Pontianak

You may be familiar with the phenomenon of crybaby bridges. They’re an urban legend that pops up all over the country– bridges, roads, and tunnels where you can allegedly hear a child’s cry at night, floating on the wind. Some have a story behind them. A deranged mother tossed her baby off the bridge or a pregnant woman drove off it. Sometimes accidentally. Sometimes on purpose.

The little town in Tennessee where I grew up, Smyrna, has one. We call it Monkey Woman Bridge. The story varies a little depending on who tells it, but generally it involves a mother who drove off the bridge and now swings from tree to tree, for some bizarre reason, looking for her lost baby who cries at night. (Some versions also say that she had a carload of monkeys who attacked the baby and caused her to swerve off this road, which is even sillier.) The whole thing is what’s known in technical terms as “fucking ridiculous." 

So, imagine my surprise when, during some article research, I stumbled across a creature from Indonesian and Malaysian mythology known as the Pontianak. They’re the ghosts of mothers who died while pregnant, and their presence is announced by the sound of a baby crying off in the distance.

Well hey, what do you know? Every crybaby bridge story ever has an eerily similar distant cousin in Southeast Asian folklore. But the part that really caught my eye? Pontianaks are extremely fond of a certain type of vegetation, uncommon in North America, but not so hard to find in Indonesia and Malaysia: Banana trees.

Hats off to you, Monkey Woman. Maybe you’re not as ridiculous as I thought.