Pontianak: The Blood Sucking Female Vampires of Southeast Asia

In the small towns and villages of Southeast Asia, a terrifying folklore burns like fire amongst the citizens. They call it Pontianak and it’s something I quickly learnt about during my trip. Introduced to me by a teenage boy – I quickly learnt this was something everyone knew about, and also very afraid of.

The Pontianak is a female vampiric ghost that haunts the darkness of Malaysia and Indonesia. The same mythology also exists in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, however, it’s called Churl, or Churayl. The word ‘pontianak’ is a corruption of the Malaysian perempuan mati beranak, or ‘woman who died at childbirth.’ Mantianak simply means “death of a child.” The city of Pontianak in Indonesia is named for the vampiric creature, who is said to have haunted the first sultan who once settled there. The Pontianak is often confused with a related creature, the Lang Suir. The difference between the two is their origin story. In Malay lore, the Pontianak is described as originating from a stillborn child; however, the Lang Suir is the ghost of a woman who died during childbirth.

Pontianak Indonesia
Pontianak, Indonesia

Pontianaks are usually depicted as pale-skinned women with long black hair, red eyes, and white dress smeared in blood – but they are said to be able to take on a beautiful humanly appearance, since they prey on men and helpless people. In folklore, a Pontianak usually announces her presence through high-pitched baby cries. Some believe that if you hear a dog howling at night, that means the Pontianak is near, but if a dog is whining, that means the Pontianak is very close. Her presence can sometimes be detected by a nice floral fragrance identifiable as that of the plumeria, followed by an awful stench afterwards. The Indian version, the Churail, can be identified by her feet turning backwards just before her transformation into her vampiric form.

Pontianak in 1958 Malaysian film ‘Blood of Pontianak’

A Pontianak kills her victims by digging into their stomach with her sharp fingernails and devouring their body organs. In some cases where the Pontianak desires revenge against a male individual, she rips out the body organs with her hands. It is said that if you have your eyes open when a Pontianak is near, she will suck them out of your head. Pontianak locates her prey/victims by sniffing out the hanging laundry outside. For this reason, some Malaysians refuse to leave any piece of clothing outside of their house overnight. The Pontianak is also associated with banana trees, and her spirit is said to reside in them during the day. Many children and mothers will often avoid these trees, telling me that they hold bad spirits and should be removed with machetes. To fend off a Pontianak, a nail should be plunged into the hole on the nape of her neck. This is said to make her turn into a beautiful woman and a good wife until the nail is removed.

The have been multiple sighting of the Pontianak all over Malaysia and Indonesia. Although none can be confirmed as true, many videos began making their way on YouTube. The folklore is strong, although it cannot be proven to exist, the monster still manages to frighten people through the humidity.

Modern depiction of Pontianak



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Filmmaker, cult movie record collector, playing in a variety of punk bands. Lives in Sydney, Australia.

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Syazwan AhmadV Jonathan FacileCrystal RoseMatthew CrouseAbraham Herdyanto Recent comment authors
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Syazwan Ahmad

Mohd Nabil Asyraf

Crystal Rose

V Jonathan Facile

V Jonathan Facile

Well that’s getting a bit too literal lol

Matthew Crouse

Crystal Rose

Abraham Herdyanto

Yudhistira Purwa Anugrah

Ghaliz Filkhair Haris

in indonesia we call this kuntilanak

Tal Lee

Grew up with these stories and even as an adult now if someone says Pontianak I start running

Charles Garey

Kaptain Carbon