There are many supernatural beliefs in Malaysia or Singapore. Much more than any other Asian countries as far I hear. I think one of the reasons is because this part of Asia is where a lot of people migrated over to at the beginning of the last few centuries, not only from Asia but from all over the world, even Europe, so bring along with them the supernatural beliefs, all mixed together and there you have it, one of the most ‘Haunted Place’ on earth. Quite simply, they have the Indian cultures, the Chinese cultures, the Dutch and the Portugese who colonized would had spiced them up with their fair share. Ok now the Malay beliefs in ghost can be very widespread and strong. The main, I suppose, senior ghost was the Pontianak. Certainly, this is the most famous, scariest and violent ghost in the Malay culture. Primarily, the Malays believed that it originates from a still born child, women who die while giving birth, women killed by the Pontianak or who had their spirits captured by them. Tradition demanded that those who died in childbirth had to have specific treatment to keep them safe from this monster. These included putting glass beads in the corpses mouth so that they can’t shriek, placing eggs under the corpses armpits so that they can’t fly and putting needles in their palms so that they can’t fly.
Another spirit with strong influence was the hantu raya which is a shape shifting ghost. Usually, this ghost doesn’t use its natural ability. This is a ghost with a master and its purpose is to give its master wealth and riches. The owner is responsible for taking care of the ghost until his death. He must also make arrangements for the ghost when he dies and leaves it alone.
I suppose the ghost I most wished to meet was Hantu Tetek. It bears this name which means ‘Breast Ghost’. This ghost is a female ghost and has a huge breasts. She uses her breasts to attack its victim making full use of her huge breasts to suffocate them. Some says, the Hantu Tetek’s breasts are at the back instead of the front. This really sounds like some sort of male dream ghost; certainly, I have always thought that breasts at the rear would be a far more convenient and exciting location.
The one ghost that I did come into contact with was Orang Minyak There are several version of the orang minyak (literally means ‘oily man’). According to history, Satan offered to help and grant worldly desires if the “orang minyak” raped 21 girls within seven days and worship Satan as a God. They covered their nude body with oil so that it would be difficult for anyone to catch them. Although recent oily men were definitely human, there were countless stories of the supernatural and black magic orang minyak.
In 1957 I was serving in the very young country of Malaysia at a Army HQ in Seremban. The local town was quite small but had a large proportion of Europeans based there. In addition to the military, there were State administrators and civil servants together with rubber estate managers. Crime was almost unknown but over a short period of time there were increasing reports of burglary. These appeared to be the work of someone very skilled at their job. Most European bungalows – all homes occupied by whites were referred to as bungalows regardless of the number of floors – had window grilles and sliding grille doors at the main entrances. The intruder seemed able to bypass these at will leaving no sign of how this had been done. Those homes that had dogs were not safe either. The animal would be fit and well the morning after an intrusion and had not made any alarm during the night.
Once in the house, the ‘ghost’ would carry out a thorough search for valuables. One slept lightly in the heat of the tropics in the absence of air-conditioning but none of the victims recalled being disturbed. Any especial hiding place – money under the mattress for example – would be robbed. Within a very short time, the intrusions and thefts were attributed to our old friend the hantu. Hantu ryah was initially the chief suspect given that he could change shape Dracula-like and waft through grilles. Alarm amongst the Malays was turning to hysteria and the Malaysian police asked for our help. Examining some of the grilles showed that the locks had been opened using some form of pick lock and re-secured using a similar method. So, we had eliminated ryah but then suspicion turned to the oily man. This was a theory more capable of acceptance by Europeans as it was known that young men would coat their naked bodies in coconut oil and enter Malay homes to rape.
Senior level liaison resulted in a joint Army-Police operation. Road traffic blocks were established on all roads leading into Seremban. Police and infantry foot patrols were mounted within the accommodation areas and covert ambush points set up to watch for suspicious activity. Army tracker dogs were brought in. After about a week we had a result. A car containing three Malay men was stopped at a road block. When challenged, two ran off. As they ran, the Gurkha troops on patrol shot at them killing one man and wounding the other. The third man was arrested. On medical examination, the wounded man was found to have a penetrating wound to his chest which had passed through one lung. Because of suspicion that he had the talents of a minyak whilst obviously not a hantu, he was treated and then imprisoned in a police station. The third man said he knew his companions were ‘bad men’ but refused to say what sort of badness. He of course, insisted he was just a driver and innocent as the day was long.
On the morning after his detention, the wounded man was being taken back to hospital to have his wound checked and re-dressed. En-route, he managed to escape from the police car. His escape route took him right through the middle of the main Army camp where I was on duty. The guardroom advised me that an injured Malay male had run past their barrier into the camp. They knew not why. Almost immediately, I had a telephone call from the head of the special hantu-catching squad that their man had run off. To me, too much of a coincidence that there would be two injured men running about.
The camp was on the outskirts of the developed area of Seremban. There was an area immediately outside our wire that had been cleared of jungle, then there was a belt of secondary jungle where the trees and shrubs were growing back after clearance. Beyond that was the real ulu or jungle. No roads, no tracks, no people – just many miles of undergrowth and frequent streams. I realised we needed a tracker dog. The kennels were behind our office and I headed up there at some speed.
There was only one dog handler to be found. He was asleep and, after I woke him up, he told me that he had just come off duty and was exhausted. It was a number of years since I had a brief spell as a dog handler and that was a combat dog and not a tracker. However, I rationalized that the brains of this partnership would be the dog. I took one from its kennel and got it equipped to track. Such dogs know they are working when fitted with a harness and a long lead. We knew where the man had left the camp and our track started from there. My companion found a good scent – still so fresh it was in the air as well as on the ground. We moved at a fast trot. It is important to try and let the dog work at its own pace. I’d never known this one before but it seemed I had made a good choice as it was not a racer. Working in the jungle with a dog on a long lead had its own difficulty – I had to follow exactly in the trail of the dog or the leash would wrap around a tree and bring us both to a halt.
After about a mile, we came into a small native village or kampong. My rubbish Malay and their good English met and established that a man with his arm in a sling had come into the village a short while before. Their interest was kindled when I explained that the man was thought to be a pseudo-oily man ghost. They told me he had spoken to one of the youths who had gone off on a bicycle whilst the burglar ran further into the jungle. I followed. I was encouraged by the sight of fresh blood spots some of the villagers pointed out to me. We were about five minutes behind him. As I trotted along after him, now at a faster pace, I tried to think what had passed between the man and the departed cyclist.
We seemed to have moved into a swampy area. The ground was soft and there were numerous small streams. These slowed us down as we had to cast around to make sure our quarry had gone straight across and not followed the stream to put us off the scent. I reasoned he knew we were on his track or he would have sought rest in the first village. After about an hour we had only moved some miles from the village. We then entered another kampong – this slightly larger than the one we had left earlier. After more polyglot debate with full arm and hand movements, I was convinced that my quarry was the man people had seen getting into a car which had entered the village a short while before. Then I knew why the cyclist – he had been sent off to arrange the vehicle rendezvous.
The man was not recaptured. He returned to his own village – dead in the back of a car. His wound had become infected and he died of gangrene poisoning. Seremban had no more hantu of any sort. Unfortunately, my afternoon run with a dog must have scared off the large breasted lady. Although I saw many strange looking ladies in the dance halls – forerunners of the Thai lady-boys – none had their secondary sexual characteristics where they might have had a knapsack.
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