The Bogeyman was a Pirate

Strangely, the bogeyman; that monster who supposedly lives in children’s bedrooms, could have begun life as a pirate.

The Bugi, or Buginese, are an ethic group from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, or Celebes. The Bugis were famous sailors and notorious pirates.

During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Bugi pirates often preyed on ships of the Dutch East India Company which was colonizing Indonesia. The Buginese pirates were fierce fighters who scared European and American sailors to death.

Starting in the 17th Century, the Bugineese built giant sailing ships known as prahus. The prhaus sailed as far as Australia and were big enough to overwhelm European ships with firepower and giant boarding parties.

Was the Bogeyman a pirate?

The phrase Bugi man became a slang term for pirate. Some Dutch were so afraid of the Buginese that they began joking that the Bogeyman will get you. The term could have could come to America with the Dutch who settled New York.

Conversely, many etymologists claim the term Bogeyman comes from an old German or Norwegian phrase. Notably the idea of a supernatural monster that hides in children’s rooms comes from German and Scandinavian legends that predate the Dutch colonization of Indonesia.

Notably, many Indonesians distrusted the Buginese and regarded them as pirates or gangsters. In particular, the Buginese allied with the Dutch to takeover Sulawesi. After 1669, Bugis settled all over Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Today there is a notable Buginese presence in Singapore.

Another aspect of Bugi culture that could have scared Europeans was the acceptance of transgender people. In fact, the Bugi have five genders, including calabi or “false women.”

Pirates as entertainment

So the Bogeyman may have not been a pirate. However, the phrase bogeyman should remind us that pirates were ruthless gangsters, not entertaining characters with a bottle of rum.

The idea of pirates as cartoon characters or heroes began in the 19th Century. In particular, with Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical, The Pirates of Penzance, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Hollywood picked up the idea in the 1930s and used it to make Errol Flynn a superstar.

Today, Disney (DIS) is the chief promoter of piracy as entertainment through The Pirates of the Caribbean, a series of big-budget spoofs of Flynn’s pirate films. Bizarrely, they based those movies on a ride at Disneyland.

The activities of real pirates included rape, slave trading, looting, armed robbery, and worse. Many pirates carried innocent people away and sold them into slavery. North Africa’s Barbary pirates supposedly conducted slave raids as far north as Iceland.

Pirates and Bogeymen

Disgustingly, governments often encouraged piracy because it distracted the naval resources of rival powers.

For instance, England’s Queen Elizabeth I encouraged the piracy or privateering of the sea dogs as guerrilla warfare against the Spanish Empire. Elizabeth I was one of many rulers who sold or issued letters of marquee; licenses to commit piracy on enemy ships to sailors.

Thus, piracy was a serious, deadly and ugly business before we turned it into children’s entertainment. I have to wonder what sort of fairy stories future generations could manufacture around today’s bogeymen such as gangsters, drug dealers, and terrorists.

One generation’s bogeyman is a future generation’s light entertainment. History is far more bizarre than most people want to admit.