USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘pontianak’
Folk Beliefs
general
Myths

Ghosts in Banana Trees in Malaysia

Description

Informant reported that their mother told them, “Don’t hang near the banana trees in Malaysia because ghosts live there.” Their mother grew up there and heard it from her Aunts. She describes the origin of this piece of folklore as having come about due to the amount of plantations in Malaysia, therefore people created this story to ward kids off of them, as they would play near the trees.

Context

Informant is a secondary receiver of the folklore, whereas their mother experienced this in action — she would be taken near plantations and told not to stick around, while my informant only received the warning when about to go outside and play with other friends. It was less of a warning while in Malaysia, but rather a general warning before going outside.

Analysis

I think this is an interesting anecdote that had to have started way back when, perhaps when children were hanging out too much in Malaysian plantations. It could have started due to malicious circumstances with a landowner getting fed up with children stealing from the plantation and therefore killing him, or it could be more lighthearted than that. I think a lot of different cultures have sayings such as these.

I did some research and found something called the “pontianak,” which is a female vampire ghost in Malay mythology. These are said to be spirits of women who died while pregnant, and my informant thinks this saying about Malaysian banana trees has roots with this mythical figure. Further reading can be done at the citation below:

Skeat, W.W. Malay Magic. New York, Macmillan and Co. Ltd, 1900. Print.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Tales /märchen

Pontianak

Pontianak is a female ghost, or the Southeast Asian equivalent of the vampire. A woman could become a pontianak by committing suicide upon discovering that her husband is cheating on her, or if the woman dies during pregnancy. They live on banana trees, and there are many banana plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. When I was a kid, my grandmother would warn me not to get too close to banana trees. Or don’t look up when you’re near a banana tree. They like to hang upside down too. I’ve never seen one and I haven’t known anyone who’s seen a pontianak, but they’re usually seen by village folks. Pontianak have long black hair, long fangs, and a white dress, and they usually haunt only men. They don’t suck blood like Western vampires do, but they suck out your organs.

The informant grew up hearing stories about the pontianak. The legend of this creature could be a reflection of expected gender roles in Malaysian and Indonesian societies, and also fertility and faithfulness.

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