“What we were told as kids was that the bag man was this man who would come from the woods and take mischievous kids, put them in the bag and take them to the forest. And then I don’t know what the Bag Man would do to the kids., but that’s what our parents would tell us to make us scared of doing bad things…kinda like a Santa Claus but backwards.”
“(Concerning the Bag Man’s appearance) That was really left to our imagination, our parents would just say ‘the Bag Man would take you if you do that’, but there was no description”.
After this initial description, I asked my informant to elaborate on what kind of kids the Bag Man would take. Often the Bag Man was threatened to visit kids who would misbehave, “not do what their parents would ask them too, doing bad things like lighting the house on fire, stuff like that. Stuff that was perceived as bad, like if you punched a kid, ‘oh no the Bag Man will take you!'”
My informant first heard of the Bag Man from his parents “when I was four…really as far back as I could remember”. Although he has not received warning from his parents about the Bag Man in many years, my informant says the Bag Man still stays in his mind. “Sometimes I think about the Bag Man, you know, it keeps me from doing bad things.” My informant followed that phrase with “I’m joking around,” but his tone suggested there might have been an element of truth to his statement.
“It’s not the kind of thing that the kids take seriously, you know, but it’s the kind of thing the parents say…they don’t expect the kids to believe in the Sack Man, they just kind of use it as a veiled threat. ‘The Bag Man will take you’ is more like ‘I will punish you if you keep doing that’, but for when you’re a kid, like really young.
“I think the physical appearance of the Bag Man is unclear on purpose, because it’s meant to be communicated more as an idea than, like, an actual existing thing, you know? I mean, not so much with characters like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, but at least in Portugal I feel that most kids don’t get to believe in that sort of stuff, and it carries on to the Bag Man.”
I then asked how widespread knowledge of the Bag Man was when my informant was growing up in Portugal, and he confirmed that it was very popular. In his hometown in Portugal, “Everybody knew about him.”
My informant then made a tie between the story of The Bag Man to that of what he translated as the Eating Monster, known in Portugal as “Bicho-papao”. “It’s pretty much the same as the boogey man or the Bag Man, but without the bag…it’s sort of a version of the monster under the bed, a night monster.” According to my informant, the Bicho-papao and the Bag Man acted as two halfes to the same story, where the Bag Man was the figure that would take misbehaving kids during the dat, and at night the Bicho-papao became the threatening figure that parents would warn about. “[The Bicho-papao] is the same thing, pretty much, but because of the name, ‘the eating monster’, the perception or what was implied was that he would eat you, but nothing different beyond that really.”
As we touched on in our interview, my informant and I came to the conclusion that the Bag Man and similar Boogeyman characters are often used by parents as a convenient way to inform a small child that something they are doing is wrong, and that it must stop or there will be negative consequences. Because the Bag Man was told to my informant and his friends from a very young age, one can infer that parents used the Bag Man as a deterrent for bad behavior because the concept of abstract punishment is not as effective as fear or danger for the young mind. Once a parent and child get used to the Bag Man, however, it seems to remain the primary mode of warning, perhaps because it creates that lasting impression that made my informant still keep the Bag Man story with him.
Monsters often represent what we fear in society, so for a child, the amorphous form of the Bag Man acts less as physical danger, but more as a premonition for something more. The child knows that something is wrong, but they might not be at the age where they could understand the effect of their actions and the intent of their parents. The Bag Man becomes an effective shorthand for punishment for the child, even though they might not understand what exactly punishment entails – they just know it is bad and it is coming for them.
Citation: The Disney film The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) features a character named Oogie Boogie, a Boogeyman character who associates with three mischievous children. In addition to these shared characteristics with the Bag Man, Oogie Boogie is literally stitched together from sacks, in (perhaps coincidental) nod to the Bag Man.