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The Gut Demons

In this traditional folktale passed down orally from one generation to the next, pregnant women turn into demons.

Sara Frederica Santa Maria reads "The Gut Demons" in the original Melaka Portuguese.

Long ago, deep in the jungle, there lived six pregnant women. Every day they would go hunting for food. This activity exhausted them, as their bellies grew bigger and heavier by the day. One day, they gathered to speak about their troubles. One of them suggested that they consult a sorceress. They were told that the sorceress could help them, but they could only meet with her on Thursday nights. They discussed the matter for many hours and then decided to visit her.

The very next Thursday night, the women went to see the sorceress. After listening to their troubles, the sorceress replied in an ominous tone: “If you want my help, you must listen very carefully to what I say. When you go in search of food, you must do so at night, and you must only go with your head and intestines.

"You must leave at midnight and be back home by three in the morning. If you aren’t, you will become gut demons for eternity. The only way to return to your human form will be to drink the blood of pregnant women.” The six women took in the sorceress’s words. From that night onward, they would go looking for food in the darkness of the night, leaving their bodies behind. Fearing the curse, they returned home by three in the morning without fail.

The women continued their nightly hunting rituals until one night, when a young hunter spotted them in their bodiless form. All he saw were floating heads attached to trailing intestines. Uncowed, he followed them to their house and witnessed their transformation. The next night, he returned to the house and watched as they left their bodies behind. Waiting patiently until they set out to hunt, he crept into their house. Next, he repositioned the pregnant women’s bodies so that they would have trouble finding them. When they returned, they could not fit into the bodies that were placed where they had left them. Each of them frantically flew in all directions in search of the right body, but to no avail. The clock struck three, and from that moment on they were forced to remain gut demons.

You may say you have never come across these demons. Legend has it they were all captured by mighty sorcerers many, many years ago . . . or do they still lurk nearby, watching you in the dark?

Translation © 2021 by Sara Frederica Santa Maria. All rights reserved.

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