By Susan Tam | Yahoo! Malaysia Newsroom – Tue, Jan 3, 2012
~ Hantu Penanggalan
A flying head with long hair and dangling stomach sac and intestines.
This is the image of the most horrifying type of vampire known in Malay and Indonesian folklore - the Hantu Penanggalan, a vampire that thirsts for the blood of a newborn baby.
The demon — described as a ghostly head dismantled from its body gets its name from the root word "tanggal", which means to disengage.
There are different versions of how her head was separated from her body, but all versions share the same story about her origin - the Hantu Penanggalan was a result of a beautiful woman dying at childbirth.
Two versions of how the separation process or "penanggalan" happens.
The first involves the death of a beautiful woman after becoming disengaged or "tanggal" from her baby during childbirth. Mediums and black magic practitioners would dig up bodies of these women to create the Hantu Penaggalan.
"The medium or bomoh will use the blood of the dead mother to call or seru its spirit to form this vampire," University Malaya's associate professor Datuk Zainal Abidin Borhan told Yahoo! Malaysia in an interview.
The Malay animism expert explained that the medium or bomoh could become masters of the Hantu Penanggalan if they made yearly offerings to it.
This vampire could appear as an ordinary woman in the day, and turn into the ghastly being by nightfall. Some believed she disguised herself as a midwife to give her access to newborns.
The second dismantling process or "penanggalan" takes place when the woman's head becomes disengaged from her body when she turns into a Hantu Penanggalan.
Carol Laderman, author of Wives and Midwives: Childbirth and Nutrition in Rural Malaysia, wrote that there were two accounts on how the vampire's head separated from her body.
The first involved a woman studying black magic with the devil or syaitan. She was taught how to disengage her head to fly around and hunt for women in labour.
The second was about a woman who desired supernatural powers and was told to bath naked in a large wooden vat of palm wine or vinegar. The practice of bathing naked was unheard of in a traditional Malay village, because women were expected to bath with a sarong to maintain modesty.
"When a man came upon her unexpectedly, she was so startled that, on trying to escape, she slipped and kicked her chin with such force that the skin split around her neck. Her head was tied to the intestines and separated from her body and flew off. Her internal organs' twinkled like fireflies through the night," wrote Laderman.
Malay folklore believers find that the Hantu Penanggalan usually sits on a roof or a tall tree, surveying the area for a child to be born. You could spot her if you happen to pick up the smell of vinegar.
~ Hantu Penanggalan - arguably the scariest demon in Malaysian folklore
Trapping or killing the Hantu Penanggalan is not easy, but Malay folklore believers suggest several practical measures to destroy this terrifying woman-vampire.
Ask any midwife (who is not a Hantu Penanggalan herself) on how to deter this vampire and they would tell you to keep knife or scissors nearby a newborn infant. The vampire fears sharp metal instruments as her entrails could get caught in them.
New mothers were advised to have a midwife who was skilled with chants that could be used to protect the infant from this vampire. The midwife would have to prepare a concoction made out of rice, salt, diced turmeric, tamarind and soot. Together with a special chant, this would prevent the mother and child from being victims.
Other remedies offered by the Malay community was to place sharp and thorny pineapple plants under the houses of women in labour, or scatter thorny Mengkuang leaves in the surrounding areas of homes of new mothers. The Hantu Penanggalan's dangling intestines would get caught in the thorny leaves and once captured, you could kill the Hantu Penanggalan with a machete.
If you're braver, follow the Hantu Penanggalan to find out where her body is. Before her head could return to the body, pour pieces of broken glass into the cavity, these bits of glass would cut her intestines when her head returns.