Brazilian folklore is rich in culture, with folk tales, beliefs, traditions, and stories of mystical creatures scattered throughout Brazil.
Most of the mystical creatures from Brazilian folklore come from indigenous mythologies and beliefs. They gained strength and new versions over the decades. Moreover, most of them are said to be spirits and entities living in the forests to protect the wildlife.
These stories might be scary, but, most of all, those creatures are only trying to take care of Mother Nature.
The myth of Boi-Bumbá revolves around the story of a slave couple, Pai Francisco and Mãe Catarina.
Pregnant Catarina was craving to eat beef tongue. Because of that, her husband decided to indulge her pregnancy cravings by slaughtering one of his master’s ox. Nonetheless, the ox he killed happened to be his master’s favorite animal. When the owner of the farm found out about the animal’s death, he called healers and indigenous shamans to try to resurrect it. The ox came back to life, and the whole community celebrated it with a big party as the owner of the ox forgave Francisco and Catarina.
Brazilians celebrate this piece of folklore yearly with big parties all around the country. However, this culture is much more alive in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil. The National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute even included the Bumba-Meu-Boi celebration in the list of Cultural Heritage of Brazil.
The Parintins festival in Amazonas, one of the largest festivals in Brazil, celebrates the death and resurrection of the ox as a form of social criticism. The party includes a parade competition, dance, music, costumes, and much more.
Read more about the main traditional Brazilian festivals on our blog.
The popular belief says Boitatá is a snake with fire covering its body and eyes. Its purpose is to protect the Brazilian forests and wild animals from people who intend to harm nature, especially those who cause intentional wildfires.
The legends also say Boitatá may turn into a flaming wooden trunk that kills the humans who set fires to the forests.
This mystical creature from Brazilian folklore is the guardian of the fauna and flora.
Boto Cor-de-Rosa (Amazon River dolphin) is one of the unique wild animals of Brazil. It is the largest of the river dolphin species and transforms from grey to pink as it ages.
For Brazilian folklore, however, Boto Cor-de-Rosa is a magical creature that is able to take the form of a handsome man late at night. Its human figure is very charming and seductive. He goes to parties in search of beautiful, unaccompanied, young women. After becoming human and dressed in a white suit, Boto seduces village girls to the bottom of the river to impregnate them.
Indigenous people believe the blowhole of the Amazon River dolphin does not disappear while Boto is in its human form. Therefore, he needs to wear a hat to hide it.
The popular belief around the Amazon area says children whose father is unknown is the child of Boto.
Caipora is an indigenous spirit who might have a male or female form depending on which region of Brazil the story is told. They protect the animals and forests of the country. In addition to scaring hunters with loud howls, they distract them with false trails, causing them to get lost in the forest.
Their main goal is to protect the whole ecosystem. Because of that, they have the power to control animals and resurrect injured wildlife.
Some stories say Caipora will appear in the forest if someone whistles. Its origins come from the Tupi-Guarani indigenous mythology and the word Caipora means ‘inhabitant of the woods.’
Just like Caipora, Curupira is another creature from Brazilian folklore whose objective is to protect the animals and trees. He is a mischievous creature from indigenous folklore, with bright red hair and feet turned backward.
Curupira uses its backward feet to create footprints that deceive hunters and other explorers who destroy the forests. He is a ruthless creature, chasing and killing whoever endangers nature.
Moreover, when someone disappears in the forest, people believe Curupira is to blame.
Iara lives in the Amazon region. The mother of the waters, as she is called, is a beautiful mermaid with black hair who attracts fishermen with her beautiful and alluring singing.
Her voice echoes through the waters and forests, bewitching men to the bottom of a river. Once there, they can never return to land. The few men who can escape from Iara’s enchanting voice, go crazy.
This mystical creature from Brazilian folklore is a headless mule that spits fire from its neck. According to the legend, a curse is cast on any woman who has a romantic relationship with a priest. This woman then becomes a headless mule who runs endlessly through the woods scaring people and animals, hurting whatever gets in its way.
Saci is a mischievous and playful boy who has only one leg. He wears red shorts and a red cap and is always smoking a pipe. The thing he likes to do the most is to hide small objects to make people look for them. He also steals freshly made food from kitchens, hides utensils and tools, bangs doors, wakes people up, and lets farm animals lose.
Some stories say Saci lost his other leg fighting Capoeira.
Moreover, Saci likes to make fun of people and animals in the forest where he lives. He is a playful boy who has fun playing pranks on anyone around him.
Because of his magic red cap, Saci can disappear and reappear whenever he wants. Stealing his cap is not easy, but if someone manages to do it, Saci will grant them a wish.
Saci is probably the most famous of all creatures from Brazilian folklore. He is not evil; he is like a naughty boy who does not know when to stop with his pranks.
Brazilian Folklore in Popular Culture
If you want to dive into Brazilian folklore and learn more about these creatures, there are a few movies and shows you should check.
- Invisible City (Cidade Invisível): Available on Netflix, follows a detective who investigates different crimes related to Brazilian folklore.
- Folclore Brasileiro: Developed by Amazon Prime Video, it is a cooking show, which tells stories of Brazilian folklore and teaches recipes related to them.
- Sítio do Picapau Amarelo: This is a popular show based on Monteiro Lobato‘s series of children’s books, in which the main characters explore different stories of Brazilian folklore.
- Turma do Pererê: This ’90s show based on Ziraldo’s comic books recreates the stories lived by Saci and his friends in a humorous way.