Here comes the Real Bogeyman!

The bogeyman crosses cultural barriers. Some cultures have more than others. I recall growing up in the village as a child and being threatened with a bogeyman if I did this or that, or if I was in a certain place when I shouldn’t have been there. The threat was always instigated by adults and the general intention was always to transmute the child’s way of behavior, considered wayward, as against that of the adults, considered good and normal.

The bogeyman was, invariably, a tevoro or jimoni (timoni), an unseen evil spirit. For instance, a tevoro, would do unimaginable things to me if I didn’t come into the house from the enveloping darkness outside, especially when it was time for the evening meal. On other occasions, I would be reminded to return home, after having bathed in the pool on the other side of the island, before dusk; otherwise the tevoro would take possession of my soul.

The idea of spirit is natural for Fijians. With their origin stories, Fijians believe in the spiritual world of their vu and kalou vu. These were essentially ancestors who still occasionally frequent their descendants in their spiritual forms. Apart from them, there were also evil spirits. Those who are of evil mind and are sadistically inclined in the community would worship these evil spirits. Fijians refer to these individuals as vakatevoro or dauvakatevoro; and when they are being possessed by these evil spirits, they are kani tevoro.

Fijians have derived adages as well to depict specific aspects of this phenomenon. ‘Dro na tevoro, toka na tamata’ (or ‘Sa vuka na tevoro ka sa tu na tamata’) refers to the shame when one’s secret worshipping of an evil spirit becomes public knowledge. Another one has reference to a banyan tree: ‘Vunibaka ga sa tevoro;’ meaning that if someone looks menacing, haunting and mysterious like the vunibaka tree, than you can imagine what he would be capable of doing.

Invariably, the tevoro is associated with darkness. Growing up in the village at the time, children got to develop the idea that tevoro lived and thrived in its blackness. I recall my older brother refusing any errand if it involved having to enter a place or an area of darkness.

Swimming in the sea was an activity where adults wanted to instill discipline for reasons of safety and health. As such, swimming during the middle of the days when the sun was at its hottest, was discouraged; and the threat of a bogeyman who would appear to dispense due penalty to those who broke the rule was a favourite amongst the adults in the village.

Now, the bogeyman was no longer a mythical invention or an evil spirit that would somehow appear from the depth of the sea. The bogeyman this time was someone (usually a male) with a matavulo, menacing mask, dressed up in leaves and carrying a stick. He would suddenly appear on the beach from the direction of Muanalailai, the site of the cemetery, shaking his leaf-covered arms and his stick and approaching the swimmers with exaggerated haste. A conniving adult would alert the children of their impending doom.

I recall the occasion when I first saw this apparition approaching. There was a group of us swimming. The alarm spread quickly and we didn’t wait for a second warning. We ran for our dear lives in the direction of the comfort of our own homes and parents. Screaming and screeching broke the peace and quiet that had prevailed in the village. The tevoro disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. The adults lived another day protecting their well-kept secret.


Image credit: Baka tree, The Dreaded Anthropologist:

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