Penanggalan: A Disembodied Ghost Head with Entrails Still Attached

The disembodied head of the penanggalan with entrails dangling below. Art by DoctorChevlong.

A penanggalan is a witch from Malay culture. The penanggalan is said to be able to detach its head from its body and float around in the night, searching for menstrual blood to drink.

The Legend of the Penanggalan

The penanggalan is known by several different names in South East Asia. It is known as leyak in Bali, balan-balan in Sabah, palasik in West Sumatra, kuyang in Kalimantan, kra-sue in Thailand, kasu in Laos, manananggal in the Philippines, and ahp in Cambodia.

A penanggalan is created when a witch meditates in a vat of vinegar with only her head exposed. Using a special technique the witch is able to separate herself from her body and float around as a disembodied head with her organs dangling underneath.

A penanggalan can be discovered once she has returned to her body as she will always have a strong vinegary smell about her.

The penanggalan goes out in this form under the cover of darkness seeking menstrual blood to drink. The creature also likes to consume fluids from the birthing process.

The penanggalan will hide under the house of her victim until everyone in the home is asleep. When the coast is clear she will use her long tongue to lap up the blood of the new mother or the menstruating woman.

According to the legend anyone who has had their blood consumed by a penanggalan will contract a wasting disease that is almost always fatal. Anyone that comes into contact with the pananggalan’s exposed entrails will develop painful, weeping sores. These sores can only be healed by a bohmoh, a Malaysian shaman.

How To Protect Yourself from a Penanggalan

The thorny leave of the mengkuang plant can be scattered aroudn the home to cause damage to the exposed organs of the penanggalan. The vines of this plant can also be wrapped around windows and doors to injure the penanggalan if it tries to come inside.

A pregnant or menstruating woman can also keep scissors or betel nut cutters under her pillow to ward off the penanggalan.

If you find the body of a penanggalan while she is out hunting you can kill her by pouring broken glass into the empty neck cavity or by simply burning the body. You can also turn the body over so that when the penanggalan returns, her head will be back to front, revealing her identity to the whole village.

A video covering the Penanggalan in depth

Have you ever seen a penanggalan? Let us know in the comments!

If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in La Siguanaba or Toyol.

Further Reading

Malay Spiritualism by Folklore History Series. Get it on Amazon.

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