Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast of the hosts with the ghosts
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I’m Aaron, and this week I learned graveyards are probably the least haunted areas because ghosts stick around where they died and I don’t think a lot of people die in the graveyard…
I’m Steve, and this week I learned that garages are basically blooming onions — the more you clean them, the bigger they get.
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Stieglbrauerei zu Salzburg GmbH
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We have all heard of haunted houses and haunted hotels and now a haunted brewery but how about a haunted town, a literal ghostly ghost town. Frozen in time and coated with a layer of ochre desert sand, Al Jazirat Al Hamra is a hamlet of perfectly preserved Ras Al Khaimah history, in the UAE. And dust isn’t the only thing covering the town; it’s shrouded in mystery, surrounded by rumors, and possibly even haunted by ancient ghosts.
Jazirat al Hamra, which translates to Red Island, has a reputation for being haunted. Established sometime in the 14th century, the once-thriving fishing and pearl-diving village of over 300 houses and 13 mosques were suddenly abandoned in 1968. And since then, while the rest of the United Arab Emirates has marched to the drums of progress, this little corner of Ras al Khaimah has remained unchanged, protected from modernity, embalmed in myth and mystery.
If stories circulating on the local grapevine are to be believed, the village of Jazirat al Hamra is a hotbed of djinn activity. Tales of strange noises, chilling wails, and unexplained apparitions are shared in huddled whispers around majlises and campfires across the country. Maybe this is a reason why most Emiratis and ex-pats tend to stay away from the place. Especially at night. The seaside village established a reputation as a djinn hotspot after its abandonment in 1968.
The old village has long attracted nocturnal thrill-seekers to its 300 or so mud brick, concrete, and coral stone buildings, some of which are up to 100 years old and exemplify changing styles of pre-oil architecture. Djinn tourism is a popular UAE pastime, and Al Hamra is the region’s top destination. Djinn, of course, are shape-shifting spirits made of fire and air with origins in pre-Islamic Arabia. They are the inspiration for Aladdin’s genie and have held space in Arab culture for almost as long as Arab culture itself. And yet, having transcended both religion and the physical world, so little is understood about the spirits.
Residents insist Al Hamra is djinn free. They want the old village to be known for its dhow-building heritage or for its pearling fleets that roamed Gulf waters until the trade faded away in the 1950s. Djinn stories are denied to visitors, but witness accounts appear in everyday conversation.
“They’re afraid now of cars, of people,” said local Saif Rashed, who is about 75.
If you want to see the djinn of Jazirat Al Hamra, you’re wasting your time on land, he advises. Djinn are found above and below its waves.
“I was born at sea. I got grey hair at sea. I’ll tell you [some stories],” said Mr. Rashed. “When I would go down to catch the oyster, the pearls, the djinn would be clapping. They used to slap us, too, and we’d faint under the sea.”
“We never saw them,” he said. “Just heard them. They used to come in the shape of a fish, a hammour. If you touch them or they came near you, you got electrified.”
Any retired pearler can tell you about underwater djinn.
Sailors read prayers over unconscious divers they pulled from the depths. They would question the djinn on why he possessed the diver: Had the diver stepped on him by mistake? Sometimes the djinn answered in a gentle, sweet voice, like a woman.
Then there are nautical spirits, like Abu Salasal (The Father of Chains) and Bu Khataf, the ghost ship. “He’s a tall man. He never harmed, he just frightens people. He throws you to the sea, but he loves just to frighten.”
Another man in town told anyone who would listen that nobody from the village has ever seen a djinn. End of story.
The dual narrative about Al Hamra’s haunting is common. Residents of Al Hamra have a complicated relationship with their djinn. It is quite normal for one man to share stories while another dismisses them outright.
After the old village renovation in late 2011, former residents behind the restoration confirmed that ghost stories were just that, stories.
As one of them claimed that any strange sounds were probably just wild foxes, an elder across the majlis held a parallel conversation about ghost ships and his neighbor’s talking goat.
“He carried the goat in his arms,” said Saleh bin Jumeah. “The goat turned to him and said, ‘ba, ba, ba, please leave me here’.” The owner, astonished, put the goat down. It lived a long life.
Gulf filmmakers love horror and for this, they love Al Hamra. Djinn may be the first feature-length horror movie, but it comes from a long line of Emirati films set in Al Hamra about magic and the supernatural.
Maher Al Khaja stayed for a week in 2010 to document its djinn for The Curse of the Devil, his second horror movie.
“It was really surprising for me to find this place in the UAE,” said the Dubai director. “It’s like Resident Evil. When you walk there, you feel like you are the only survivor.”
Old Al Hamra is not exactly abandoned. Its houses are rented as labor accommodation and still owned by the original families that left for modern housing. There is one house in which laborers and cab drivers refuse to stay because they believe it is haunted. Another is home to an Emirati who never left the village. He is said to be married to a djinn. Everyone knows his house. Its yard is filled with a dusty collection of minaret loudspeakers.
In real life, the derelict village still stands even as modernity encroaches: the Al Hamra Village residential development, an 18-hole golf course, and the 346-room Waldorf Astoria to the south, a port to the north and a beach filled in and fenced off for a land reclamation project that never took off.
Ice Land, a polar-themed water park, looms over the horizon with concrete igloos and penguins.
Development, says one retired pearler, is no barrier to the Djinn.
“There are lots of djinn in Jazirat,” says Ali, a slight Emirati in his 60s with a thin black mustache. “There are djinn everywhere, everywhere but we see them on top of the sea, naked with slit eyes and scars. They are so frightening, your hair stands on end.”
As a child, he was once chased by the djinn all the way home from school. Another day, some 40 years ago, a djinn challenged his friend to a brawl. “He was so devout that he accepted.” The faithful, says Ali, have nothing to fear.
And that’s the trouble with new developments around Al Hamra, he explained. They’re not for the pious. When asked about Ice Land, he does not skip a beat.
“It’s expensive,” he says. “And inside, they say it’s full of djinn. Djinn and belly dancers.”
The djinn are not gone. They’ve just moved on.
There are more haunted spots and houses throughout the world, and whether they be haunted or hoaxed is hard to determine but what is easy to see is the fears and horrors the stories from these locations stir up. If you have any haunted places you would like to hear about leave us a message at…
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Shea, what do you know about Mogwai?
[Shea will know the rules]
Sunlight kills Mogwai,
Don’t get your Mogwai wet,
Don’t feed Mogwai after midnight.
So close. They’re a Scottish post-rock, instrumental space-rock band. They picked the name, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite explains, because “it has no significant meaning and we always intended on getting a better one, but like a lot of other things we never got round to it.”
Simple. Also, wrong. Gizmo is super spesh.
Also, also, Phoebe Cates. She was in Gremlins. And Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It turned into a 90’s movie weekend.
Anyway, let’s talk about Gremlins.
I didn’t know they were based on a “true” story.
Well, a real legend anyway.
The movie was created with a heavy lean on Chinese mythology.
If you recall, Gremlins was totally not at all racist about Mr. Wing. Especially after they revised his musical elements, which were initially supposed to be played on a Chinese Gong — yikes. The Gong did make it into the video game though, in Wing’s shop:
Chinese Gong – Allows Gizmo to utilize the “Power of the Orient” power-up (single-use).
And, because Gremlins is, pretty funny, you can also get:
Hammer and Sickle – Allows Gizmo to seize the means of production.
Which is delightful.
That definitely won’t be the last Gremlins joke but the story is about the mythical creature. The word mogwai comes from the Cantonese word “mo gwai” meaning “monster”, “evil spirit”, or “demon” depending on how it’s used. This is, at least related to, the Sanskrit word “mara”, also meaning “evil beings” or literally “death”. In Hinduism and Buddhism, Mara determines fates of death and desire tethering people to an unending cycle of reincarnation and suffering — kind of a macro version of Lucifer’s Hell-loop.
The basics of the critter are that, despite the movie’s instance, water is ok for them. In fact, it’s how they breed, so they were at least close on that count.
According to Chinese tradition the mogwai mating “season” is triggered by heavy rain. The beasts, apparently, can only have nature’s shower sex. It seems that if you want to find one in the wild, you need to go out hunting for some furry public exposure in the rain.
Be careful when you do however because the other thing the movie got right is that they’re a proper pain in the ass. They’re believed to be mischievous spirits that do harm to humans ranging from hiding stuff on you eating your insides. It depends on what kind of mogwai you get as some are made by vengeful spirits returning to the land of the living for vengeance. Other times, they’re just critters you can come down with a bad case of, like raccoons or JW’s.
Either way, the mogwai are hell-bent on doing you harm. SO much so, that in Chinese-language Biblical texts like the Book of Job, the Greek term “diabolos” for the devil, is “mogui”.
To get rid of a mogwai the movies are mostly correct. You can make use of the usual monster removal tools like guns, baseball bats, blowing up the building they’re in, or if a more traditional approach is required — and Steve you’ll love the honesty of this — one can redress the sins that attracted the mogwai, simply burn money. Do not pass go, do not pretend it’s for a collection plate. Just burn it.
I’m Shea, and this week I learned that out of all the inventions in the last 100 years the dry erase board is probably the most remarkable, and a special thanks to our newest patron, Charles!
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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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