Pontianak is a city in Indonesia named after the female ghost

Old-school badassery.

Olivia Lin | Sponsored | September 05, 2018, 08:58 PM

Mention the word “Pontianak”, and the image of the vengeful female spirit who died at childbirth will probably come to (most of) our minds.

You know, this one.

Screengrab via Sumpah Pontianak (1958)

She has inspired numerous films and books, and has even become an icon in the world of Southeast Asian horror.

However, this article isn’t just about the vampiric ghost. It’s about the city that was named after it.

Yes, as our headline suggests, there’s a city in Indonesia named Pontianak (which you can totally visit if you want to). In fact, it’s the capital of the province of West Kalimantan.

It looks like this:

Via Flickr/Baka_neko_naka

Via Flickr/Baka_neko_naka

But how did this modern-looking city become the female ghost’s namesake?

This is how

The folklore starts with Syarif Abdurrahman Alkadrie, a man who was on the hunt for a place to stay. As the son of a cleric, many also believed that he was a messenger of Allah.

Legend has it that on October 23, 1771, while looking for a new residence, Syarif Abdurrahman and his followers stumbled upon an island. But to their dismay, that island was infested with ghosts -- and specifically, pontianaks.

So Syarif Abdurrahman and his army fought the ghosts off by shooting cannonballs at them. After winning the fight, they then built a mosque, Jami Mosque of Pontianak, and a palace on the same spot.

Screengrab via Google Maps. (Adding this here in case you are thinking of visiting)

Fast forward to modern day, both the mosque and palace, which are located in the city centre, are now recognised by many as famous landmarks of Pontianak.

It is said that to this day, the locals still commemorate Syarif Abdurrahman’s victory by shooting wooden cannons during festive seasons.

But still… naming the city after a ghost?!

While some might think it’s odd to name a city after a supernatural being, it actually makes sense in some ways.

Just like Sang Nila Utama, who named our country the Lion City back in the 1200s (there’s a recent debate about the type of animal he actually saw, but we digress), perhaps Syarif Abdurrahman also possessed the “Let’s name this place after the first thing I see here” mentality at that time.

It’s actually quite badass if you think about it. And some residents of the city also think so.

In fact, the head of West Kalimantan's Youth, Tourism and Sports Agency, Kartius, is so proud of his city’s folklore that in 2017, he proposed to build a 100-metre statue of a Pontianak (like, the female ghost) between two rivers in the city.

According to The Jakarta Post, Kartius reasoned that the Merlion in Singapore attracted many visitors, so a Pontianak statue might benefit the city in terms of tourism as well.

However, there hasn’t been any updates on the progress of the statue the last time we checked.

But who knows? Maybe someone else will take over Project-build-pontianak-statue now that the idea is out there.

Top image via Sumpah Pontianak/Google Maps.


If this informational (sorta) article somehow made you less scared of the supernatural, perhaps you should watch HBO Asia’s new horror anthology, Folklore, to reignite that fear.

A tribute to Asian horror, the anthology features six films by six well-known directors from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, and Korea.

Folklore will air on HBO every Sunday 10pm, starting 7 Oct. You can also catch the episodes anytime on HBO Go. Follow HBO Asia on Facebook for updates.

This sponsored post in collaboration with HBO Asia makes this particular Mothership.sg writer even more scared of ghosts.