It has been proposed that a toll road, like a cement millipede, connect the Indonesian islands – from Sumatera to Sulawesi. Once completed, the spectral traffic and the figures of folklore would hit the road: Phantom babies, possessed piggy banks, giant incubus, ‘orangu-man’, Rangdah, Barong, leak, naga dragons…Mayhem!
While I came across the story of Kuyang in Borneo, the grounds of her haunts are broad, because unlike those other mitos (folk tales), this one is brutal enough that she did cross waterways.
The premise of the Bornean retelling: an elderly woman is trying to buy back her beauty. She stumbles across an expensive ointment, a sharp-smelling oil to be applied around and around the neck. Eventually Misses Kuyang’s neck grows so thin that her head detaches. Drudging and worming out all of her internal organs, intestines, and ovaries, her head shoots into the air and lurches off into the hot night like a rabid pigeon with talons full of worms.
The myth bridges generations, explaining any marks on a baby’s feet as being where Auntie Kuyang, dangling plump pink intestines, drew the blood that keeps her youthful and sexy. She wretches about storm-drains flaunting her meat-wreath pornographically, like a Japanese ribbon dance, drinking the blood of babies and feeding on placenta.
Interestingly, in the South of Italy, the eating of the after-birth is still practised – albeit symbolically, and perhaps with condiments (pickled onions, let’s say). As many mammals partake in this important fuel-energy-cycling instinct, perhaps Kuyang is only a scape-goat that allows Indonesian villagers to continue snacking on after-birth (especially after Islam came into port and forbid the consumption of raw meat and blood).
After a good feast, plugging and tucking herself neatly back into her headless corpse, Kuyang is suddenly a bombshell. In Banjarmasin, she likely goes straight to the smoky discotheque above the five-star hotel and becomes just another pair of legs in the silhouette of chemicaled zombies. I wouldn’t put it past this conniving sange cougar.
This part trips me up like a green broom placed upside down behind the door of an empty room, however: Needing a place to drop her ageing body down while she goes hunting, Kuyang often rents rooms in boarding houses. She’s a bit OCD really and dislikes green brooms – especially when the brush is left facing upwards. As a result, all you need to do to dissuade your neighbourhood Kuyang from coming around and eating up all your placenta: Prop up a green broom behind your doors.
If you can look this car-wreck in the face, you may just be able to turn the tables on granny. Sprinkle grainy bits of broken glass into the open cavity of her neck while her head is off pillaging and suddenly you’ll have her strict attention. If you can prevent Kuyang’s head from returning to her body, then you have bargaining power.
I take this gory tale as a precautionary one teaching us how not to grow old. Bali also uses a few disfigured, female anti-heroes to teach women how not to deal with real-life misfortunes (see Rangda or Celuluk).
Hors d’oeuvres anybody?