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The Ghost Guide: 6 Terrifying Ghouls of Myanmar

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There you are, fast asleep in your bed when you’re suddenly jolted awake by the dreaded Bump in the Night. You break out in a cold sweat as you cringe in the darkness, straining to pinpoint the source of that spine-tingling sound. Is it merely a tree branch scraping against the bedroom window? Your insomniac cat ransacking the kitchen cabinets in search of a midnight snack? A burglar trying to steal the 850 lakh hidden in your mattress?

Or perhaps it’s something more sinister – something not quite of this world, something you glimpse from the corner of your eye as it emerges from the deepest black of night to snatch your quavering soul and drag it into the underworld. If so, you’re pretty much doomed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun identify your nemesis in the split second before you become the latest candidate for the graveyard. Toward that end, The Myanmar Times has compiled a handy guide – suitable for keeping within easy reach on your nightstand – to the undead spirits that roam nocturnal Myanmar hunting for victims just like you.

Chay Kalein Ma (twisted-leg lady)


If you’re a student living away from home, you might think twice before taking a nighttime trip to the toilet: Among this ghost’s favorite haunts are the dark, lonely restrooms of girls’ boarding schools, where she frightens her victims in the form of a woman with crooked, disfigured legs. If you meet her, you’re advised not to flee in a straight line or you’ll surely be caught. Instead, make your escape by following a zigzag pattern as you run away. Better yet, stay under the covers and hold your pee until daybreak.

Phonegyi thaye (monk ghost)


Throughout Christendom, it’s generally accepted that brandishing crosses and spouting Bible verses serve as reliable defenses against the undead. By a similar token, ghosts in Myanmar can usually be held at bay by reciting prayers to the Buddha in the Pali language. This tactic invariably fails, however, when the ghost in question happens to be the spirit of a Pali-speaking monk who is too attached to this world to pass on to the next life. Your only recourse? Run like hell – in a straight line or in a zigzag. Just run.

Ma Phae Wah (yellow-ribbon lady)


This ghoul makes her home in the cemetery, but come midnight she hoists a coffin onto her shoulder and shuffles through town with her long hair waving in the spectral breeze. Woe to the household where she stops and puts down her casket on the doorstep, for someone in that family – usually a child – will soon sicken and die. In the late 1990s Ma Phae Wah appeared in the dreams of a monk in Kayin State and announced her intention to eat the flesh of babies. The sayadaw suggested that she dine on dogs instead. Subsequently, security-conscious parents sought to protect their infants by posting signs in front of their homes saying, “Baby’s flesh is bitter, dog’s flesh is sweet”.

Chee sar sone (faeces-eating witch)


Some people aren’t content cultivating normal life skills like time management or critical thinking; they yearn to learn magic and other dark arts. Those who study hard and pass the test can become powerful witches, but failures are transformed into chee sar sone, destined to feast on excrement and corpses. They pass as humans during the day, but after sundown their heads detach from their bodies and fly through the air – internal organs trailing beneath their severed necks – searching for delicious outhouse buffets. A savvy witch hunter can exorcise the fiend by coating the headless, incapacitated body with oil from the thayaw tree, which prevents the two parts from recombining when the hovering head returns at the end of the night.

Phote (corpse-possessing ghost)


This particularly heinous spirit takes advantage of the goodwill of those who care for the terminally ill. When the patient dies, the phote enters the vacant body and takes possession before anyone notices. The caregiver thinks he or she is still assisting the living patient; the maliciously clever phote, meanwhile, takes on the personality of the deceased and begins its reign of terror by asking for meat to consume but, if undetected, ends up feeding on the blood of the hapless helper.

Bonus phun phantom: Phyar late nat (bamboo-mat spirit)


What do young Myanmar girls do when their parents leave them alone at home for a few hours? You guessed it: They roll up a bamboo mat, dress it in a blouse and htamein, and invite the bamboo-mat spirit to possess it. Then they ask romantic questions like where their future boyfriends live before shaking the mat and seeing which direction it points when it falls over. Sounds innocent enough, but we’ve all seen those movies where fun and games with Ouija boards unleash all kinds of demonic fury. Who knows what havoc a spirit-possessed bamboo mat could wreak around the house? It’s a horror script just waiting to be written.

This article was originally published in the October 30-November 5 edition of The Myanmar Times Weekend magazine. Illustrations by Thein Tun Oo.

MT.Ghost Guide 2015 Oct 31

Written by latefornowhere

October 31, 2015 at 1:29 pm