With the release of the latest Brazilian Netflix series Invisible City (Cidade Invisível) it’s time to do a round-up of the fable characters in Brazilian mythology and legend. Brazilian folklore is an enchanting mixture of Indigenous, African and European stories. Here are 9 characters found only in Brazilian fables from a shapeshifting dolphin to an oversized snake that consumes eyes.
Boto is a freshwater dolphin found in the Amazon region. In Brazilian folklore the Boto transforms from dolphin to man and impregnates women. Historically women who get pregnant with a man who doesn’t stick around (or whom they don’t see again) can blame the pregnancy on the Boto.
The Boto is a party-goer and he disguises his dolphin blow hole with a hat! He’ll also kidnap children and women who shy too close to the river at night.
The Cuca is character similar to the bogeyman. If you don’t sleep the Cuca will come and eat you or haunt you with your worst nightmares. She appears as a crocodile-woman that sleeps only once every 7 years.
Parents can use the Cuca to trick children into going to bed or the Cuca will get them. The Cuca is prevalent in many Hispanic legends and therefore is believed to originate from Spain and Portugal.
The protector of the forest, Curupira’s legs are on backwards. He guards the forest supposedly taking revenge on those who intentionally damage nature. Curupira originates from the indigenous Tupi word meaning “child’s body”, so sometimes he is pictured as a child. He can help those lost in the forest, but he can also punish those harming it. Since his legs are backwards it’s impossible to track him and some say his hair is fiery ginger, though others claim it is literally on fire.
Curupira is a beast to be reckoned with.
Another protector of the forest, the Boitatá, is a kind of flaming snake. Why can it see so well at night? Because it consumes the eyes of its prey that gives it bright flaming eyes. These light up its path in the darkness.
Abuse the Brazilian rain forest and lose your eyes to this frightening, fiery anaconda.
Iara is a mermaid or part-fish-part-woman that seduces men. The Brazilian version of the Siren originates from the Amazon. In a Guarani indigenous legend Iara was a warrior that was murdered by her brothers, or did she murder them? Both versions exist. As she is left drowned in the river, perhaps as punishment or at the hands of her jealous brothers she morphs into a cross between fish and human.
As with the siren, Iara is a character warned about in the Amazon because she drowns men.
Mula Sem Cabeça (Headless Mule)
Literally a mule without a head. Where the head was, protrudes a fiery gape. This character is used as a word to the wise to anyone who is heading towards sin. If a woman commits any kind of outlandish wrongdoing she’ll could become the headless donkey-horse forever more. And there’s not much else to it, other than follow societal norms or so help me you will become the Headless Mule.
The Saci is a one-legged capricious character who arrives on the scene to cause trouble. He materialized in a whirlwind both literally and metaphorically. For this reason, where there is chaos in Brazil people can attribute this to Saci, a little trickster.
He’s often depicted smoking a pipe and with a red hood or head scarf, which possesses magical powers. Saci is dark skinned, sometimes black, sometimes bi-racial.
There are several stories of how he lost his leg. The main one claims he lost his leg in a capoeira battle, which is a Brazilian dance and martial art. Many of life’s annoyances and mysteries are attributed to Saci. From burning food, to missing belongings, to weird sounds and animals being spooked.
Tutu or Caipora
This entity protects the animals of the forest. He is depicted as a small native Brazilian who rides on a hog or is a shapeshifting hog. This creature derives from Tupi-Guarani Indigenous Brazilian folklore. Basically, Tutu defends the ecosystem, ensuring fair game in hunting by tricking hunters with sounds and false clues.
Further Brazilian Folklore Resources
Watch the latest Brazilian Netflix series to see a modern take on this folklore. Plus the series is shot in Rio with a focus on the stunning nature. Parque de Tijuca, fixed around the edges of Rio, is after all considered the largest urban forest in the world.