Boo you to Sleep!

One distinct difference of my childhood from current times were the absence of mobile devices and cable TV to distract us in our homes. We, the kampung (village) children, after dinner would be found sitting on the patio amongst the older folks who would chat about their day’s experience or happenings. These folks had a captive audience in us and when we seemed restless, they would begin to rattle us with their tales. I would not say they were our favourite storytellers but they did send shivers down our spines.

One of the tale was “Orang Minyak” (means oily man in Malay). This slippery man would prowl in the middle of the night peeping through the open windows of houses to find any women asleep in the room so he can molest her. He was supposedly naked but during that era, having only a pair of shorts on would have the same impact. This Orang Minyak (OM) would be covered with black oil from head to toe so he could not be easily spotted at night.

There were no tall buildings in the kampung and houses were made of wood with zinc roof. Kerosene lamps were used as electricity supply was still progressing and we had a single light bulb for each room in the house. Windows were usually left open as electric fan or air-conditioning was uncommon. So when a woman’s scream was heard in the middle of the night, they would say the OM had struck again. The woman who screamed would recount that someone had touched her while she was asleep and when asked to describe the perpetrator, she would say, “It was a dark shadow that jumped out of the window” or “I could only see his teeth” or “… the white of his eyes”. The next day, the victims would find their clothing, bed sheets and curtains stained with black oil. This tale made many female folks afraid to sleep near the window or to walk alone at night for fear of being pounced upon by the elusive and slippery OM. Ironically, this tale made it to movies and TV series and was popular. I would like to add a photo of the OM but it was too dark to spot him 🙂

Another tale that was scarier was the kampung version of a vampire. She or it or whatever, was known as “Pontianak”. This character or thing is complicated as there were several versions from different countries. However, I will share the kampung storytellers’ version. Pontianak can be described as a female ghost wearing a long, white, flowing gown and has long, unkempt hair that covers most of her face. She also had long fingernails and ugly teeth with fangs. Well, there were plenty of examples on google images so here’s one that fits closely to what was described to us and yes, it made it to the movies and TV too:


We were told that the Pontianak resides in banana trees which caused us children to steer clear away from any banana trees at night. The way she would appear to humans would be as a very beautiful woman but that would be when she had a nail embedded in her head. This nail is those metal ones you used to hammer pieces of wood together. When that nail is pulled out from her head, she would transform into Pontianak and need to feed on human blood. How would she do that? Same as vampires!

There are stories you cherish in your childhood but these were not the ones. They left an indelible memory of cringe worthy tales that adults `lavished’ on us when they think the children were bored. The adults were good storytellers or tale spinners of the kampung and they enjoyed spooking the life out of women and children. However, my favourite storytellers are Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, Jeffrey Archer and John Irving to name a few but they were not as spooky as Snoopy.


When I reflect on the sinister side of those tales, I could come up with a few explanation. For example, the nights can get pretty warm so sleeping near the windows were best. The OM tale was one way of getting the women away from the choice spot. Fruit trees were often pilfered and banana trees were important food source in the kampung. Keeping children away from it by saying it was the residence of Pontianak would go a long way for the owners.  What do you think?

Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight


9 thoughts on “Boo you to Sleep!

  1. You may be right about some of those initial motives. But there is also something about the innocence and gullibility of children that prompts adults to tell them silly stuff. My Dad told me that peanuts were squirrel poo and thought it hilarious when I believed him and wouldn’t eat peanuts for the longest time. I don’t know what this is in people, or why it gives some elders such pleasure.
    Of course the downside of this nonsense comes later, when adults want to tell the children serious things like “Drugs will fry your brain” or “Someday you will regret doing this/ wasting your money on this.” Then they wonder why the kids don’t listen.

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    • Hahaha… yes, what you said is so true. Sadly this is happening even today and some of the children grew up believing these tales and pass it on to the next generation.


  2. Creepy stories Teresa. Loved them!
    I think these ghost storytelling is a remnant of an ancient tradition of putting fear into women and young children to keep them safe. The men then can rest peacefully at night knowing that his most vulnerable kin are too scared to go looking for trouble. A very passive aggressive way to impose discipline.
    WhatI find remarkable is how similar the “ghosts” are around the world!

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  3. stories when we were young, they will remain for as long as we remember them. you should start thinking of writing a novel based on your childhood experiences. i see that you have a lot of characters and materials to play with. all you need is something that will pull them all together.

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