The ‘balan-balan’ ghost and how she appears in other cultures throughout South East Asia

Balan-balan is a ghost of Sabahan folk mythology, also known as Penanggalan or Hantu Penanggal in West Malaysia.

Famous in Kota Belud, it is also called ‘B kuasa dua’ which means B to the power of 2, because you’re saying the b-word twice.

You’re not supposed to say its name as legend says you summon it closer to you every time you say “balan-balan.”

However, some believe this entity is not a ghost, rather that it is a woman who practices black magic.

The balan-balan is able to detach its head with lungs, stomach and intestines attached, leaving its body behind to hunt. It usually hunts at night but can leave its body any time it wants. It has a preference for the blood of pregnant women, women who recently gave birth and newborns.

A balan-balan is said to be able to pass through walls and ooze up through the cracks of the floorboards in the house.

To fit it back into its body, you just soak its entrails into a container filled with vinegar and – voila! – it turns back into a normal human being.

One of the widely known ways to destroy a balan-balan is to pour broken glass into its empty neck cavity – assuming you have found its headless body.

Some say that the balan-balan traits are inherited, passing down from one generation to another from mother to daughter.

There are other related myths in Asia  of supernatural entities which have similar modus operandi and appearances.

Perhaps there are no immigration boundaries for those in the mystical world.

Balan-balan is famous in Sabah but it is similar to a ghost called Leyak among the Balinese, Kuyang by the Dayak people of Kalimantan, the Krasue in Thailand and Phi Kasu in Laos. Credit: Pixabay

1. Manananggal, the Philippines

Imagine a vampire but only with a woman’s upper torso and huge bat-like wings to fly. Plus, trade the fangs with long tongues, and there you have it – a manananggal.

A manananggal feeds on sleeping, pregnant women, sucking on the blood or hearts of fetuses with its tongue.

To kill it, just sprinkle some salt, crushed garlic or ash on the lower part of the body.

Then it would not be able to rejoin itself and would be killed by the sunrise.

2. Kuyang in Kalimantan, Indonesia

Kuyang are women  practicing black magic in search of immortality.

To increase their power, they have to feed on babies and women who just recently gave birth.

Some who claimed to have seen a Kuyang said it is just a flying head.

According to Banjarmasin Post, if you are able to catch it, it will grant any wish in exchange for you to keep its secret.

The best is to ask for ‘Minyak Kuyang’ or kuyang oil which has the power to return objects to you even if you gave them away.

Ideally, you would be able to rub kuyang oil on your money and watch it magically return to you after you make your purchase.

3. Leyak in Bali, Indonesia

Similar to Kuyang, Leyaks are humans who are practicing black magic.

Interestingly, they have a mistress or a queen, a witch named Rangda.

They say leyaks haunt graveyards, feed on corpses, and have the power to change themselves into animals.

In daylight, they are like ordinary humans but at night their heads break loose from their bodies.

Unlike balan-balan which is known to be only females, it is believed that three leyaks float around terrifying people, two females and one male.

4. Krasue in Thailand

Krasue is believed to be an entity consisting of a floating head and a will-o’-the-wisp.

However, the origin story for Krasue is more romantic than might be expected.

According to one version of the legends, a certain Khmer princess had a forbidden love affair with a younger man of lower status.

She was caught with her lover so the Siamese aristocrats sentenced her to death by burning.

The princess managed to implore the help of a sorceress before her sentence asking her body to be unharmed by the fire.

But the spell came too late and the only parts that remained untouched by the fire were her head and some of her internal organs. She was then cursed to live as a Krasue ghost.

5. Phi Kasu in Laos

A Phi Kasu is a woman who separates her head from her body, taking her inner organs and flying around to look for victims.

She uses her long tongue to suck out her victim’s organs.

Apparently, it is believed a Phi Kasu is invincible and cannot be killed, but at least you can harm her.

6. Nukekubi, Japan

In the land of the rising sun, rokurokubi is a type of Japanese apparition.

There are two types of rokurokubi; one with a stretchable long neck, another one is like the balan-balan whose head comes off and flies around. That one is called nukekubi.

How to kill the nukekubi? Just move its headless body to another location so that the head cannot be reattached.

Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight.

She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science.

She is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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