Tonton Macoute

Bogeymen real and imagined

bogeymanWatching The Serpent & the Rainbow I was reminded of the Tonton Macoute, a paramilitary group favored by Haitian dictators Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. A little background, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Tonton Macoute was a Haitian paramilitary force created in 1959 by dictator François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier. In 1970, the militia was officially renamed the Milice de Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (Militia of National Security Volunteers or MVSN, probably taking name from the omonymous Italian Fascist paramilitary organization). Haitians named this force after the Haitian Creole mythological Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) bogeyman who kidnaps and punishes unruly children by snaring them in a gunnysack (macoute) and carrying them off to be consumed at breakfast.

To me this is a bit like the Krampus running the Gestapo. In fact, I find the whole idea of bogeymen being used to maintain social order utterly fascinating. Consider the following (also courtesy of Wikipedia):

A bogeyman (also spelled bogieman, or boogeyman) is a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults to frighten children into compliant behaviour. The monster has no specific appearance, and conceptions about it can vary drastically from household to household within the same community; in many cases, he has no set appearance in the mind of an adult or child, but is simply a non-specific embodiment of terror. Parents may tell their children that if they misbehave, the bogeyman will get them. Bogeymen may target a specific mischief—for instance, a bogeyman that punishes children who suck their thumbs—or general misbehavior, depending on what purpose needs serving.

Imagine the preceding applied not only to children but a whole society, Papa Doc-style. There is fiction in this somewhere. Once upon a time I started writing a short story based on the premise that a long-forgotten Cold War program had aspired to use voodoo for espionage (hardly a stretch considering the whacked-out shit the CIA has actually spent money on testing). It may be time to revisit that idea, or something like it.