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In Malay and Indonesian mythology, the Pontianak (also called Langsuir) is a vampiric female demon. These demons arise when women die in childbirth as a result of “laboring sickness” (meroyan) along with their children.

Sir William Maxwell described the demonesses thusly:

“If a woman dies in childbirth, either before delivery or after the birth of a child, and before the forty days of uncleanness have expired, she is popularly supposed to become a langsugyar, a flying demon of the nature of the ‘white lady’ or ‘banshee’.

“To prevent this a quantity of glass beads are put in the mouth of the corpse, a hen’s egg is put under each arm-pit, and needles are placed in the palms of the hands. It is believed that if this is done the dead woman cannot become a langsuyar, as she cannot open her mouth to shriek (ngilai) or wave her arms as wings, or open and shut her hands to assist her flight.”

The Pontianak sucks the blood of living infants. She appears as a woman with long nails and billowing black hair, though she can also shapeshift into an owl as a means of escape in tight situations. Interestingly, this demon may be domesticated; some legends state that if a man cuts the Pontianak’s hair and nails short, she enters a domesticated state and passes for a normal, living woman. Some have even become wives and mothers.

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