In urban myths she is known as the Poinciana Woman originating in Darwin (Australia) in the first half of the 20th century. In one version she is a spirit who meets the ghosts of mothers and their newborn who died in childbirth under the branches of a frangipani tree. In another, she is a vampiric entity that seeks revenge.
The most recent stories describe Poinciana Woman haunting the poinciana trees at East Point Reserve in Darwin.
Like most urban myths the origins are a bit fuzzy making it difficult to determine what is true and what is just the product of overactive imaginations.
As the story goes, there was an aboriginal or brown-skinned Asian woman who was gang-raped by Japanese fishermen. During the late 1930s, historical evidence confirms Asian migrants came to Darwin in those years. She became pregnant, and later took her life at the poinciana tree. Afterwards she became a vengeful ghost that eviscerates her victims.
This description coincides with the story of the Pontianak, a well known urban myth known throughout Southeast Asia about a pregnant woman who kills men. Filipino and Malaysian fishermen brought the story of the Pontianak to Darwin who settled there prior to WWII.
From 1942 to 1946 a military fortress was built in Darwin (now a museum) which is close to where the Poinciana Woman is said to haunt. She is also seen at the clifftop of Dudley Point.
But there is a possibility that this ghostly legend has earlier ties to the area. It was thought that the Poinciana tree was introduced in the 1900s, brought in from Madagascar. However, others believe it was introduced earlier by Macassan fishermen, who from 1700 until the turn of the 20th century sailed yearly from Makassar on the island of Indonesia to the northern coast of Australia to fish for trepang (sea cucumber).
Another source of the Poinciana Woman could be an adaptation of the story of Poonchearni Lady, told by the local Aboriginal people since the 19th century. A young Filipino woman waited for her betrothed, a young sailor to come back from a trip so they could marry. He never returned, his fate unknown, and she waited for him on the shore, weeping for her love, and one day she was swept out to sea. The ocean returned her to shore, barely alive and she turned into a banyan tree. Its roots are her hair, and she calls to men to shelter beneath her.
But she also has the power to seduce, and some of the clusters of banyan trees around Darwin are said to be her children. There was a cluster of beautiful banyans at the end of Cavanagh Street and it was under one these, at Darwin's now-gone Terminus Hotel, where many years ago a Malay man was found dead.
To summon the Poinciana Woman, like all similar folklore one has to be at the right place at the right time. She will respond on a moonless night when you spin around three times and call out her name (similar to Hanako-san and Bloody Mary). But think twice, do you really want her to answer your summons?
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer