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Four less popular, yet still scary Indonesian ghosts

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, November 1, 2018  /  12:42 pm
Four less popular, yet still scary Indonesian ghosts

Female ghosts like 'kuntilanak' and 'wewe gombel' are often seen in Indonesian films. (

Indonesian folklore contains many tales of ghosts that have been made into films, such as wewe gombel in Joko Anwar’s Folklore: A Mother’s Love and kuntilanak in Rizal Mantovani’s Kuntilanak trilogy ( 2006 ).

The following are others that are perhaps more popular among Indonesians living in certain regions.


Banaspatiis a fire-element ghost known among the Javanese. It is said that banaspati can fly from one place to another in a form of a fireball and has the ability to set human on fire. Hence one of the ways to avoid banaspatiis by plunging into a river and stay under the water for as long as you can.

Banaspatiis a quite popular ghost in some areas in Central Java,” Sunu Wasono, a lecturer at University of Indonesia’s Faculty of Humanity (FIB), told  “It usually lives in the trees near to the river.”


This one is known to reveal itself as a soldier and usually shows up in groups.

“Javanese people used to call them obor setan [torch of ghosts]; they’re said to be the warriors of Nyai Roro Kidul [mythical queen of the southern seas],” Sunu said. “I think people in Surakarta and Yogyakarta still believe in them.”

Read also: Indonesia's first museum of death

Sundel bolong

In The Religion of Java ( 1976 ) book, American anthropologist Clifford Geertz stated that sundel bolong was a female spirit with a hole in her back covered by her long, black hair.

Arguably not as intense as kuntilanak, this particular character has been included in films, such as Sundel Bolong ( 1981 ) starring Indonesian horror queen Suzzanna.


In his book, Geertz considers genderuwo a memedi type, which consists of spirits who are rather harmless although still terrifying to humans. Genderuwos are deemed playful as the spirits like to pull pranks on humans, such as throwing rocks at someone’s roof at night.

Joko Anwar is among Indonesian directors who have brought genderuwo onto the big screen although not in its literal form. In HBO Asia’s Halfworlds, Joko chose actor Reza Rahadian to play Tony the genderuwo

Sunu said Javanese believed in two types of death: the "good death", which is when someone passes away due to old age, and the "unusual death", which is when someone passes away due to an accident or suicide. Those who pass away due to the latter might turn into a spirit and haunt the human world. (wir/kes)