Pontianak by Nambai

Posted by Mrs Giggles on November 26, 2007 in 3 Oogies, Book Reviews, Nonfiction

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Pontianak by Nambai
Pontianak by Nambai

Ameen Kreatif, RM12.90, ISBN 978-983-3991-30-3
Spiritualism, 2007

The pontianak is the closest thing the folks in the regions of Malaysia and Indonesia have to a Malay vampire, and even then, they aren’t really vampires. As the author Nambai puts it, the pontianak doesn’t necessarily drink blood. Rather, she is a ghoulish undead of a woman who died during pregnancy or childbirth. There are several variations of the pontianak legend, with some said to be able to take on the form of a beautiful woman to lure her male victims to their death, but there are several constants. One, the pontianak is always female, never male, and two, if you drive a nail through a hole at the back of a her neck, she will transform into – or assume permanently the guise of – a beautiful woman who will do every bidding of the man who, er, nailed her.

If you ask me, the pontianak folklore seems like an excuse for folks back in the old days to indulge in sour grapes. Oh, that beautiful woman who outshone the other women and rejected the affections of so many men only to marry that hideous but wealthy old man? She had be a pontianak! But there’s no denying that the pontianak was a staple of Malay horror movies back in the 1950s and 1960s, although more often than not she was portrayed as an innocent woman turned into one by the foul misdeeds of a jealous rival or rejected suitor as much as she is an ugly woman who sold her soul to dark spirits for beauty, and was turned into a pontianak when she inevitably failed to perform the daily ritual to maintain her beauty.

Therefore, it is to the author’s credit that he managed to actually spin a few interesting takes on what is arguably the most famous monster figure in Malay spiritualism. Like his other books in this series, he mixes anecdotes of supposedly true ghostly encounters with more “factual” pontianak 101 stuff. The English used is a combination of British English and charmingly awkward colloquialisms that are just oh so Malaysian.

Unfortunately, the title of this book is misleading. Only a third of this short book deals with the pontianak, the rest are actually either rehashes of topics covered in previous books (hantu bungkus again?) and spotlights on other supernatural entities in Malay folklore such as the orang bunian (unseen folks who are generally harmless until we inadvertently offend them by accidentally stepping on their invisible toes or something). Still, the tale of some guys hoping to get rich by entrapping a hantu bungkus is hilarious.

To enjoy Pontianak, you will need to overlook some of the promises made by the packaging of this book. Not everything here is about it, and if you are expecting a whole book full of in-depth lore, you are going to be writing the author an irate email. The “survival guidelines” are equally superficial, so don’t expect much there, too. What this book has are anecdotes that aim to entertain rather than enlighten. If you can adjust your expectations, you may find this book an amusing diversion as much as I did.

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