Anyone who has lived in Indonesia must have heard at least one ghost story. There is never a shortage of stories from people who claim to have met these other-worldly creatures themselves and even more about such encounter that happens to that friend of a friend’s friend. These stories are part of the fun in any camping trip and have been the subject of countless television series and movies.
“Getting to know” the ghosts
Indonesia has a rich ghost lore, with some of the scariest creatures in the world. One of the more popular characters is the Kuntilanak, who is the ghost of a pregnant woman who died while giving birth. Described as a beautiful woman who carries the scent of Frangipani flower, the ghost of Kuntilanak haunts the villagers to seek revenge. She is said to often walk on deserted streets to target and kill young men who let their guard off.
Another classic character is the Genderuwo, who is part of the Javanese myth of spirits and jinn. He is described as an ape-like man who reveals himself only when he is disturbed. Widely known in the island of Java, the mythical creature is referred to by the locals as the devils.
The myth of Wewe Gombel is another one that is rooted in the Javanese tradition. The name Wewe means Grandma and Gombel means disheveled. According to the myth, she is a ghost who scares children who wander at night, making her a very popular figure among parents who want to keep their children from roaming outside. She is also said to kidnap children who are abandoned or abused by their parents and will not return the children until the parents have learned their lesson.
Another popular folklore is Tuyul, a mischievous and ugly child who steals money from people. He has the ability to change forms and is kept by people who practice black magic.
Favorite ghostly hang out places
So where does one go to make better acquaintance with these creatures from the netherworld? Jeruk Purut Cemetery in Jakarta is a good place to start. The resident ghost of this cemetery is a pastor who walks around carrying his own head and followed by a black dog. Another good place is Pelabuhan Ratu, which is also located in Jakarta. The myth surrounding the place is related to the legend of the Queen of the South Sea, who jumped off the cliff and into the sea where her ghost still remains there. If anyone wearing green swims in the sea, the queen’s ghost will pull them into the water.
In Semarang, there is Lawang Sewu, whose name translates into ‘thousand doors’ (and aptly so because the building does have a great many doors). Here is where the bravest may go if they want to test themselves. Built by the Dutch in the 19th century, the place was used as a prison by the Japanese during the war in the 1940s and has undoubtedly witnessed many gruesome things during that period. Expect an encounter with the many headless spirits who like to wander along the corridors or maybe get to know the young Dutch lady who chose to end her own life there. The building has recently been renovated in an attempt to brighten up its image and may soon be transformed into a commercial hub with retail shops, offices, food court, and fitness center.
These ghost stories may have their beginning as a way to deter people from doing undesirable things that are dangerous or socially frowned upon. However these stories have outlived their original usefulness and are still as popular as ever. Some people see them as a harmless fun, while others take them more seriously and get involved in various practices to harness the power of the unseen to their advantage. The world may change but some things are here to stay.
This article originally appeared in Global Indonesian Voices, an independent online media written by Indonesians abroad