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Traditional Ghosts in Indonesia

Indonesia—like most countries—has many folk tales, myths and dubious characters (i.e. ghosts).  Javanese in particular are very superstitious people, who will often sleep with the lights on to guard away evil spirits.

Today, quite randomly, English club diverted into talking about ghosts—though it does fit in appropriately with Halloween and Dia de los Muertos in Ecuador—and the girls eagerly shared a few of the “traditional ghosts” in Indonesia and upon hearing these stories, I am now much more understanding about keeping the lights on at night.

In between squeals and frightened whelps of stop!, here’s what they shared:


When someone dies in Islamic tradition, you must prepare the body a certain way and wrap it in white cloth. This white cloth is tied at the head, waist and feet. Upon burial, the ties must be released so that the deceased person can meet God face to face. If the ties are not released—it is said—that the deceased will be damned to hobble around the earth, wrapped in a sheet and unable to see God. These ghosts appear often in popular media as comically scary characters in Indonesian soap operas.

I snapped this picture at a bookstore in Indonesia with my phone. It’s not the best quality, but it shows the popularity of pocongs in Indonesian culture.


A tuyul is a mischievous ghost child that steals people’s money. He or she walks around without a shirt and only in his or her underwear and, according to my students, is very jelek or ugly. The child can also change in size. It can shrink to be small enough to fit in a bottle and—supposedly—be kept by people who practice evil magic.

I suspect Indonesians must blame the tuyul for any item gone missing.

I’m saving you the trouble searching through Google images..but I’m sure there are better images that this one.

Wewe Gombel

This ghost is a woman with large breasts that steals children after sunset. She walks around hiding the children she steals in between her large breasts. If you want to see the child again, you must make a sound from a kitchen instrument. Either clicking your spoon against a plate or make the sound water makes when it’s done boiling…? I couldn’t really understand this aspect of it from my students.

For their sake, I hope I never encounter any missing kids who need saving from the Wewe Gombel.

Also, I couldn’t find an appropriate image for this ghost and I’d warn against Googling it.

Sundel Bolong

This ghost is said to come from a woman who has died in childbirth. At first she appears as a beautiful woman with long hair who smells beautifully. This is a trick. The ghost soon turns into a foul smelling woman with a hole in her back filled with snakes, which was hidden by her long black hair. According to my students, this ghost likes to eat sate—100 sate skewers at once.

This ghost actually sounded scary to me. It reminds me of The Ring. I hate that movie.

9 thoughts on “Traditional Ghosts in Indonesia

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  4. Hello. Actually Sundel Bolong is a prostitute (Sundel = prostitute) one day she is pregnant with a man, the man didn’t want to have a baby, so the man does Santet (a black magic ritual to kill someone) for the sundel. the ritual makes the baby moves from the sundel stomach to the sundel back (it’s weird) and the baby exploded in the sundel back.
    that’s why she called Sundel Bolong

  5. in Java there are very much a ghost may be only half of them are harmful to humans. I mean . . can kill a human or bring people to their world and never will return. and the ghost ate human bones.

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