Every kid fears the boogeyman: It’s one of those universal fears that every kid has at some point. But depending on where you go, the boogeyman takes many different forms. Here’s a field guide to the boogeymen from around the globe.
The Mediterranean: Babau
There’s no shortage of things to be terrified of in the Mediterranean. But the kids are taught to fear Babau in particular. A tall man in a black coat and black hood. Depending on where you are in the region, he either hides under the bed, haunts bad children until they behave, or he abducts them for an entire year. Though in that scenario, at least he brings them back.
Indonesian: Wewe Gombel
Indonesia has a sort of reverse-boogeyman: Poorly behaved parents will have their children abducted and properly raised in a palm tree nest until they mend their ways.
Albania: The Catalan
If it seems overly specific that Albanians use a man from the north of Spain to terrify their kids, you can blame the Almogavars, Catalan troops from the 13th and 14th century that spent quite a bit of time terrorizing the Albanians, among other people in the area. “Catalan” still means “soulless man” in some languages in the area.
Spain: El Coco
One of the few boogeymen to be immortalized by a fine artist, this one gets his name from the furry surface he’s supposed to have, like a coconut, and his giant noggin. Somehow, this still lets him live under beds and eat children who don’t sleep. Maybe Spanish beds are unusually high?
Sharing some similarity to Baba Yaga, the babaroga (roughly translated: “old woman with horns”) pulls kids through holes in the ceiling and eats them. What happens when the ceiling has no holes? Hey, Croatia has hardware stores just like anywhere else.
France: The Hand-Cruncher
The appetites of le croque-mitaine are self-explanatory. Keep your hands in bed, French children.
Belize: Tata Duende
The most oddly specific of the boogeymen, Tata Duende is short, old, has backwards feet, no thumbs, and has one job: Protecting the forest. Part of that job is keeping kids out of the forest, and he’s not shy about creeping you out to do it. But at least he doesn’t hide under your bed.
Japan takes their boogeyman game to the next level. Not only is this spirit supposed to haunt lazy children and children who cry, there’s an entire festival, Namahage Sedo Matsuri, dedicated to dressing up like namahage and scaring children. That’s them, above. Man… the rest of the world needs to up its boogeygame.
Quebec: The 7-O-Clock Man
Quebec has an oddly punctual boogeyman who shows up at 7 p.m. to collect naughty kids for dinner. If they’re not in bed, into the oven they go back at his cave. You’d think he’d at least let them push bedtime to 9 or something.
If you’re outside after dark in Haiti, Mètminwi will arrive with legs two stories high to sweep you up and… well, you’re probably sensing a theme. A lot creepier was the Tonton Macoute, or “Uncle Gunnysack”… a legend used by the Haitian secret police as a name for their forces that would actually abduct and “disappear” people.
Latin America: The Sack Man
As you might guess, this variant of the boogeyman shows up to stuff naughty children in a sack and take them away. Where he takes them to is an open question, but they don’t come back. Geez, at least the Babau returns the naughty kids! You can also find El Coco in Latin American countries, but there he’s a little guy with glowing red eyes who simply eats the children. You know, because the Sack Man wasn’t enough to be scared of.
For more on the boogeyman, check out why even professional ghost hunters fear him: