The pontianak is a vampiric ghost in Malay and Indonesian mythology. It is also known as a matianak or kuntilanak, sometimes shortened to kunti. The pontianak are said to be the spirits of women who died while pregnant. This is often confused with a related creature, the lang suir, which is the ghost of a woman who died while giving birth. The word pontianak is reportedly a corruption of the Malay perempuan mati beranak, or “woman who died in childbirth”. Another theory is that the word is a combination of puan (woman) + mati (die) + anak (child). The term matianak means “death of a child”. The city of Pontianak in Indonesia is named after this creature, which was claimed to have haunted the first sultan who once settled there.
Pontianak are usually depicted as pale-skinned women with long hair and dressed in white, but they are said to be able to take on a beautiful appearance since they prey on men. In his 1977 short story collection The Consul’s File Paul Theroux posits that the phantom is an invention of Malay wives who wanted to discourage their husbands from random sexual encounters with women that they met on the road at night.
In folklore, a pontianak usually announces its presence through baby cries. If the cry is soft, it means that the pontianak is close, and if it is loud, then it must be far. Some believe that if you hear a dog howling, that means that the pontianak is far away. But if a dog is whining, that means the pontianak is nearby. Its presence can sometimes be detected by a nice floral fragrance identifiable as that of the plumeria, followed by an awful stench afterward.
A pontianak kills its victims by digging into their stomachs with its sharp fingernails and devouring their organs. In some cases where the pontianak desires revenge against a male individual, it rips out the sex organs with its hands. It is said that if you have your eyes open when a pontianak is near, it will suck them out of your head. Pontianak locate prey by sniffing out clothes left outside to dry. For this reason, some Malays refuse to leave any article of clothing outside of their residences overnight.
The pontianak is associated with banana trees (pokok pisang), and its spirit is said to reside in them during the day.
To fend off a pontianak, a nail must be plunged into the hole on the nape of her neck. This is said to make her a beautiful woman and a good wife until the nail is removed. In the case of the kuntilanak, the nail is plunged into the apex of her head.
The Indonesian kuntilanak is similar to the pontianak, but more commonly takes the form of a bird and sucks the blood of virgins and young women. The bird, which makes a “ke-ke-ke” sound as it flies, may be sent through black magic to make a woman sick, the characteristic symptom being vaginal bleeding. In the female form, when a man approaches her she suddenly turns and reveals that her back is hollow, but this apparition is more specifically referred to as sundel bolong.
There are numerous sightings of the Pontianak/Lang suir all over South East Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Some of them are pranks and most of them are hoaxes. In August 2010 there was a video caught by a group of Malaysian Policeman PDRM in the town of Bentong, Pahang, Malaysia. The 2 minute long video does not show the apparition of the Pontianak in her full form.