mythologies of MALAYSIA

Malaysian Mythology




Bès Rap

Hantu Babi (Malay), Pig Spirit

Bès Rap, “pig spirit”, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It lives in the deep jungle, at the roots of the pokok ara tree. It is particularly present during the tree’s fruiting period. Anyone who comes to collect fruit from the pokok ara is targeted by the pig spirit. It blows its saliva at them, causing them to get sick, foaming at the mouth. Only a poyang’s blessing can save them. The droppings of the pig spirit are equally noxious. The heat of its toxic stool penetrates the body of anyone who steps on them, seeping in through the toes and causing them to fall ill with bubbling, frothing saliva.

Bès Kotak

Hantu Kotak (Malay), Box Spirit

Bès Kotak, “box spirit”, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It is apparently box-like in appearance and is a river spirit that lives in the muddy hollows of rivers. When a person dives into the river to catch fish, the box spirit presses or sits on that person, causing them to become heavy, sink into the mud, and drown. Two or three days later the body will float to the surface, proof of the fate that awaits any who invade Bès Kotak’s domain.

Bès Pa’

Hantu Kotak (Malay), Pa’, Spirit Pa’

Bès Pa’, the Spirit Pa’, is a river jellyfish spirit that can expand to any size it wishes. It is usually found living in deep mud. Anyone who steps on a buried pa’ will fall into the mud along with the spirit. To prevent this, one must take a finely crushed mixture of iron rust and broken glass and sprinkle it over the offending muddy area.

Bès Bulan

Hantu Bulan (Malay), Moon Spirit

Bès Bulan, the Moon Spirit, lives with the moon; during the fruit season, it also lives on top of a small hill. When it calls – oi… oi… – it is trying to get people to eat, and anyone who hears it should avoid going deep into the jungle lest they be killed and devoured. At night the moon spirit descends to where the moonlight falls. If a sleeping child awakes and sees the moon shining through the roof, the spirit will cause the child to cry non-stop.

Bès Kěmwar

Hantu Ulat (Malay), Maggot Spirit, Riverside Maggot Spirit, Tip-of-Leaf Maggot Spirit, Caterpillar Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Jě’la, Hantu Ulat Duri, Thorny Maggot Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Sòk, Hantu Ulat Bulu, Hairy Caterpillar Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Těrbang, Hantu Ulat Terbang, Flying-Maggot Spirit

Bes Kemwar

The Bès Kěmwar, “maggot spirit”, is one of the many bès or disease spirits known to the Jah Hut of Malaysia. A polyvalent spirit, it is depicted as a maggot or caterpillar, with variants distinguished by hair, thorns, wings, and other details. It eats rice, vegetables, and other crops. It is responsible for aches in bones, joints, and muscles. If its caterpillar hair falls into water and that water is drunk, it causes coughing and bleeding in the throat. Maggot spirits are also known to live in rotten tree trunks and feed in them. Anyone who approaches the fallen tree will be bitten in the leg by the spirit, causing redness, swelling, and itching. All the toenails fall off but the swelling will be gone by two or three months. The riverside maggot spirit lives by the river and appears only during the jungle-fruit season in February. It flies onto the heads of old people and causes all their hair to fall off. The tip-of-leaf maggot spirit feeds on the leaves of coconut and rice. To prevent this attack on crops, a pawang must bless the plants with a pounded mixture of daun setawa and kunyit mulai, which is burned to ashes and scattered over the plantation.Bès Kěmwar Jě’la, the thorny-maggot spirit, lives on leaves. It causes restlessness and rheumatism.Bès Kěmwar Sòk, the hairy caterpillar spirit, lives on the tips of tree branches. Its hair drops into drinking water and causes irritation and swelling in the throat. This affliction can be cured by a poyang while in its early stages, but untreated victims will eventually die as they cannot eat or drink.Bès Kěmwar Těrbang, the flying-maggot spirit, lives in bushes and eats the leaves of the daun mengkirai tree. Its urine and stool falls on anyone who passes under the tree, causing the victim to become bald and swollen. In the evening it flies onto the roofs of houses and opens them up. Children seeing its eyes reflecting like mirrors will be terrified into crying. Burning daun-kesim keeps this nocturnal nuisance away.


Hantu (Malay)

The Bès are the evil spirits of the Jah Hut, an Orang Asli people from peninsular Malaysia. They are true spirits, existing independently and not emerging from humans alive or dead. The vast majority of bès, or hantu as they are known in Malay, are malevolent beings associated with disease. Far less numerous than the bès are the jin (underground spirits), nabi (guardian spirits), and kemoch (spirits of the dead). All the bès were created along with ‘iblis, the evil one, by Proman, God’s assistant, who botched the creation of the first man. Their great stronghold is a Pauh Janggi Bringin Sungsang, a “Giant Mango Tree Entwined by a Strangler Fig”, that stands beyond the ocean. From there they sally forth to cause all kinds of trouble. God allows it because the bès keep the world in balance, taking life that others may in turn live. Sickness is caused by the influence of the bès. This usually happens by night – while we sleep, our soul leaves our body and wanders in the jungle. A bès who finds that soul will prevent it from returning, and the owner of the soul will fall ill. Healing is the duty of the puyang or medicine man. It is their job to locate the missing soul and return it with the help of the good spirits, otherwise their charge will die. The běni’sòy ceremony is used in those cases. It involves drawing the evil spirits out of the body and transferring them into a palm leaf bundle brushed over the skin. Once the bès is trapped, the bundle can be safely disposed of. Spiritual wood carvings of the bès in question are made to help draw the evil spirit out. These carvings establish an iconography for the bès and allow us to see them as the Jah Hut do. The Bès are the evil spirits of the Jah Hut, an Orang Asli people from peninsular Malaysia. They are true spirits, existing independently and not emerging from humans alive or dead. The vast majority of bès, or hantu as they are known in Malay, are malevolent beings associated with disease. Far less numerous than the bès are the jin (underground spirits), nabi (guardian spirits), and kemoch (spirits of the dead).

Bès Bulong

Hantu Bulong (Malay), Bulong, Spirit Bulong

Bes Bulong

Bès Bulong, the spirit Bulong or simply Bulong, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It walks around by night. If it sees anyone walking about between midnight and 6:00 AM, it will pull out that person’s soul and leave them unconscious.

Bès Dangon

Hantu Punggong (Malay), Buttock Spirit

Bes Dangon

The Bès Dangon, “buttock spirit”, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It lives on the top of coconut trees, and the heat of its urine and stool eventually kills the trees. Anyone who tries to climb an inhabited tree is kicked back down.

Bès Jě’la Kòy

Hantu Kepala Berduri (Malay), Spiky-head Spirit

The Bès Jě’la Kòy, “spiky-head spirit”, is one of many bès or spirits from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It lives on top of termite hills and knows how long every person will live. If it judges that a person’s lifespan is too short, it will take them into the termite hill to be friends with it forever. A spiky-head spirit takes one person a year into its termite hill.

The Polong [Malaysian mythology]

Malaysia has an exceedingly rich folklore filled with many weird and dangerous creatures. Among them is the Polong, a tiny being that resembles a human woman except in size. It is about as tall as the top joint of a human’s little finger. They can fly at will. These creatures are malicious and dangerous, and enters the body of its victims. It is always accompanied by a supernatural cricket called a Pelesit, which serves as a pet or familiar. After the Polong has chosen a new human victim, it orders the Pelesit to enter the body, which it does tail-first. The Polong then follows.


The Mah Meri are an indigenous people from coastal Selangor in Peninsular Malaysia, who are known for their beautiful wood carvings which have gained UNESCO recognition, but they are also known for their dances. One such dance and accompanying song is the ‘kuang kuwait’, which features gentle backward strokes depicting flying foxes soaring across the sky. ‘Kuang’ is the Mah Meri name for flying fox (Pteropus), and ‘kuwait’ describes the graceful way it flies.


Zapin, the popular Malay folk dance in Johor, Peninsular Malaysia, has a ‘siku keluang’ (‘flying fox’s elbow’) dance step composed of wide, extended steps within the eight-beat phrase. This symbolises humility and a lesson in how one should not unnecessarily display one’s might, much like how a flying fox (Pteropus spp.) usually folds in its elbows when roosting, hiding away its majestic and spectacular wingspan of 1.5m. ‘Siku keluang’ is also the name of an artistic motif found in traditional Malay textiles such as songket and batik. If you look closely, this motif, which takes the form of an abstract zig-zag pattern, can be seen on the dancers’ beautiful costumes.


Sarawakian Iban culture in Malaysian Borneo features the large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus), known locally as ‘semawa’, as a traditional tattoo motif. Bats were believed to act as spiritual messengers to the upper-world for shamans during the Gawai harvest festival, and a bat flying into a house was a shaman bringing good vibes. This particular ‘semawa’ motif is an original and reimagined tattoo, featuring the Kenyah ‘usung dian’ (durian fruit) motif incorporated into the centre of the design to symbolise the special mutualistic relationship between flying foxes and durian trees! Kenyah people would tattoo the ’usung dian’ motif on their shoulders to give them strength when carrying out baskets of durian fruits from the forest. Can you spot the bat mirror image and the stylised durian fruit within it?

Malaysian Folktales

Malaysian folklore is the folk culture of Malaysia and other indigenous people of the Malay archipelago as expressed in its oral traditions, written manuscripts and local wisdoms. Malaysian folklores were traditionally transmitted orally in the absence of writing systems. Oral tradition thrived among the Malays, but continues to survive among Orang Asli and numerous bornean ethnic groups in Sarawak and Sabah. Nevertheless, Malaysian folklores are closely connected with classical Malay folklore of the region. Even though, Malay folklore tends to have a regional background, with the passing of time, and through the influence of the modern media, large parts of regional Malay folklore have become interwoven with the wider popular Malaysian folklore.

Among the popular Malaysian folk tales are as follows:

  • Anak Buluh Betung
  • Badang
  • Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup
  • Bawang Merah Bawang Putih
  • Bidasari
  • Buaya Sangkut & Upeh Guling from Johor
  • Bujang Senang from Sarawak
  • Bukit Melawati from Selangor
  • Bukit Puteri from Terengganu
  • Cik Siti Wan Kembang from Kelantan
  • Dang Isah Tandang Sari from Sarawak
  • Dayang Senandung
  • Gua Cerita from Kedah
  • Gua Kota Gelanggi from Pahang
  • Huminodun from Sabah
  • Laksamana Bentan from Johor
  • Lata Kijang from Negeri Sembilan
  • Mahsuri from Kedah
  • Mat Chinchang Mat Raya from Kedah
  • Monsopiad from Sabah
  • Naga Gunung Kinabalu from Sabah
  • Naga Tasik Chini from Pahang
  • Nahkoda Ragam from Penang
  • Puteri Buih
  • Puteri Gunung Ledang from Johor
  • Puteri Limau Purut from Perak
  • Puteri Lindungan Bulan from Kedah
  • Puteri Saadong from Kelantan
  • Puteri Santubong Puteri Sejenjang from Sarawak
  • Raja Bersiong from Kedah
  • Si Tanggang
  • Singapura Dilanggar Todak
  • Sri Rambai from Penang
  • Tasik Dayang Bunting from Kedah
  • Telaga Tujuh from Kedah
  • Tugau from Sarawak
  • Ulek Mayang from Terengganu
  • Upu Chendera Burung from Selangor
  • Walinong Sari from Pahang

Folklore of Malaysia

Folk traditions and writing practices of the Malay archipelago depict Malaysian folklore as well as other Asian and indigenous peoples living there. Folklore was traditionally transmitted via s were traditionally transmitted orally in the absence of writing systems. Traditional healers and shamans often use symbolic forms of folklore in order to help interpret the spirits’ moods. Among these are supernatural efforts to cure poisons, to heal humans by giving birth, and to ward off spirits by using the power of the supernatural. A Penang native, Nahkoda Ragam belongs to the family. A Puteri Buih meal is perfect. Gunung Ledang Puteri from Johor is better known locally. The Peruna Purut is crafted in Perak from fresh ingredients. Kraken. In maritime lore, we’re told that vicious sea serpents and scaly-skinned fish men dwell deep beneath the earth, but we rarely hear anything to fear, let alone the mighty kraken.

Malaysian Myths of Powerful Princesses

Malaysian Mythology

Fairytale Princesses And Legends

Common Myths of East Malaysia

List of Ancient Myths in Malaysia

Naga Seri Gumum
Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang (Sarawak)
Puteri Gunung Ledang

Malaysian Mythology

Malaysian mythology is a diverse mix of influences – the original animism of the islands, then Buddhism and Hinduism from the 1st century onward, then finally Islam from the 14th century onward. As such, folk religion is a blend of numerous different belief systems, with people seeing little problem intergrating them into a more-or-less cohesive whole.

Twelve Mak Yong stories that are considered complete, original and of sufficient artistic value are:

  • Dewa Muda
  • Dewa Pencil
  • Dewa Sakti
  • Dewa Indera, Indera Dewa
  • Dewa Panah
  • Endeng Tejali
    • Anak Raja Gondang
    • Batak Raja Gondang
    • Bongsu Sakti
  • Gading Bertimang
  • Raja Tangkai Hati
  • Raja Muda Lakleng
  • Raja Muda Lembek
  • Raja Besar Dalam Negeri Ho Gading
  • Bentara Muda
  • Animal Stereotypes: Malaysian fables frequently star an animal called a mouse-deer, regarded as heroic and skilled at overcoming obstacles.
  • Attention Deficit… Ooh, Shiny!: The weakness of the toyol is that they can be easily distracted with coins, marbles, buttons, toys or sweets.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: The Orang mawas, a 10-feet tall jungle-dwelling ape. Santu sakai are now often regarded as such.
  • Blob Monster: The orang minyak (oily man) is a cryptid made of crude oil, who can shape-shift between human and oily man form. It has been depicted in numerous Malaysian films and at least one Hong Kong production.
  • Blood Magic: A variant of Familiar referred to as a polong can be conjured by keeping the blood of a murderer in a jar and chanting spells over it for seven to fourteen days. Once created, it has to be fed on blood from its master`s neck.
  • Cannibalism Superpower: One of the proposed ways to become a weretiger is to drink a potion made of a corpse`s innards.
  • Cultural Translation: Common in Malaysian versions of Hindu epics such as the Ramayana, with priests becoming Malay shamans.
  • Familiar: Ghosts often function as this, taking the form of animals, being kept in jars, offered food and attacking people the sorcerer dislikes. They are commonly compared to shikigami in that they are a spirits belonging to a person and passed down through the family line.
  • Frazetta Man: The santu sakai in more traditional depictions- a race of hairy, degenerate mountain dwellers who descend after heavy rainfall to raid villages and kidnap people to eat.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: How to defeat a puaka, a pig demon with a razor-sharp tongue. When running across a stream, the puaka will attempt to lick up the water on itself and in the process will slice itself to pieces.
  • Horny Devils: The Orang Minyak an Urban Legend about an oily black spectre who rapes women at night.
  • Our Banshees Are Louder: The Lang Suir, ghosts of mothers who died in childhood who perform this role in Malay culture. They can fly and turn into owls, eat fish and be turned into humans by plugging the whole in the nape of their neck.
  • Our Elves Are Different:: The Orang Bunian, a race of beautiful but invisible people with a society parallel to that of humans.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Ghosts are referred to as hantu, usually function as Familiars, are frequently kept in jars and eat food. Some specific variants:
    • Bajang, vampiric ghosts of stillborns in the form of polecats who eat milk and eggs and are blamed for pregnancy difficulties and the death of children.
    • Hantu Raya, superhumanly strong doppelgangers of their master.
    • Pelesit, ghosts of stillborns in the form of crickets who eat saffron rice.
    • Pontianak vampiric ghosts of mothers who died in childbirth who appear as hideous women with long fingernails and like Lang Suir can be turned into humans by plugging the hole in the nape of the neck.
    • Toyol, thieving ghosts of babies who appear as naked babies and can be distracted with coins, marbles, sweets, toys or buttons.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: In modern representations toyol are often given pointed ears, large fangs and brown or green skin.
  • Our Vampires Are DifferentPenangalannan, witches whose head detatches at night, entrails dangling as it flies off to look for victims. It can be killed by burning the body, stuffing the insides with glass or exposing it to sunlight.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: The Santu Sakai, a degenerate tribe living in the highlands who can turn into apes with huge mouths and spiked underarms.
    • Weretigers (referred to as Harimau Jadian) can be created through a variety of means, from chanting a spell while wearing a tiger skin to drinking a broth made from a corpse`s entrails. They are usually heroic and help to protect crops.
  • Power Perversion Potential: One of the stated uses for the hantu raya {a ghost that is physically identical to its master) is adultery, with it posing as the sorcerer while its master is off sleeping with another man`s wife.

    Malay folklore

    Malay folklore refers to a series of knowledge, traditions and taboos that have been passed down through many generations in oral, written and symbolic forms among the indigenous populations of Maritime Southeast Asia (Nusantara). They include among others, themes and subject matter related to the indigenous knowledge of the ethnic Malays and related ethnic groups within the region.

To the orang asli, the “original people” who have for millenia inhabited the forests of Malaysia, the earth was an abode for more than the diversity of plant and animal life. The world’s oldest jungles, dense with mystery, were the playground of spirits, both benevolent and, well, less so. Prominent natural features–and there are many in Malaysia–were wreathed in legend. Tioman Island is said to have been a dragon princess who decided to make her home where Tioman now rises out of the sea. Tranquil Lake Chini in the wilds of Pahang is thought to be the site of a magnificent Khmer city now sunk beneath the lotus blossoms. Mount Ophir, in Johor, is said to be the home of ‘Puteri Gunung Ledang’, a legendary princess once wooed by the Sultan of Malacca. The princess’ beauty is still associated with the natural charms of the mountain itself. Langkawi Island has no such creation story, but the curse laid on the island by a princess falsely accused of adultery is one of the best-known of Malaysia’s magical myths.



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