Leyak of Balinese Folklore

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There's an intriguing and unsettling monster from Balinese folklore called a Leyak. Leyak aren't the typical type of creatures that inspire fascination; instead, they're more likely to cause nightmares just from learning about them. Even a simple physical description is enough to make many people's stomachs flip. A Leyak might be living right next door to you, and you would have no idea. This means that learning some of the chilling lore around the Leyak could just save your life one day or, at the very least, make you glance over your shoulder a little more often.

A Little About Bali

Bali is an island belonging to the island country of Indonesia. I realize that I said island twice there, and I'm going to say it more because, well, there are a lot of islands in Indonesia, each with its own distinct mix of natural beauty and complex cultural landscape.

Google Map showing the location of Bali as east of Java in Indonesia.

Located east of Java and west of Lombok, Bali is one of over 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. In Bali, you'll find volcanic mountains, lush rice paddies, and pristine beaches.

A Balinese woman in traditional attire carrying a basket on her head walks through the picturesque village of Penglipuran, Bali, under a hazy sky, with its lush greenery and distinctive architectural style of stone temples and gates in the background.
Penglipuran is a traditional village in Bali, Indonesia, renowned for its well-preserved culture and architecture, orderly landscape, and the villagers' commitment to the local customs and cleanliness.

The history of Bali is a blend of the indigenous Balinese people influenced by early Hindu and Buddhist settlers, followed by Dutch colonialism. Several incursions from the Dutch in the late 1800s and early 1900s prompted the Balinese people to perform a ritual mass suicide called Puputan, killing themselves instead of surrendering. Dark events like those have been fairly common throughout history with colonialism.

Monument in Denpasar, Bali, commemorating the 1906 Puputan, depicting three Balinese warriors in traditional attire, with raised spears, standing back-to-back on a pedestal against a cloudy sky. The monument is surrounded by a water feature with spouts and greenery.
Monument to the 1906 Puputan. Denpasar, Bali.

The Balinese language is spoken by about 3.3 million people, mainly in Bali and the surrounding islands. There are a range of local dialects, and while the Indonesian language is more prevalent, there are some areas where using Balinese is more common, such as local cultural practices. Efforts are ongoing to preserve the language amid modernization.

The Pura Taman Saraswati Temple in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, presented in vibrant color, showcasing its traditional Balinese architecture with intricate carvings and tiered towers. The temple is framed by lush greenery and a serene pond filled with blooming lotus flowers in the foreground, under a bright blue sky scattered with white clouds.
Pura Taman Saraswati temple in Bali.

Stories from Balinese mythology and folklore are captivating and often feature beings that seem to represent the interplay of good and evil, all with a uniquely Balinese perspective. The Leyak, as we'll see, offers a window into Bali's culture, where Balinese history and culture converge to form a stunning range of legends.

What is a Leyak?

You already know since you're reading this that there's going to be something dark, sinister, and dangerous about Leyak because, well, I'm writing about them. So, first thing's first: it's worse than you think because there are actually three Leyak, two females and one male.

All three are (or were...) humans who practice black magic. Leyak are said to be able to shapeshift into animals or take human form to blend in with us by day. Your friend, neighbor, family, someone you randomly happen across—any of these could be Leyak, and you would have no idea. With all of the shapes they can take, they seem to prefer one over the others, especially when they are out at night terrorizing people and hunting for food.

Imagine that the sun set a few minutes ago, and you head out into the evening air. You turn a corner and almost bump straight into someone. You lift your hands to start an apology, and you feel your fingertips run cold as you realize that instead of a human standing before you, it's a disfigured floating human head. Where the neck should be are entrails and organs, dripping blood onto the ground. You stumble, trying to step back and see that its teeth are sharp fangs, and its tongue slides out of its mouth, stretching an arm's length toward you.

Statue of a Leyak in Bali, Indonesia, depicted as a mythological creature with a fearsome red and white mask featuring large bulging eyes and a protruding tongue adorned with a long, flowing gray mane. It stands with outstretched claws, wearing traditional Balinese striped garments, set upon a fiery-looking pedestal in a lush garden setting.
Statue of a Leyak in Bali, Indonesia.

It begins floating closer, its eyes locked on you with a horrible hunger. You know exactly what it wants; you can feel its intent in the electric buzz in your skin as the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. It hungers. And you? You are food.

A shuffling nearby catches your attention. Your eyes snap to the noise coming from only a few feet away. You open your mouth to scream and see that there are two women: one pregnant and another with a newborn. Two of your neighbors. The women look from you to the Leyak, mouths agape.

The Leyak sneers, exposing more razor fangs. It lazily turns to face the women. It creeps toward the women, entrails painting a slick trail of blood as it moves. The Leyak has forgotten you, as it has found food more to its liking: a pregnant woman and a newborn. A delicacy.


You are alive.

But...not for long.

The Leyak may be rounding up its main course to savor later and might come for you as an appetizer.

Rangda, Queen of Witches

In Balinese stories, there is a queen of witches known as Rangda. Rangda and Leyak usually come up together because the Leyak are under the influence of Rangda. Not only that, but Rangda is somewhat of a central figure within the realm of supernatural entities, contrasting with her archnemesis, Barong. Barong is the king of spirits, resembles a panther, and is said to symbolize all things good. Rangda and Barong are locked in an eternal battle, embodying the perpetual struggle between good and evil. Rangda and Barong are often showcased in traditional Balinese dances and ceremonies.

Statue of Rangda, the mythical Queen of Leyak in Balinese folklore, depicted with fierce facial expressions, a long protruding tongue, and a small figure clutched in her left arm. The statue shows intricate carvings and stands against a backdrop of weathered red bricks.
Rangda, Queen of Leyak.

Rangda's physical appearance could be called nightmarish, with a long tongue, fang-like teeth, and bulging eyes. Her hair is wild, adding somewhat of a fearsome mane-look, and she has claw-like fingernails and garments made of fire. Obviously not someone you'd want to encounter.

One key thing to remember: We've just scratched the surface of Leyak and Rangda, but many other creatures from Balinese folklore would love to terrorize you, each with its own horrifying legend. And that's just from the single island of Bali, one of the over 17,000 islands in Indonesia. Imagine just how many things are out there, waiting for the opportunity to devour you.

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