“The Sack Man Cometh…”

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El Hombre de Saco

The ‘Sack Man’, who is a variant of the Bogeyman with a bag on his shoulder to carry away disobedient children, occurs in many countries and cultures worldwide. The ‘Sack Man’ is an imaginary and frightening night-raider form of creature who is depicted as a man with a sack on his back in which to carry kidnapped children. Such supernatural bogeys are sometimes called boo-beggars and are a form of otherworld raiders who seek children for their own purposes. In the folklore ballads of Scotland the Sack Man demon is called a Lammikin who stabs and bites infant children in order to waken their mothers. A similar creature is known as Long Lankin who vents a mother’s blood into a bowl. Other versions are Hop O’ My Thumb and Le Petit Poucet who was in a Mother Goose story by Charles Perrault of 1697.

petit_poucet_i

Le Petit Poucet

The legend of the Sack Man as a type of Bogeyman is common in Spanish America, Brazil, as well as Spain and Portugal. In the Spanish language he is known as El Hombre del Costa and  El Hombre del Saco, whereas for Portuguese speakers he is a homem do saco. All epithets mean the same thing – sack man or bag man, with similar folkloric characters found in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Haiti.

In Quebecois Canada there occurs Bonhomme Sept-Heures or the Seven O’clock Man. This spectre visits homes at that time in the evening to take away children who are misbehaving and refusing to go to bed. The victims are taken to his cave and consumed. In Spain there is the skinny and ugly old man who collects naughty children to eat them. This individual is called el hombre del saco. The Catalans tell naughty children that Home de sac will come for them and be put in his sack. Similarly in Spain  an ogre – El Ogro – is represented by an indeterminate figure, as well as a hairy monster, whose shapeless form hides under beds and in cupboards in order to grab and eat children. Again, stories of El Viejo del Saco – the Old Man with the Bag – are found in Spanish speaking Argentina and Chile.

In Eastern Europe including Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus and Poland children are frightened by the buka or babay which  is threatened to make sure children stay abed and dare not naughty. In Tartary the word for ‘old man’ is Babay who has a bag and is hidden under the bed in order to capture children if they misbehave. Again, the Babayka is the one who comes at night. The ‘bag man’ is used to scare children in Georgia and Armenia who also has bag to trap and kidnap misbehaving children. For the Poles babak, babok, or bobok, is invoked to frighten children. He is another sack carrying spectre who takes children away. This sinister apparition appears on nights of the full-moon, riding in a cat-drawn cart, carrying clothes he has made for the souls he has come to steal.

The local bogeyman in Hungary is the Mummus who is also known as a man with a sack or ‘zsakos ember’. Similarly the Rezfaszu bagoly, which in translation means ‘Copper penis Owl’ is a giant with a penis made of copper. For the Romanian peoples there is an equivalent bogeyman creature called the bau-bau. Stories of this spectre are told to children who misbehave and who resembles the babau, also babao or barabao, of Italy. Children in Bulgaria are warned of the visit of a monster from the dark who comes with a ropa or sack. This is the Torbalan. The Torbalan is actually a bogeyman counterpart of Santa Claus and a partner of the predatory witch Baba Yaga. In Czechoslovakia the Babak is a bogeyman or hastruman who is actually a scarecrow or type of bugbear. In many aspects the Babak resembles the Bulgarian Torbalan. The Babak does not have a determinate or typical shape and hides in the dark and frightening places, doing so in order to frighten children without taking them away. Children in this case are kidnapped by the cert or devil.

In central to southern Europe, such as Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, the bogeyman is known as Babaroga where baba means ‘old woman’ and the term ‘rogovi’ refers to horns. In other words – old woman with horns. Sometimes the Babaroga takes children in a sack at other times, because activities vary, at other times cannibalises them in her cave. For the Serbians the mythological demon called Bauk is a variant that hides in dark places, down holes, in in abandoned ruins. The intention of the Bauk is to catch, carry off and eat its victims. In Italy the spirit called l’uomo nero – the Black Man – takes children away to a forbidding place. It is in Flanders and Holland that there occurs a servant who delivers presents before Christmas and who is Zwarte Piet or Black Pete. This character takes away children in the bags after leaving the presents. There occur protests in Holland about the continuing presence of Zwarte Piet in Christmas celebrations – the most recent protest being November 17th, 2013. Opponents object to this traditional black-faced character as a racist offence and reminder of a rejected colonial Dutch past.  For many Dutch Black Pete is a throwback to slavery and has no place in the 21st century. In Switzerland he is known as Pere Fouettard in French and Schmutzli in German.

Examples of the ancient and wide distribution of the ‘sack man, type of bogey can be found on the Indian sub-continent. In India he is known by many names. Bori Baba occurs in northern India as ‘Father Sack’ who goes abroad with a bag, his bori,  in which he places kidnapped children. Similarly the creature called Chownki Daar is a night demon who captures sleepless children. Southern India has among the Tamil Nadu the threat of Rettai Kanaan who can terrorise sleepless children. Also the two-eyed one or Poochaandi.  For those in Andhra Pradesh there is the frightening bogeyman counterpart Buddaa or Shaitaan. The Goni Billa is a scarifying sack man who captures children in the lore of Sri Lanka.

In the Americas and the Caribbean the Haitian version of the bogeyman or sack man is actually Father Christmas. Even so he is a figure reputed to abduct children in his bag when they are deemed naughty. His name in the patois of Haitian creoles is Tonton Macoute or the giant ‘Uncle Gunnysack’. In Honduras there is the child snatcher called El Roba Chicos. In the Bahamas ‘Rollin Cart’ is a little man who roves in a self-drawn cart in which he collects children out after dark. He is used as a threat for misbehaving children – so, if the ‘small man took you’, then in the back of the cart you went as a small person forever. In South America, in Brazil, the creature homem do saco is employed as a frightener of children. The character is portrayed as an adult hobo or tramp who kidnaps recalcitrant children. In the Lebanon is found a ‘Man with a Bag’ called Abu Kees. In South Africa it is the figure of Antige Somers who is a bogeyman putting captured children in a sack. Whereas for the Vietnamese naughty children are warned that ‘mister three bags’ will come at night and steal them away. The ‘sack man’ and the occasional ‘bag lady’ do appear therefore as variants of the bogeyman motif on an international cultural scale many of which may, like Zwarte Piet, be linked to the colonial histories of the peoples concerned.

Sources consulted

Briggs, K.  (1976).  An Encyclopaedia of faries…   London.

Edwards, G.  (1974).  Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck.  London.

Widdowson, J.  (1971).  The Bogeyman.  Folklore, 82 (2).

Warner, M. (1989).  No Go the Bogeyman.  London

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