Spinning Yarns – Shivering spines

What makes a good storyteller, in your opinion? Are your favorite storytellers people you know or writers you admire?

There are many good storytellers and the millions of books and films are proof of this. Undoubtedly, those who charmed us were from our childhood days or when we were younger and have yet to understand the wiles of mankind in storytelling. In fact, I think children learn most or remember best through stories told by their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties or teachers. Generally, what adults tell them and this was where the spinning yarns rolled.

Growing up in a small village, we do not have mobile devices or a wide range of TV programmes to distract us. We often sit at a patio amongst the older people who would chat about their day’s experience or happenings in the neighbourhood. So when we, the children seemed restless, that’s when the yarn spinning begins, where legends were born and myths created. I cannot say they were my favourite storytellers but I can say that they sent shivers down our spines.

One of the tale was about “Orang Minyak” (Oily Man in Malay). This slippery man would prowl in the middle of the night peeping in the windows of houses to find any woman sleeping inside so he can molest her. He was only wearing shorts and covered himself with black oil from head to toe over all his body so that he could not be easily seen at night. That period of time, there were no high rise housing, only wooden houses and hardly any lights other than a kerosene lamp or a single light bulb to light up a house and windows of rooms were usually kept open as there were no electric fans or air-conditioning. Sometimes when you hear a woman scream in the middle of the night, they would say the Orang Minyak has struck again. The woman who screamed would usually say someone had touched her and when asked to describe the person, her reply would usually be, “It was a black shadow that jumped out of the window” or “I could only see his teeth” or “I could only see the white of his eyes”. Then when day breaks, they would find their clothing, bed sheets and curtains stained with black oil. This made many of the female folks in our village frightened to sleep near the window or to walk alone at night for fear of being pounced on by the elusive and slippery Orang Minyak. Interestingly, a movie and TV series were created based on this character.

Another story was, I would say a malay version of vampire and she or it or whatever female, was called “Pontianak” (the closest translation I can think for this malay word a female Dracula). This one is really complicated as there were many versions from different countries it seems. However, my kampung version will be what I can share. This Pontianak can be described as a female ghost-like character with long white flowing robe-like gown and she has long, unkempt hair that covers almost all of her face. She would have very long fingernails too and ugly teeth that looked like fangs. Well, google images have plenty of examples and the one here fits the bill closely:


She resides at banana trees. I have no idea why but we children steer clear away from any banana trees at night. The folklore would be that she was a beautiful woman when there was a nail pierced through her head. When that nail is removed, she would turn into Pontianak who needed to feed on human blood. There are some stories I love to remember for a long time and this one, I wished not to but it has been embedded from childhood, so I choose to keep it short.

So these were the good storytellers of my village and they all loved to spook the life out of women and children. My favourite storytellers would be Roald Dahl, Jeffrey Archer and John Irving to name a few. They are not spooky at all and so was Snoopy.


Spinning Yarns – DP


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