Myths, legends and folkloric tales are stories, beliefs and customs that have been passed down from one generation to the next and are usually conveyed by word of mouth. These tales usually combine a loosely accurate (if at all) account of historical events together with a mythological character (often a hero or villain) and a moral to the story.
The actions of the characters are frequently used to convey a lesson or a warning to the listeners.
Drawing of Saci Pererê by André Koehne
Brazil was occupied by hunter gatherer tribes centuries ago. In fact, evidence indicates that there were human civilisations occupying this part of South America as far back as 9 000 BCE (Before our Common Era). These ones had many tales that they passed down through the generations. Gradually, as South America was colonised and inhabited by other cultures from the 16th century onwards, the folklore and myths became infused with influences from the African slaves, Portuguese settlers, and other European folklore (from places like Poland and Germany, for example). The saints that have existed through the ages have also left their mark on the folklore of Brazil.
Of course, there are also modern traditions that have mingled with the folklore of old to evolve and shape these into newer, more current tales that children and the young at heart continue to enjoy.
There are dozens of well-known figures within the Brazilian folklore. Just some of these are:
• Alemoa – this ghost is placed on the Fernando de Noronha Island and is believed to be the ghost of a blonde (therefore German-like) woman. She seduces wreckless men and then carries them to their death.
• Besta-fera – this beast is believed to be Satan the Devil.
• Boitatá – this serpent has the horns of a bull and huge eyes of fire and slithers through open fields after nightfall. The locals believe that looking at its eyes will blind you.
• Boto – this fairytale dolphin is believed to morph into a handsome man and seduce hapless girls.
• Bumba-meu-Boi – this ox continues to feature in Brazilian mythology. The tale is often celebrated with song and dance.
• Caipora – this refers to spirits within the jungle that come out of their lodgings in the trees at night to haunt lost travellers and wanderers.
• Corpo-Seco – translated to “dry corpse”, this man’s soul is believed to have been rejected by Satan at his death for being so evil. Even earth could not cause his body to rot. So, he walks around in a state of useless nothingness until the judgement day referred to in the Bible.
• Cuca – Cuca is used to scare small children who do not want to go to bed on time. She is a mean old lady that will do evil things to them, or so the tale goes.
• Iemanjá – the goddess of the sea, according to Afro-Brazilian tradition.
• Lobisomem – this is the Brazilian version of the commonly known werewolf.
• Mother of the Gold – this woman is believed to be so powerful and lethal that no-one that has seen her in person has ever lived. Thus, there is no description available. She is seen from a distance and is described as a ball of fire that flies from one mountain to another.
• Saci Pererê – this one-legged youngster is certainly one of the most popular characters of Brazilian folklore. He is mischievous and is blamed for anything that goes wrong on the farm. The Saci is known as a con artist that can disappear and reappear at will. Whoever can grab his red cap is granted a wish by the Saci, but legend has it that the cap’s smell is so bad, you may never rid yourself of it.