and will “get” you.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US, but originally from Singapore. This legend was told to me by the informant in a college dorm room.

Background: The informant heard this belief from some of his friends, who also claimed to have seen the eyes of Hantus in the canopies of the Banyan trees. The informant doesn’t believe in this superstition, but he did mention that several people had gone missing among the Banyan trees around Singapore. To him, it’s simply a way to scare people and keep them from flashing lights around at the trees in the dark.

Analysis: I personally am not sure there are any supernatural forces at work. Like my informant said, this instead sounds like a common superstition, a classic superstition to make the native Banyan trees more mysterious, and also to dissuade people from harming them, in fear of such Hantus. What caught my attention was that this legend seems to be centered very specifically around Singapore, where Banyan trees are especially numerous, but it still heavily draws on elements of Malaysian superstition – Hantus. In this way, the use of both is a great symbolic representation of the shared cultural heritage between Singapore and Malaysia.

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