Indonesian Ghosts & Spirits!

Anyone who has lived in Indonesia must have heard at least one ghost story. There is never a shortage of stories from people who claim to have met these other-worldly creatures themselves and even more about such encounter that happens to that friend of a friend’s friend. These stories are part of the fun in any camping trip and have been the subject of countless television series and movies.

“Getting to know” the ghosts
Indonesia has a rich ghost lore, with some of the scariest creatures in the world. One of the more popular characters is the Kuntilanak, who is the ghost of a pregnant woman who died while giving birth. Described as a beautiful woman who carries the scent of Frangipani flower, the ghost of Kuntilanak haunts the villagers to seek revenge. She is said to often walk on deserted streets to target and kill young men who let their guard off.

Another classic character is the Genderuwo, who is part of the Javanese myth of spirits and jinn. He is described as an ape-like man who reveals himself only when he is disturbed. Widely known in the island of Java, the mythical creature is referred to by the locals as the devils.

The myth of Wewe Gombel is another one that is rooted in the Javanese tradition. The name Wewe means Grandma and Gombel means disheveled. According to the myth, she is a ghost who scares children who wander at night, making her a very popular figure among parents who want to keep their children from roaming outside. She is also said to kidnap children who are abandoned or abused by their parents and will not return the children until the parents have learned their lesson.

Another popular folklore is Tuyul, a mischievous and ugly child who steals money from people. He has the ability to change forms and is kept by people who practice black magic.

Favorite ghostly hang out places
So where does one go to make better acquaintance with these creatures from the netherworld? Jeruk Purut Cemetery in Jakarta is a good place to start. The resident ghost of this cemetery is a pastor who walks around carrying his own head and followed by a black dog. Another good place is Pelabuhan Ratu, which is also located in Jakarta. The myth surrounding the place is related to the legend of the Queen of the South Sea, who jumped off the cliff and into the sea where her ghost still remains there. If anyone wearing green swims in the sea, the queen’s ghost will pull them into the water.

In Semarang, there is Lawang Sewu, whose name translates into ‘thousand doors’ (and aptly so because the building does have a great many doors). Here is where the bravest may go if they want to test themselves. Built by the Dutch in the 19th century, the place was used as a prison by the Japanese during the war in the 1940s and has undoubtedly witnessed many gruesome things during that period. Expect an encounter with the many headless spirits who like to wander along the corridors or maybe get to know the young Dutch lady who chose to end her own life there. The building has recently been renovated in an attempt to brighten up its image and may soon be transformed into a commercial hub with retail shops, offices, food court, and fitness center.

These ghost stories may have their beginning as a way to deter people from doing undesirable things that are dangerous or socially frowned upon. However these stories have outlived their original usefulness and are still as popular as ever. Some people see them as a harmless fun, while others take them more seriously and get involved in various practices to harness the power of the unseen to their advantage. The world may change but some things are here to stay.


More spirits of Indonesia:

Pocong The c is pronounced ch so it sounds like Pochong

A Pocong is a spirit of a person whose soul cannot leave the earthly realm. In Islamic traditions when a person dies their body is wrapped in a shroud with the arms, legs, neck and top of head tied together. In some places the body is left like this so people can pay their respects before burial. It’s believed that the soul of the person inhabits this world for 40 days after death before moving on and if the knot at the top of the head isn’t undone the body jumps from the grave and hops around to warn people that the knot is still tied. The spirit doesn’t do anything except hop around (as it’s legs are still tied) and is relatively harmless, except for scaring the crap out of you. It’s popularised by the “hop hop hop” sound that it makes as it moves. There is also a belief that the pocong can appear from place to place. One story that was related to me had the person closing and opening his eyes, each time the pocong appeared closer to him

The 2000’s was booming business for Pocong with many films and tv shows being released, most notably was Pocong (2006) which was banned in Indonesia for being “too scary” (I have been told that during production actual spirits were caught on film which is the real reason for the ban) The popular culture version of pocong involves it being under the control of a black magician trying to get revenge on someone who has either wronged him, or he has been paid to do it.

Friend of a Friend Encounter

One story I’ve been told by a friend involves a friend he knew. A group of them were staying in an old dormitory due to work training. This friend is Balinese (who are ‘known’ to be very spiritually open) and one night while everyone was sleeping he woke up and needed to use the bathroom, but he saw a pocong at the end of the room. He closed his eyes and opened them again, and it had moved, this time closer to him. Each time he closed and opened his eyes it would be closer and closer, appearing in between the beds of the dorm. He opened his eyes one more time and it was next to the bed opposite him. He closed them one final time and waited several minutes before deciding he really needed to use the bathroom. Opening his eyes he saw the empty room. With a bit of relief he headed out the hall very timidly keeping an eye out for the pocong, but it wasn’t anywhere to be found. Reaching the bathroom, he opened the door only to see it standing there, staring at him. Scared he screamed and shut the door. He opened it a few minutes later but it was gone.

Kuntilanak Also known as Pontianak

Kuntilanak is the spirit of a woman who died while pregnant. As with many spirits, she is believed to be a reasonably attractive pale woman with long black hair and wearing a simple white gown that may or may not have blood stains on it. I’ve heard three different stories behind Kuntilanak, in all three she lives in a tree (traditionally a banana tree, but not always so) and you can hear her high pitched laugh at night (some say baby cries, but both are similar) the differences lay in what she does.

The first tales involve her coming down and kidnapping children to feed on. Which sounds like a tale told by mothers to children to keep them inside at night time.

The second tales are about her bewitching men and killing them by ripping open their stomachs and feasting on the insides. Either because the man stumbled across one, or because of a woman scorned wanting revenge. A lot more graphic than the children’s stories…

The first two tales seem to share a lot in common with the Malay version of Pontianak, but as with many of these tales all stories tend to come together and merge until it’s hard to separate the spirits.

The third types of tales are similar to vampire stories that it is able to transform into a bird and fly, and it drinks the blood of virgins and young women. It sounds like a tale told to keep young “innocent” people inside away from the dangers out.

The kuntilanak is known for its laughter/cries coming from the tree it’s in. If the sound is loud it means it is far away, but if it is very quiet it means it is close.

Although not common I have heard of stories about people becoming possed by a kuntilanak spirit, though I’m not convinced it is a kuntilanak but another spirit. In one story, a male was possessed by the spirit of a kuntilanak and half of his face which was in shadows took on a feminine appearance complete with a red eye. Although I was told it was a kuntilanak, I believe it was a lang suir, who is known to have red eyes.

There is a childrens rhyme that you can sing to summon a kuntilanak if you desire.

Protection It’s believed that if a pregnant woman carries a nail, a knife or scissors while traveling, she will be protected from the kuntilanak.

Differences The Malay Pontianak has a hole in her back and if it is plugged up she will become a normal woman, who is able to live a normal life. If the hole is unplugged she will return to her killing ways. There is a spirit in Indonesia named sundel bolong which translates to prostitute with a hole in her who is a woman who died while pregnant and gave birth from the grave, or while giving childbirth and the baby was cut from her back.

There is so much public superstition about these spirits that recently a tree said to be home to a kuntilanak was cut down. Article here!


About Andrew

Co-founder & lead investigator of Paranormal Encounters. I've experienced the paranormal all my life, having encountered ghosts, angels and demons. I live in a haunted house and when not exploring and researching the unknown, I enjoy single malt Scotch whisky & potato chips (though not necessarily at the same time).