My first monster lived outside my parents' garage. But I was safe, as long as I followed the rules. My parents explained that the daylight, the side of the day before the maghrib (evening) prayer was mine. The hours after the sunset was for the ghosts, demons, and monsters that haunted the streets. My childhood was full of warnings about these dark creatures, but there's one that stood out above all the rest—the Kolor Ijo, or "Green Underpants."
“Sasa, come inside or the Kolor Ijo will take you!” my live-in nanny would shout to me. I never refused. I would enter my house through the garage and peer outside as I slowly closed the door. Was he out there? The Kolor Ijo never appeared, but I never doubted that he could.
The Kolor Ijo, as I remember him, is a large, ugly, green monster who wears nothing but a pair of boxers. This alone was enough to scare the shit out of 7-year-old me. I was convinced that the Kolor Ijo could kidnap me by hiding me under his sweaty arm, his green pigment rubbing off on my face. To this day I remain, at worst, suspicious, and at best, unimpressed, with all these "nice" green monsters running around—the Hulks, Shreks, and Mike Wazowskis out there. Sure, I gave up on this "get home before dark" rule more than a decade ago, but the Kolor Ijo still sticks in my mind. And there's one thing about him that I, for some reason I never realized until today—the Kolor Ijo is a rapist.
That's right, the Kolor Ijo hypnotizes women and young girls in their homes, rapes them, and steals all their shit. That's because this ghost is based on an actual real-life rapist—a man who went by the name Buasir Nur Khotib who, for nearly a decade, terrorized the small town of Probolinggo, in Central Java. Buasir wasn't arrested until 2014, when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. By the time of his arrest he had raped 31 women and young girls. He was, to be direct, an actual monster who gave birth to a terrifying urban legend about a mystical monster who was lurking in the shadows.
And Buasir was only the first Kolor Ijo. Later, when other serial rapists struck, like the man known as Bala who raped 30 women, they too were called Kolor Ijo in the press. It makes my skin crawl. Ghosts in Southeast Asia are well-known for their tragic ends. Most of the female ghosts we have were the victims of brutal forms of sexual and gender-based violence. The Kuntilanak, for example, is a vengeful, man-eating ghost who is allowed to be beautiful, flirty, and still walk the streets at night without fear because she's the scariest thing out there. Real-life women don't have the same luxury.
The Wewe Gombel, a figure in Javanese mythology, will steal your kids and raise them because, in her past life, she was an infertile woman. Parents are afraid of the Wewe Gombel, but, according to the legend, she always raised the children better than their own parents. There's a tragic tint to most female ghosts in Indonesia, and each time you can trace the roots back to some dark part of the patriarchy.
The Kolor Ijo, on the other hand, carries out a crime that many men carry out in real-life today. The only difference between Kolor Ijo, the monster, and Kolor Ijo, the man, is their green skin. It's symbolic of how little imagination we have when it comes to writing the backstories of male ghosts too. Why is it that our female ghosts, while all tragic, run the gamut from good mothers to vampires, but our males monsters are sexual predators? Where's the monster who saves little boys from abusive, toxic households? Nowhere.
Male violence and nonconsensual sex has become so normalized in Indonesia that not only do Buasir's sex crimes live on as an urban legend, they've been immortalized in a popular sinetron, or soap opera, that ran for 26 episodes. That's 26 episodes too many of a half-man, half-pig raping women on TV if you ask me. Then there's the low-budget, raunchy horror movies that the local film industry churns out on a near-weekly basis. It's a genre I've avoided because I have better things to do with my time than look for cheap scares in a poorly produced movie about a serial rapist when there's real rapists in the streets.
Walking in Jakarta is a luxury and a gamble for me, especially when I do it at night. When I was a kid, I lived in a safe gated community in the suburbs. Now I live in a kost in a busy part of the city. Some nights I say "fuck it," and keep my earbuds in, listening to a podcast while I walk home. But most other nights I'm on edge, eyes open, fists clenched, looking for the real life Kolor Ijo.