Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Vampires in the Orient?

There are accounts of vampire like revenants from across the world.  In King Vikram and the Vampire (1870), a translation of the Indian classic, the Baital-Pachisi [Twenty-Five Tales of a Baital] by Sir Richard Burton, King Vikram comes upon a cemetery where he encounters a so-called baital in the form of a huge grotesque bat, or what Burton translates as a “vampire or evil spirit which inhabited and animated dead bodies”.

William Crooke in Religion and Folklore of Northern India (1926), though, notes that baitals were simply spirits of the dead, albeit capable of possessing and manipulating corpses, and gives no indication that they were some sort of vampire that fed upon the blood of the living. China too has stories of reanimated corpses that supposedly terrorized the living but once again, there is no indication that such revenants actually fed upon blood. Interestingly, Chinese type revenants fed upon the breath or life-force of the living rather than blood and would proceed by small hops rather than walking, their legs permanently stiffened through rigor mortis. By contrast, in Malaysian folklore, the so-called langsuir, the revenant of a woman who dies from childbirth, has long black hair that covers the hole in the back of her neck by which she supposedly sucks the blood of the living. In the Philippines, a manananggal is described as being a hideous, scary vampire-like creature capable of severing its upper torso in order to fly into the night with huge bat-like wings to prey on unsuspecting, pregnant women in their homes; using an elongated proboscis-like tongue to sucks the hearts of foetuses or the blood of an unsuspecting, sleeping victim.

Similarly, the aswang is a beautiful girl by day but at night feeds upon its victims by a tubular tongue or proboscis, like a drinking straw, which it can extend to an enormous length and poke through a crack in the wall of a house, for example, in search of some sleeping individual. Thereupon, the tongue enters the victim through some bodily orifice to feast upon the internal organs and entrails, or if a pregnant woman, to suck the foetus dry of blood.  The aswang, however, is thought to be a living individual who assumes the form of an aswang at night to prey upon the living.

Beings like the aswang were thought to be living individuals that preyed upon the living at night, rather than the reanimated corpse of the deceased.  Hence, the notion of a blood-sucking corpse is largely an invention of European folklore rather than the Orient, despite exceptions like the langsuir and demonic beings that fed upon the living, and attempts by many authors to lump all undead-corpses under the generic term ‘vampire’, despite the taxonomic differences. 


Burton, R. King Vikram and the Vampire: Classic Hindu Tales of Adventure, Magic and Romance (Rochester: Park Street Press, 1992)
Crooke, W. Religion and Folklore of Northern India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926)  
Melton, G. The Vampire Book: An Encyclopedia of the Undead (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2nd edition, 1999)
Ramos, M. ‘The Aswang in Philippine Folklore’, Western Folklore 28:4 (1969), pp.239-242
Skeat, W. Malay MagicAn Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula (London: MacMillan & Co., 1900)
Summers, S. The Vampire (New York: Dorset Press, 1991)
Walters, D. Chinese Mythology (London: Diamond Books, 1992)

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