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Brazilian myths and haunts in the Lusosphere – Part 3

To bring this series about Brazilian myths, legends and haunts as seen on the Lusosphere to a great close, we couldn't choose a better entity to speak about than Saci Pererê. After being introduced to mythic beings like Cuca, Boitatá and Curupira in the first article, and reading the intriguing narratives about Cabeça de Cuia and Caboclo D'Água, among others, in the second article of the series, now it's time to delve into the mysteries of the most famous being from Brazilian mythology. So important is he, that there's even a law proclaiming Saci Day on October 31th.

So, who or what is this Saci Pererê? This ingenious being, a specialist in mischief and trickery – either just for the fun of it or pure evil – has even been able to trick the Blogosphere. Many are the distinct descriptions and origins attributed to him on the web. But, since we don't want to contribute to his mischievous plans, we will translate only two of the many descriptions we found.

The IFolclore website provides many descriptions [Pt] of Saci Pererê. Of them, this is the most enlightening:

“O Saci é uma entidade muito popular no folclore Brasileiro. No fim do século XVIII já se falava dele entre os negros, mestiços e Tupis-guarani, de onde se origina seu nome. Em muitas regiões do Brasil, o Saci é considerado um ser muito brincalhão, que esconde objetos da casa, assusta animais, assovia no ouvido das pessoas, desarruma cozinhas; enquanto que em outros lugares ele é visto como uma figura maléfica. É um negrinho de uma perna só que fuma um cachimbo e usa na cabeça uma carapuça vermelha que lhe dá poderes mágicos, entre eles, o de aparecer e desaparecer onde desejar. Tem uma mão furada e gosta de jogar objetos pequenos para o alto e deixa-los atravessa-la para pegar com a outra. Ele costuma assustar viajantes ou caçadores solitários que se aventuram por lugares ermos nos sertões ou matas, com um arrepiante assovio no ouvido, para em seguida aparecer numa nuvem de fumaça pedindo fogo para seu cachimbo. Ele gosta de esconder brinquedos de crianças, soltar animais dos currais, derramar sal que encontra nas cozinhas, e em noites de lua, monta um cavalo e sai campo afora em desembalada carreira fazendo grande alvoroço. Diz a crença popular que dentro dos redemoinhos de vento – fenômeno onde uma coluna de vento rodopia levantando areia e restos de vegetação e sai varrendo tudo que encontra a sua frente – existe um Saci.”

“Saci is a very popular entity of Brazilian folklore. At the end of the eighteenth century, there was already a lot of talk about him among black people, mestizos and the Tupi-guarani people, who gave him his original name. In many Brazilian regions, Saci is considered a very playful being, who likes hiding household objects, frightening animals, whistling in people's ears and making a complete mess of kitchens; while in other places he is seen as a plainly malevolent figure. He is a young black boy with just one leg, who smokes a pipe and wears a red cap which gives him magical powers, like the power to appear and disappear whenever he wants to. He has a hole in the palm of one of his hands, and likes throwing small objects in the air and letting them fall through this hole, just to pick them up with his other hand. He likes frightening travelers and lonely hunters who venture too far away in the wilderness or in the woods, whistling bone-chillingly in their ears, just to materialize a moment later under a cloud of smoke, asking for fire to light his pipe. He likes hiding children's toys, setting free the cattle held in the corrals, spilling salt he finds inside kitchens and, on full-moon nights, he likes riding a horse and crossing fields in a frenzied charge, making a lot of noise. According to popular belief, inside each small whirlwind – the phenomena where the wind whirls around, lifting sand and light vegetation alike and sweeping up everything in it's path – there is a Saci.

The Enciclopédia Mestiça website lists some of the possible origins of Saci, and relates him to some other enchanted beings and myths both in Brazil and worldwide [Pt]:

“A representação clássica do Saci Pererê é a de um negro pequenino, de uma perna só, com uma toca vermelha na cabeça e um pito na boca. É dado a ele um temperamento irrequieto e está sempre fazendo traquinagens. Não se deve, porém, dizer que seja mau, antes que seja imprevisível e um tanto inconseqüente. Não há consenso sobre sua origem, se indígena ou negra; conforme a região foi sendo representado em diferentes nuances. É visto como um ser mestiço por alguns. Em 1917, Monteiro Lobato organizou uma pesquisa entre leitores do Estadinho, publicação vespertina do O Estado de São Paulo. No ano seguinte publico o livro Inquérito. Para Monteiro Lobato, o saci é fruto de influências indígenas, negras e portuguesas. Seu mito desenvolveu-se mais fortemente nas áreas sertanejas do Sudeste. Ele seria mais encontrado em locais com plantas. Pode ser um versão de Exu, o orixá que como ele possui um caráter de desorganizador-reorganizador e um comportamento imprevisível. Desde as primeiras missões jesuíticas, Exu é associado ao Diabo, da religião cristã. O Saci pode estar também ligado ao mito português do Matintaperera, ou Matintaperê,

[…]

No Amazonas houve o mito de uma entidade também com o nome de Matintapera, de duas pernas e sem carapuça, cujo poder vem de um colar; corresponderia ao Cambaí, em guarani, e ao Iaci, em tupi. Os negros o teriam associado a Ossaim, filho de Iemanjá e Oxalá, que possui uma única perna e cuida das plantas. Entre os países da bacia do Prata, houve o Iaci Iaterê, um ser de cabelos de fogo. No folclore haitiano há o Quibungo, de origem banto, um menino que sai à noite para perseguir pessoas. Outra personagem africana é o Gunocô, que protege as matas. Na Europa, havia também o mito dos duendes, pequenos seres campestres. Em 2003, foi fundada em São Luiz do Paraitinga, São Paulo, a Sociedade dos Observadores do Saci – Sosaci, que conseguiu aprovar, na capital paulista, o dia 31 de outubro como o dia do Saci.”

“The classical representation of Saci Pererê is a little one-legged black boy with a red cap and a pipe in his mouth. Some people say he has an agitated temper and is always playing some pranks. However, we can't say he is evil, although he is unpredictable and somewhat reckless. There is no consensus about his origin, whether it's Indigenous or African; he has differing nuances depeding on the region we're in. He's seen as a mestizo by some. In 1917, Monteiro Lobato organized a poll among readers of Estadinho [Little State, literally], the vespertine edition of the O Estado de São Paulo [The State of São Paulo, an important Brazilian daily newspaper]. In the following year he published the results in a book named Inquérito [“Inquiry”]. To Monteiro Lobato, Saci is the result of Indigenous, African and Portuguese influences. This myth developed in a stronger way in the rural areas of Southeastern Brazil. He is more often found in places with many plants. [Saci] can be a version of Eshu, an Orisha that, like him, has a ‘dis-organizing/re-organizing’ character and unpredictable behavior. Since the first Jesuit mission, Eshu has been associated with the Christian Devil. Saci can be connected with the Portuguese myth of the Matintaperera, or Matintaperê.

[…]

In the Amazon, there is a myth about some entity called Matintapera too, who has two legs but no cap, and derives his powers from a necklace; he is connected to Cambaí, in the Guarani language, and Iací, in the Tupi language. African-Brazilians would have associated him with Ossaim, the son of Iemanjá and Oxalá, who has only one leg and looks after plants. In the Prata basin's countries, there was the Iaci Iaterê, a being with flaming hair. In the Haitian folklore there is the Quibungo, from Bantu origins, who is a boy that goes out at night to chase people. Another character with African origins is the Gunocô, who protects the woods. In Europe, there was the myth of the Fairies, small woodland beings. In 2003, the Saci Watchers Society (Socaci) was founded in São Luiz do Paraitinga, in [the State of] São Paulo – it has managed to approve, in the São Paulo capital, the 31st day of October as Saci Day.”

And speaking about the Saci Watchers Society [Pt], the group's website aggregates many interesting articles [Pt] that are a great source of information for those who want to know more about Saci.

One of the most frequently asked questions about Saci is why he has just one leg. Among the many answers we've found on the web, the one brought to us by Uncle Cráudio from the legendary Casos Sobrenaturais blog is the most straightforward and enlightening [Pt]:

“[…] Com a chegada dos escravos negros trazidos pelos invasores portugueses, a lenda do saci miscigenou com o choque cultural. Passou a ser negro e perdeu uma perna.

[…]

Essa mudança não foi por acaso e tem um sentido mórbido. Era comum os escravos fugidos serem recapturados e torturados. Alguns chegavam a ser multilados.

Uma das formas de vingança que os negros escravos usavam era a psicológica. As escravas usadas como babás , para sacanear com os portugueses, costumavam contar histórias e cantigas de ninar cujo tema tinha como objetivo abaixar a estima e criar o medo nas crianças .

Na lenda do Saci especificamente, o mesmo se tornava o vingador dos escravos, fazendo tudo o que eles queriam mas não podiam fazer.”

“[…] With the arrival of the African slaves brought by the Portuguese invaders, the Saci legend was miscegenated through cultural shock. He then became black and lost one leg.

[…]

This change wasn't brought about by sheer chance, and has a morbid meaning. It was common that run away slaves were re-captured and tortured. Some of them were mutilated.

One of the forms of vengeance used by the slaves was psychological. The slave ladies who were used as nannies, used to tell stories and sing lullabies that aimed to frighten and lower the self-esteem of their master's children, in order to pull a mean prank on the Portuguese.

And specifically in the Saci legend, he usually became the slaves’ avenger, doing everything they wanted to but couldn't do.

Either as a guardian of the jungle or as a kind of demon, or only as a playful child entity, it's very important to know how to deal with Saci. Some say that you must be very careful about his pranks, and avoid walking around places he usually haunts. Others say that the best way to deal with him is by capturing him before he causes you any harm. To those with such inclination, Uncle Cráudio, a great student of the arcane knowledge, offers a recipe for imprisoning a Saci [Pt]:

“[…] O fato de ter uma perna só não é problema por que ele se movimenta através de redemoinhos de vento.

Boa parte de seus poderes estão no contato com o famoso gorro vermelho (herança da cultura européia). Com ele o Saci pode ficar invisível e se locomover.

[…]

Você precisa estar armado com uma peneira, uma garrafa, uma rolha, um rosário e cinquenta reais.

Assim que vir o redemoinho, jogue rapidamente a peneira em cima. Isso por si só já imobiliza o bicho.

Agora é fácil. Pegue o rosário e envolva a peneira. Com isso você vai poder abrir sem que ele fuja. ( A visão católica era que o Saci é um demônio. Assim ele deve temer os símbolos cristãos)

Próximo passo. Coloque a garrafa no centro. O bicho vai estar tão doido por causa do rosário que vai tentar se esconder lá dentro. Espere uns cinco minutos. Acho que é tempo suficiente.

Em seguida tampe a garrafa com a rolha e pronto!!!”

“[…] The fact that he has just one leg is no problem to him as he moves through wirlwinds.

Most of his powers come from contact with the red cap (originating from European culture). By wearing it, Saci can become invisible and move around.

[…]

You have to arm yourself with a sieve, a bottle, a cork, a rosary and fifty reais [Brazilian currency][…]

As soon as you see the whirlwind, immediately throw the sieve over it. This way, you'll immobilize the creature.

Now comes the easy part. Put the rosary around the edge of the sieve. This way you'll be able to keep Saci from escaping when you take away the sieve. (The Catholic point of view states that Saci is a demon, so he's likely to fear Christian symbols).

In the next step, put the bottle at the center [of the circle formed by the rosary]. The critter will be so confused by the rosary that he will try to hide inside the bottle. Wait for five minutes or so. It will be enough time.

Then, you just have to cork the bottle and, voilá!!!”

Saci Pererê is a very clever creature. He's almost managed to become the symbol of the Brazilian Soccer Team, as reported by Paulo Bicarato in his blog Alfarrábio [Pt]. Paulo tells us that some people didn't like this idea at all. But it comes as no surprise that a mysterious and playful being like Saci would find some resistance to his plans for worldwide popularity.

Even though Saci Pererê is one of the most famous and important myths in Brazil, he is, at the same time, a very mysterious and mischievous being. There is more misinformation than knowledge about him – just the way he likes it. The Saci Watchers Society asks its members and readers to send reports of their encounters with Saci, or any information they come across about these beings, in an attempt to see through the pranks pulled by this myth. As always, we'll keep watching the myths on the Blogosphere, and report about any further discoveries they make.

More legends and haunts:

This post is part of a Global Voices series about ghosts, ghouls, myths and legends to coincide with Halloween, All Saints Day, and other spooky holidays in this season. Check out our special coverage page.

All the images used in this article are available at Sosaci's webpage, used under the gentle permission of the Saci.

5 comments

  • Daniel Duende of the Imaginary News and Nonsense Agency ought to know all about mythical beings. He is one, after all, even though he managed to get himself interviewed by a PBS blog as though he were a real person. And don’t forget Daniel Valente Dantas — a creature Monteiro Lobato never dreamed of.

  • Hey! It’s been a long time since I’ve last heard of you, mr. Brayton. Are you still trying to prove that me and my brother are the same person? :)

    Drop me a line if you come to Brasilia. Maybe we could share some beers, and you could enlighten me on my identity problem.

    Best,
    Daniel Duende.

  • In case anyone is wondering, Daniel Duende is actually human. I met him :-) And so did everyone else who attended the Global Voices Summit in Budapest. Misunderstandings do happen. Peace, Solana

  • Hey Solana, thank you very much for attesting my humanity. :)

    I would like to take the chance to give my testimony that Solana is very human and real too, despite her mythical, near inhuman, capabilities.

    Thank you very much for reading and enjoying my articles on Brazilian Myths and Haunts.

    Best,
    Daniel Duende.

  • […] terceiro artigo da série, sobre o Sací Pererê, já está no ar tanto no Global Voices Online quanto no Global Voices em Português. Espero que […]

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