Tag Archives: kidnapping

Baba Yaga as the Bogeyman

Context: The informant is a 22 year old USC student and the daughter of two Bulgarian immigrants. She told me that when she visited her grandparents, they would often tell her stories about Baba Yaga.

In C’s words: “[A]s a kid, my grandmother would bring up the story of Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is this old witch who lives in a house deep in the forest. She lurks there, skulking the countryside, looking for naughty children to abduct. The only visible sign of her witchcraft is how her house moves around on its own two skinny chicken feet”

Analysis: C told me afterwards that her grandmother told her these stories in order to scare her into behaving, with Baba Yaga functioning much in the same way the Bogeyman would. Here, Baba Yaga is treated as a legend, with C’s grandmother purposefully attempting to make it seem as if being kidnapped by her is a genuine possibility; this is a common tactic to get children to behave.

Interestingly, this version of the story doesn’t emphasize that Baba Yaga is terribly ugly or scary in any way physically — the only way to tell that she’s a witch is to see her cottage, at which point it would be too late for a potential victim. This makes it easier for Baba Yaga’s story to function as a legend, as she could essentially be anyone around you, making it easier to think that she’s real. It seems that because there’s no popular hero/villain story with Baba Yaga’s defeat in it, it’s almost easier to transition her from a fairy-tale creature to what could be considered a legend. In comparison to, say, the Big Bad Wolf, who also seems to function as a manifestation of the consequences of one’s behavior, Baba Yaga is much more believable as a real and present fear because she isn’t clearly associated with a narrative in which she is killed. By this, I mean that saying that the Big Bad Wolf might come after you doesn’t work as well partially because the most popular version of Red Riding Hood today ends with his death.

Part of the associated fear seems almost as if it’s due to an inversion of the grandmother stereotype/figure/character; rather than being maternal, Baba Yaga steals children. As mothers or grandmothers would typically be the ones telling these stories, it would only further that feeling of discomfort due to some sort of transgression upon the traditional concept of an older maternal figure.

Orang Minyak

Description: The Orang Minyak, directly translated as the Oily Man, kidnaps young women at night. It is something told to young girls.

Background: The informant lived in Malaysia for much of her life. Orang Minyak, as a result, is a piece of folklore that she has often heard about.


CG: Orang Minyak literally means oily man (so he’s basically dripping in petroleum) and the folklore is he comes out at night to abduct young women.

Me: For Oil?

CG: I think he is just a creep.

Me: So can you elaborate more on the details? Like how much do you know about the Orang Minyak.

CG: It’s just Malaysian folklore, like the Loch Ness monster in the US. They tell that to little girls to warn them to be careful. It’s more prominent on the outskirts and more told in Malay people. I wasn’t told that as a kid because I’m not Malay but I know because I’ve heard about it.

My Thoughts:

Kidnapper creatures are a common staple among many cultures. A semi-modern example being Slender Man. The common motivation behind those tales are obviously to prevent children from exposing themselves to danger. I do remember being moderately scared of those types of tales, especially when they have a supernatural appearance. So there must be some effectiveness in those tales. Overall, I believe this tale to be moderately standard as far as tales go.

Jasy Jatere

My friend grew up in Paraguay and has a lot of myths and legends that stem from the Guarani tradition.

Friend: “The Jasy Jatere is the God of the siesta. I heard about him from my grandmother. Apparently he would steal kids who snuck off during the siesta, which is a nap most people take during the day. I think the story was told to keep kids from leaving their houses while their parents were sleeping. Like don’t go away or the Jasy Jatere will get you!”

Me: What did he look like?

Friend: “He was supposed to look like a kid. He has blonde hair and is pretty small-framed. But he’s actually a full-grown man. Kids are supposed to think he’s their friend, he plays with them and feeds them fruit and honey, and then, according to my grandmother, he imprisons the kids and pokes out their eyes so that they cannot see to find their way home.”

Me:Did it scare you into napping during the siesta?

Friend: “Yeah I was pretty freaked out by Jasy Jatere. I definitely thought he would come and get me if I wasn’t napping. He’s sort of like the boogeyman of Paraguay.”

Analysis:The Jasy Jatere being a “Paraguyayan Boogeyman” is interesting. In some ways, it is creepy that parents would try to scare their children into staying at home and trying to sleep. Most of the time, these fears dissolve without much consequence. A child grows up and learns not to fear the Jatere, or the Boogeyman. Another connection that could be made to the Jasy Jatere is Peter Pan. It is the same archetype: a boyish creature who seems to be immortal, coming when children are without their parents, to take them away to a far off place– usually never to return home. Many cultures have these types of stories, and I think they play into our fear (and curiosity) of being taken from a loving home  with one of our kind who has learned to survive without the support of parents. transcoder

Hose Elementary Kidnappings

“So I went to Hose Elementary school in a small town in Indiana, and there was a wooded area right next to the playground that wasn’t fenced off or anything, but we were always told not to go in there. Apparently back in the 70s, some kids from the same school wandered in and got kidnapped, so it’s basically an unspoken rule to not go into the woods or else you’ll get kidnapped.”

This is from my friend who comes from a small town in Indiana with a lot of folklore traditions. He’s lived there all of his life, and apparently there are a lot of these little local stories legends about his town which is awesome. This one just reminds him of his friends from elementary school, because they all shared a common fear of the forest. I think this one likely originates in kids trying to find out why their parents wouldn’t let them out alone in the woods, so they just made up kidnapping as the reason

A Big White Van

Item and Context:

“My seniors in school – the eighth graders – would always tell us to ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’ We were all really interested in why, especially because my friend Evan thought that white vans were pretty cool. Haha, no… So he, bold as he is, went up to one of the many eighth graders repeating this warning and asked them what the story was. When he returned, he informed me that it was because this one kid from our middle school had been kidnapped by a man in a big white van and held for ransom! So when a friend of mine asked me about it, I repeated to him exactly what Evan had told me. After a few days, there was a rumor spreading around the school that the man in a big white van had taken away one of the students many years ago, and that student had been held for ransom, and when the parents failed to come up with the cash, the kid was murdered and his spirit was the one telling the eighth graders to ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’! I did not understand how this happened. I assume that it traveled from Evan to me to A to B to C and so on, finally resulting in this wild exaggeration. How strange, no?”


The proverb/superstition that this story is based on is an example of children’s lore. However, what is most interesting is that while it is an example of a type of folklore, the story the informant provided is also a perfect depiction of exactly how folklore happens. I doubt that his friend was even told about a “ransom”, and instead added that detail just to spice up the story. As the story went around the middle school, everyone freely added their own details to it, resulting in something starkly different than what these eighth graders were probably talking about, much like the game ‘Telephone’, which is also an excellent example of the process of folklore creation. The belief that the warning is based on is that large, white, unmarked vans are usually driven by creepy pedophiles who offer little girls candy and then whisk them away. Hence, according to the informant and his seniors at school – ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’