5 Malaysian Myths You Probably Grew Up Hearing About

malaysian myths-folklore

5 Malaysian Myths You Probably Grew Up Hearing About

Superstitious is something most Malaysians know themselves to be. Most of us grew up riddled by Malaysian myths. Elders raise us with teachings and warnings through these myths.

But why so many Malaysian myths? Because for a long time animism and dynamism were practiced in this region. So people then associated just about anything to the spiritual or supernatural. Especially unexplained occurrences. Which were aplenty in the time before modern science.

Times have changed and people have different beliefs. But, Malaysian myths are still such a big part of the tradition and culture.

So, here are just 5 of the many Malaysian myths you probably grew up hearing about.

1. Toyol

toyol-malaysian myth

What a toyol is said to look like (Image via hasrulhassan.com)

Ah yes, the toyol. What Malaysian didn’t grow up to their elders blaming the disappearance of anything in the house on a toyol? Blaming missing stuff on a toyol is a Malaysian right of passage.

A toyol or tuyul is a mystical being popular in South East Asian mythology. It’s said to resemble a child with a really large head. Human usually keep toyols for doing their dirty bidding. By nature toyols are mischevious. So, they usually carry out mischief and petty acts.

These include stealing, sabotage, and minor crime. Want to ward them off? An old wives tip is to keep needles under your money and precious goods. Toyols are said to be afraid of being hurt by needles. Or, place your money on a mirror because toyols are said to be afraid of their own reflection.

2. Hantu Air

hantu-air-malaysian myth

Image via flickr.com

Chances are you grew up having elders constantly yell at you to steer clear of bodies of water. Especially so if you’re on your own.

Why though? Because they always warn of an unseen inhabitant (the Hantu Air). These inhabitants are basically spirits that live in and around bodies of water. That causes bad things to happen at these places. These include drowning, disappearance, flooding, and others.

Local superstitions believe these inhabitants will take on a disguise. Either of a tree, beautiful lady or animal. Then, use it to lure victims in to drown, or eat.

This Malaysian myth is the reason behind common offering rituals by locals. In which, they honor these spirits, as well as ask for blessings and protection. For example, the Semah Pantai ceremony by old Malays.

But, rest assured you don’t have to be terrified of bodies of water. This Malaysian myth was believed made up to keep people safe from the dangers of bodies of water. And exaggerated by the fact that people back then would link anything unexplainable to be supernatural.

3. Mahsuri

mahsuri-malaysian myth

A depiction of Mahsuri’s execution at the Mahsuri Museum in Langkawi (Image via mahsurimuzium.com)

A fan of folklore, or been to Langkawi? Then you’ve probably heard about Mahsuri. She’s the pioneer of the well-known “I curse your next seven generations” threat.

The Malaysian myth of Mahsuri is the country’s very own scarlet letter tale. She was a young beautiful woman who lived in Langkawi during the late 18th century.

Her beauty, however, brought her misfortune. The village chief’s wife, jealous of her beauty spread a rumor that she was committing adultery. It spread so widely, the whole village believed it.

Everyone then condemned her to execution by stabbing despite her plea of innocence. When she finally died, she bled white blood, a sign of her innocence. Her dying words were a curse of seven generations of misfortune upon Langkawi.

Locals erected a tomb for Mahsuri on the island. Many locals even believe this Malaysian myth to be true. For many years the land on Langkawi was said to be barren. Now it thrives as a popular tourist destination. Only because it’s claimed the seventh generation has been passed.

4. Orang bunian

bunian-malaysian myth

What people believe bunians to look like (Images via wikipedia.com)

Bunians are the Malaysian myth somewhat-equivalent of elves. They’re supernatural beings unseen to most humans except those with special sight.

They’re said to be nearly identical to humans, dressed in traditional South East Asian garb. And, are always extremely beautiful. They usually inhabit forests or mountains, far away from human contact.

Many Malaysian’s associate disappearances in these places as the doing of bunians. Hence, why Malaysian’s tend to have many taboos and rituals when they venture into these places. It’s to avoid disrespecting and upsetting the bunians.

Bunians often have supernatural powers. And, while they’re commonly blamed for disappearances, they’re mostly known to be benevolent. And, able to live concurrently in peace with humans. Those sounds you tend to hear within your home? Malaysian’s tend to blame them on bunians that they can’t see living concurrently in their home.

Therefore, Bunians are common superstition and a very well known Malaysian myth. Despite being a mere myth, all Malaysians still take extra care when in the forests or mountains. Just in case.

5. Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang

puteri-santubong-puteri-sejinjang-malaysian myth

Portraits of Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang (Image via smudgepotato.blogspot.com)

Of course, this list of Malaysian myths is incomplete without one close to home – Kuching, Sarawak. This Malaysian myth is the story of sibling rivalry, love, and tragedy.

This Malaysian myth starts when Raja Dewata Mulia sends two princesses down to earth. Santubong and Sejinjang were sent to settle a dispute between two villages. Given one condition: they are to never become hostile towards each other.

They settled it successfully and taught the villagers valuable skills. Eventually leading the villages to thrive. But, things turn for the worse when the two princesses fall for the same handsome prince.

The two then duel for his affection. In the duel, Sejinjang struck Santubong, cutting deep into her cheek. Then Santubong hit Sejinjang back so hard, her head splintered.

The gods, so angered by their insolence condemned the princesses. They were to be part of their lands forever.

So, Raja Dewata turned Santubong into Mount Santubong. And, Sejinjang was turned into Mount Sejinjang. Her shattered head pieces turned into the islands Kera, Satang, and Talang-talang.

This Malaysian myth is well known to Sarawakians as the story of the mountains’ origins. If you ever visit, there’s a taboo that you can’t sing the Puteri Santubong, Puteri Sejinjang song in the area. Otherwise, you’ll conjure their spirits. So, be careful!

Do you have any favorite Malaysian myths that weren’t mentioned in this article? If so, drop a comment and tell us about your favorite Malaysian myths.

Kuscera Youngblood About the author

Her writing is focused on millennial content. Particularly local content. She's passionate about the local scene and wants more people to know about it through her writing. Check out her articles on primabuzz.com, which she actively writes for.