Reports of Indonesian “Grease Devils” Incite Panic and Violence

In recent weeks, parts of rural Sri Lanka have been subjected to a terrifying and peculiar phenomenon which, according to reports, has begun to turn deadly.

Reports of so-called “Grease Devils,” once believed only to be a part of the folklore of the South Asian Islands, have incited panic in towns like Puttalam in the country’s North Western Province over the last few days. During a particularly violent outbreak that occurred Sunday, one police constable was reportedly killed after angry townsfolk attacked him. At present, the reasons for the attack remain unclear.

Traditionally, reports of “Grease Devils” involve phantom attackers who either wear little or no clothing at all, covering their bodies in grease or oily substances that make their bodies difficult to grasp by would-be-captors. It is typical for these phantom-attackers to assail young women with unwanted sexual advances, sometimes breaking into homes under the cover of night.

With the present scads of reports involving grease-covered attackers in Sri Lanka, investigators have credited pranksters and would-be attackers who have disguised themselves according to the conventions of popular folklore. Strict warnings have been issued by law enforcement officials, stating that those caught impersonating alleged “Grease Devils” will be punished.

Another recent incident of violence associated with a Grease Devil appearance led to police firing warning shots at a supposed attacker, resulting in the injury of five people. One 13-year-old child was among the injured, and despite the attempts of authorities to quell the fears of the public, reports of violence associated with belief in alleged Grease Devils continue.

This strange phenomenon is widely believed to be a sort of mass-hysteria that results in the outbreak of social panics, rather than the result of real, physical attackers. Of particular interest, however, is the remarkable consistency between reports of phantom attackers that cover their bodies in slippery oils throughout a number of the South Asian Islands. For instance, another variation of the “Grease Devil” myth stems from nearby Malaysia, which involves a ghostly being called Orang Minyak. According to the Malay traditions, Orang Minyak similarly denotes a grease-covered serial rapist, with reports dating back to the 1950s of men or sometimes spirit-attackers blamed for mass outbreaks of panic throughout the region. Some reports of the Orang Minyak have occurred as recently 2005 in parts of Malaysia, and occasionally described the spirit-attackers wielding knives.

Yet another variety of “spirit attacker” known to incite widespread panic throughout towns and municipalities in South Asia describes an ape-like being, appropriately called the “Monkey Man.” In May of 2001, a number of reports were issued around New Delhi, India, variously describing an attacker that was covered in hair, sometimes suited in armor with sharp claws and a metallic helmet, and sometimes sporting bandages resembling an Egyptian mummy. Similar to recent reports of mistaken “Grease Devil” attacks in Sri Lanka, one incident that occurred during the Indian Monkey Man panic of 2001 resulted in violent attacks against a wandering Hindu monk. Due to his diminutive size (the monk was only four feet tall, and likely sported the traditional long-haired, painted appearance of those known as the Hindu sadhu), he was easily mistaken for appearing monkey-like, and suffered injuries from the ensuing assault.

There have been in excess of 30 separate incidents that comprise the present “Grease Devil” scare around Northern Sri Lanka, spanning at least eight of the country’s districts. These areas, widely recognized as minority centers, continue to suffer from outbreaks of fear and violence, while government officials struggle to restore order in the wake of the dangerous panic outbreaks.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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