‘Balan-balan’ as it is known in Sabah (North Borneo) but also known by different names in Southeast Asian countries. It is a nocturnal vampire-like entity that feeds on new mothers’ blood, their babies or someone who is gravely ill. One must remember that most folklore or legends in these countries are handed down by word of mouth from way back when so the stories about how balan-balan feeds on its victims and how it came to exist vary from country to country in Southeast Asia.
What I was told, the evil entity came to exist because of a woman who dabbled in black magic. So the story goes, she was startled by someone who walked into her house and saw her perform the ritual by submerging her body in water. Hastily, she jerked upwards causing her neck to separate from her body. The head with the rest of the entrails then flew out through the open window. The person who saw what happened raised the alarm and the whole village went looking for her. After she was caught, she cursed the village and her descendants that they would become balan-balan just like her.
Many of my older relations had such fascinating stories about how to tell if someone is a balan-balan. They always wear something to cover lines around their necks either scarves or high collar shirts and they avoid eye contact. By the way, they act like human beings during the day. They are just like you and me; usually they work as fishmongers, butchers and farmers. Yes, they could be your neighbours, your friends, or maybe the person sitting next to you.
When mum was gravely ill, grandma would spend the night with us and she told us stories about evil spirits and ghosts. One of them was balan-balan. She said if we hear any sound at night, listen to it carefully. Does it sound like a bird? Or something else? My sister, Ros asked, ‘If it isn’t a bird then what is?’ Grandma whispered quietly ‘Balan-balan.’ Grandma said if there is a sick person in the house, the person’s soul is weak so it would be easier for a balan-balan to feed on the sick person. She told us to put sharp, thorny lime branches on all windows, hang them above the front door and on mum’s four bed posts.
That night we heard it. I don’t know how to describe the sound but it was nothing like a bird. It had unearthly sound, sent shivers up and down my spine. We sat in the living room, too scared to move. Grandma handed us two bottles each and told us to make some noise. She showed us how to do it. I thought, she must be mad! The sound of two bottles rubbing together wasn’t nice at all. Grandma went and sprinkled lime juice on the window sill in mum’s bedroom.
We could hear grandma’s dogs barking hysterically, chasing something around the house faster and faster. The closer the sound, the louder we rubbed the bottles. When the sound stopped hours later, we went to sleep with sore hands and head.
Grandma said the only way to destroy a balan-balan is to find where the body is (if you know where to look). Once you find the body, pour lime juice, put sharp thorns and broken glass inside the neck cavity. If the head won’t be able to attach to the body by daylight, it will die.
So was it a balan-balan that we heard that night or was it something else?
Submitted by Anna Ferrar
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