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A toyol or tuyul is an undead infant in South-East Asian folklore. It appears in the mythology of Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. It is invoked as a helper by shamans (dukun or bomoh) using black magic.
The toyol is known by different names from one community to another. The Malay word toyol is tuyul in Javanese. It is known as cohen kroh in Khmer, and kwee kia in Hokkien. In Thai, the male is called koman-tang while the female is koman-lay. A similar creature exists in Philippine mythology known as tiyanak.
Evoking a Toyol
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This creature can be evoked to work with a human under its own terms. There are different methods to possess a Toyol:
- Purchase a Toyol from a Shaman.
- Making use of an aborted baby and through special embalmment techniques.
- Evoke a Toyol from its dwelling place.
A Toyol is like an animal, so it needs to be treated as such. In order to foster a closer relationship with this creature, the below offerings should be presented:
- A cup of milk every morning.
- Some toys, clothing, sweets and biscuits.
- A black candle and incense accompanied with mantras.
- Some will smear a few drops of the owner’s own blood to the Toyol statue.
A person who owns a toyol uses it mainly to steal things from other people, or to do mischief. According to a well-known superstition, if money or jewelry keeps disappearing mysteriously from your house, a toyol might be responsible. One way to ward off a toyol is to place some needles under your money, for toyols are afraid of being hurt by needles.
According to Javanese mythology, the creature is believed to be kept by a person practicing pesugihan toyol black magic. Pesugihan is derived from Javanese word sugih means "rich". It is a kind of magic to help people to become rich instantly, but in exchange he or she must perform some rituals or offering tumbal (sacrifice something) to keep the toyol happy. According to Javanese myth, toyol can be kept for financial gain, but in exchange a female member of the family must allow it to breastfeed from her, sucking blood instead of milk.
The toyol is traditionally described as looking no different from a near-naked toddler. Modern depictions often give it a goblin-like appearance with green or grey skin, pointed ears, and clouded eyes.
In old village tales, people keep toyol for theft, sabotage and other minor crimes. With special rituals the toyol can be made powerful and commit murder. A person who suddenly becomes wealthy without explanation might be suspected of keeping a toyol. The toyol is kept in a jar or an urn, and hidden away in a dark place until needed.
What happens at the end of the contract is not very clear. It could be that the tablet, along with the urn, is buried in a graveyard (with the relevant rituals), and the spirit is then laid to rest. An alternative method is to dispose of them in the sea. If not properly disposed of, a toyol gets passed down in a family through the generations.
However, it can still get released by either the owner or shaman (bomoh) to roam free. Without a master, it would stray into the jungle or visit homes as an observer without disturbing residents. Based on an anecdote, a toyol confessed that it likes to peek into people's lives apart from the occasional distraction of playing with any toys found within houses. Simply put, toyol is quite harmless without a master, but it can turn to crime or mischief under the command of an unscrupulous individual.
After stealing, the only traces of its presence are its childlike footprints and fingerprints found at the crime scene if it happens to have dust on its hands and feet. Otherwise, people would not suspect that a toyol had raided their premises.
Toyol and The Newly Wed Bride
It has been said that if any family member of a bride or groom owns a toyol, the toyol will visit the newly wed couple before dawn. And it will suck the blood from the bride's toe until the bride wakes up. This is to enhance the toyol's power. Meaning after sucking bride's toe, the toyol shall become faster and stronger. It is crucial if the owner wants the toyol to be more capable in stealing money.
Although seemingly cunning, toyols are supposedly not very intelligent. It is said that they are easily deceived by marbles or beans placed in certain parts of the house. The toyol will start playing with these items until it forgets its task at the intended victim's house. Money placed under mirrors has the potency to ward off toyols due to a fear of their reflection.
In Thailand, they are known as Koman-tong, for male sprits, and Koman-lay for females. Literally translated as "Golden Child". They are used for protection, they can whisper in your ear of impending danger. Koman-tongs are usually wandering souls of dead children that the monks would adopt and give them a "replacement body". The "replacement body" is usually a small statue carved out of tree bark, coral or baby bone. It is then placed in a container, soaked in perfume or chicken blood.
The story of the Golden Child comes supposedly from a 19th-century Thai tale called, “Khun Chang Khun Paen”. In brief, the story goes:
Khun Paen was a soldier, 400 years previous, a time when supernatural forces played an important part of traditional warfare. Khun Paen had wanted a protective spirit to watch over him in battle. To this end he cut the unborn foetus of his son from his dead wife’s womb and took it to a temple to perform an occult rite. He wrapped the child’s torso in sacred cloth and roasted it on a fire whilst chanting ritual mantras and dark incantations to create the supernatural being with whom he could communicate.
The more powerful Kuman-tong are made by sorcerers living in the mountains. They would soak the "replacement body" in embalming oil. This ingredient seems to be crucial as it gives the toyol additional powers. Corpse oil is collected by removing the dead corpse’s chin (using a knife to cut through the bones) and cooking on a hot pan until the oil oozes out. These Thai ones are more subdued and even tempered, as the monks would chant to them daily.
Kwee Kia (鬼孩/小鬼)
Kwee Kia is the Chinese version of the toyol. These are made from either a fetus that miscarried or been aborted. A medium will take these small corpses and chop off their heads. Once the heads are collected, they will be dried out and cooked to obtain their corpse oil while the bones from the bodies are carved to become replacement bodies. These have to be specially ordered before you can get one.
If the fetus is five months old, they would carve the replacement body out of its own bone, in which case they are supposedly more powerful. Different Kwee Kia have different uses and different names. Usually the ones made in the deep mountains (山巴) are stronger.
Characteristic of a Toyol/Kwee Kia
- They will protect the owner, talk to him, accomplish tasks for him. Some toyols are tasked to find spirits of wandering children so that they can be made into toyols.
- They do not like to be abandoned and will kill when provoked. They can kill by either slashing one's throat with their long claws or squeezing one's heart, amongst others.
- They can pass through walls or even human bodies and see into the human body (hence some mediums use them to give medical advice).
- They are known to take possession of their owner's body if they are hungry at night. Due to their preference for raw meat, the owners sometimes end up eating raw meat from their fridges in the middle of the night, without even knowing it. The eating of raw meat also makes the toyol stronger.
- They are intensely jealous, especially when they know that a new child is on the way.
- Their powers will increase with each year.
- The owner has to feed it blood the 14th of each month (they seem very particular about their eating patterns. They will not touch something as disgusting as a sanitary pad)
- They are used for finding information for their owners:
- Giving their owners information at the gambling table but it is typically difficult because the casinos would usually have their own toyols guarding the place. The casino would also have employed other spiritual masters to bless the place with gods so that outside toyols cannot enter. The owner would have better luck if he was playing with his friends or an unprotected place.
- They are also used by fortune tellers who will get their toyols to give background information on their customers so that they will be convinced of the fortune teller's prowess.
- They can even help their owner (if male) to seduce women.
- But they can turn against their owner, if there is a child on the way. It will become jealous, causing the owner to have bad luck, constantly losing things and even confusing the owner.
- When you get the toyol initially from the Spiritual master, he will teach you how to control it. He will teach you a few chants so that you can tell the toyol instructions such as (1) to eat (2) look for information you need (3) do certain tasks. There is even a chant to the effect that it will “get beaten/caned” if it’s not obedient.
- If it is not well taken care of, it will sometimes create trouble for the owner so that it will be taken back to the spiritual master that created it so that it can complain to him against the owner.
- In order to get rid of a toyol, you have to take it back to the spiritual master that made it. But complications arise when that master dies. Then the spiritual master’s disciple will have to be sought to solve the problem. If no disciple is to be found, it then becomes a big problem! Other spiritual masters/ghost catchers can be called in to convince it to go.
- The toyols ultimately wants to be reborn/reincarnated. But some choose not to take that path because when they are reincarnated, they may not be reborn as humans again. Because of what they are and what they have done, judgment will be passed onto them and they will have to go through a few cycles lasting a few hundred years (risking reborn as animals first), before they can be reborn ultimately as a human. Hence they may choose to stay a toyol. The owner can choose the toyol to take over the body of his unborn child.
- In the event that the bottle/jar is broken, they will be stronger as they are now freed and there is nothing to restrain/control them. The owner will also be punished for breaking the bottle. The owner will then have to get the bottle replaced and get it refilled with corpse oil.
- The bottle has to be put under the moon to absorb its energy so that it will be strong. Blood is dripped into the bottle every 14th of the month. Corpse oil has to be refilled if the levels drop in the bottle.
- Like a child, when telling the toyol to accomplish a task, very specified instructions have to be given to it. E.g. You need it to steal a $10,000 for you. You have to go through the steps of (1) showing it the different denominations. (2) telling it what the rewards of bringing back the different denomination, $10 will get it a certain amount of sweets and with $50, it will get it a bigger amount (3) showing it what a 10 thousand note look like and telling it the reward for bringing the note back.
- It cannot help make predictions for four-digit numbers. But in rare cases where it is a powerful toyol, it can approach a spirit/ghost for numbers. But this seldom happens.
- It understands different languages.
- It likes to be treated like a baby echidna. Enjoys hugs like a baby and listening to lullabies. Usually under the beds of the owners, there will be toys, marbles, toy cars and baby sucklers. Likes to be rewarded with sweets and toys. Some of them will even ride a child’s tricycle. They supposedly also like to play with water.
- To find out if the house has a toyol, you can line up matchbox toy cars in a line. You will find them moving on their own.
- During meal times, the owner and the toyol have to eat together. A plate of food, the same as what the owner is eating, has to be placed beside the owner during mealtime. If the owner forgets to feed the toyol, he will find bruise(s) on his body to serve as warning. If circumstance really does not allow them to eat together, then the toyol has to be fed first before the owner eats. Food that has been offered to the toyol and “eaten” by it, supposedly spoils very quickly.
- It is not true that you can abandon a toyol overseas. Supposedly it can latch itself onto people’s luggage and make its way back.
- Because the toyol is consistently fed with the owner’s blood, it has established a link with the owner. With the passing of time, the link is so strong that there is no need for spoken words and the two can communicate via “the heart” (用心沟通). Eventually it can even read the owner’s thoughts. In some cases, they are aware that the owner is thinking of abandoning them before the deed is done. Sometimes they choose to communicate to the owner in their dreams.
- They sometimes complain to the owner if it is not treated right. It has to be treated with tender loving care (爱心). Owners when getting one of these toyols have to know that they have a responsibility towards looking after them and not only be concern about the benefits they bring. They are not pets that can be abandoned.
- Malays who keep toyol like to pass it down to their children because they know the toyol has helped them and it can continue to do the same for their children.
- Initially when it is brought back, its presence may not be felt. But as it spends more and more time in the house, you will know if it’s around.
- Toyols that stay evoked for long periods take on features akin to men and women.
- There are also female toyols. But male ones are more common as the girl toyols are more vicious and difficult to control. The bond with their owners is stronger and closer, hence they are more possessive and jealous. They also tend to be stubborn. If they want something, there will be no negotiation. Their preference for toys would be dolls and not cars. They will not perform all the tasks of the boy toyols. They are more homebound and hence will not perform tasks such as stealing. They are usually used to defend the house and beat up baddies. Due to their “lack of usefulness” and control issues, female toyols are not common.
- Toyols are dressed. Owners would buy children clothes, placing them in the cupboard for them to wear.
- If the toyol knows that the owner is planning to destroy it, it will make sure that the owner dies together with it.
In popular culture
The word toyol is also the Malay slang for the cheat sheet.