December 7, 2011, Note: I originally wrote this as a creative piece based on the folklore of the Penanggalan. I have since seen it quoted on various websites(this page is even referenced in the Wikipedia entry for 'Penanggalan'). While most of what you see here is based on the folklore, some of it was made up by me- elements of a Penanggalan story I was fiddling with but never got very far. To, I hope, prevent the further spread of disinformation, the sections made up by me will be in RED(like this text). Sorry for helping make the internet such an unreliable resource! - Kurt Komoda
The Tale of the Penanggalan
The Penanggalan is a rather obscure female vampire that comes to us from Malaysian folklore, its legend tenuously handed down through the gauntlet of time, leaving us with only a tattered remnant of its original horrific glory. Foul in both appearance and behavior, the Penanggalan consists of a woman's head that floats through the air with its entrails hanging below it. Yet, this is where the stories vary.
The Penanggalan seems to have full control over her organs, using them as an octopus manipulates its tentacles, yet this fact is often overlooked in descriptions. The Penanggalan would use her entrails (primarily her small intestine, because of their length) to perform a variety of common mechanics, as well as using them to constrict her prey. The strength and vulnerability of her organs has never been examined in full, but they must be well beyond that of a normal being, lacking the warm, protective outer casing that we all enjoy.
The origin, or transformation, from a normal woman to the Penanggalan also differs somewhat from tale to tale. The most common and widely accepted is this: a woman, while seated in a large wooden vat, used for holding vinegar distilled from the sap of the thatch palm (menyadap nipah) performing a religious penance (dudok bertrapa), is interupted by a man who asks what she is doing. She is so utterly startled that she jumps up, her head literally popping off of her body. The severed head, along with the entrails, which follow it through the neck opening, flies up into a nearby tree, shreiking. Ever since then, she existed as the Penanggalan, an evil spirit that has a certain weakness for newborn blood.
Here is a list of the variations and embellishments on the classic tale that I've heard so far:
-It is important to remember that the items on the above list do not all coexist within the same version of the tale. Today's version of the Penanggalan is probably differs greatly from its original telling. The version you hear will vary from one person to another. There are many gaps in the story, as you can see. Today's gaps are tomorrow's embellishments. I, for one, am not satisfied with the original tale. Quite plainly, it doesn't make much sense. Somewhere, something has been lost. Such is folklore.
1Hugh Clifford, "In Court and Kampong," London, 1897.
2Dr. W. W. Skeat, "Malay Magic," London, 1900.