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MU History Department Lecture Series – Toyul, Indonesian Demon Baby

The Miskatonic University Department of History presents: Toyul — The Indonesian Demon Baby

Folklore around the world is saturated with stories about animated corpses and stories about demon babies

But in Southeast Asia, both of these things can be found in a single powerful creature.

It’s called the Toyul in Indonesian and Malaysia, this malevolent infantile spirit is said to be summoned by those who practice the black arts. The being is magically bound inside the remains of a human fetus. It can then be commanded to perform mischievous tasks, mostly to steal money and precious items from others as a way for the sorcerer to amass wealth – almost always at the cost of some sacrifice. It usually has greenish or silver skin, sharp, jagged teeth, glowing red eyes, and otherwise has many of the characteristics of a normal human toddler. It likes to be comforted, given toys to play with, and is fond of candy. There are some defenses against it. They have an intense fear of needles, and are easily distracted by beach crabs.

In Java, a Toyul can be kept for financial gain, but in exchange, a woman in the family must allow the creature to breastfeed. Instead of milk, it suckles on blood. That’s what the sharp teeth are for.

There are rumors that a special ritual can elevate the creatures from petty crimes to one capable of murder. They might even collect lost toddlers for the sorcerer to make more Toyuls.

The Toyol is normally stored in an urn, and stashed in a dark place until needed. They are passed down from generation to generation, but sometimes the person who inherits a Toyul doesn’t know it. In that case, the unknowing beneficiary might accidentally break the urn, or fail to make a blood sacrifice to the thing, and so it becomes unbonded. It is not known exactly how dangerous an unbound Toyul might be, but they will most certainly wander villages, and can be mistaken for a lost child.

They can be intentionally released from bond by being buried inside the urn in a graveyard, or set adrift on the sea.

The story of the Toyul is still alive in Indonesia today, with frequent sightings making tabloid headlines.

In 1986, waves of more than 200 Indonesians made a pilgrimage by bus, car, motorcycle and on foot to a village in Central Java to pay respect to a sacred tree that was rumored to be the center of the Kingdom of Toyul. Police and military set up road blocks to stem the onslaught of creature hunters.

A small coal fire at the base of the tree had been kept burning for generations, with a gatekeeper inheriting the job to keep it fueled and covered in incense.

It even featured prominently in a Suharto-era soap opera called the Toyul and Missus Yul. It tells the story of a repentant Toyul who is on the run from royal assassins.

English Explorer Sir Thomas Raffles said of the Toyul that the myth reflected jealousy and distrust of the wealthy that is typical of the Javanese.

Historian Peter Boomgaard argues that the Toyul is a Javanese expression of distrust for traders and middlemen, a coded warning against people who become suddenly rich by exploiting others. He says stories of Toyul didn’t appear in Indonesia until around 1850, and only became widely known in the late 1920s.

But similar stories appear all over Southeast Asia. In Thailand, they’re called Koman-Tong. In Cambodia, Cohen Kroh, in the Philippines, Tiyanak and a Kwee Kia in Hokkien.

So if this just a dismissable myth about Dutch oppression, Dr. Boomgaard, then why is this story so widespread, and why
do Indonesian sorcerers claim these creatures have been around for thousands of years? And what were you poking around in the markets of Java, asking if there were any Toyul urns for sale?

To discuss this and other strange bits of folklore, stop by the National History Honors Society, where bold speculation is welcome.

This lecture is sponsored by the Miskatonic University Department of History.

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