Brazilian Folklore

Legends from Terra Brasilis

if there's a rustling of leaves, but looking for it you find nothing but small foot prints; if a beautiful copper skinned woman sings to you from the middle of a river; if you think you see thousands of shiny eyes roaming between the trees at night

beware the gods and spirits among these woods, and be warned – those lucky enough to see their wonders and survive shall never be the same.

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curupira4 copy

“The forest cried, but in the ears of the small minded men it just sounded like the wind. A gust shook the leaves sending birds of every colour scattering across the sky, and then fell silent. The men stood there, watching with dull eyes and empty souls as the fire moved forward, a glowing cloak of destruction. As they watched, something moved between the ancient trunks and over the soft layers of sacred, fertile ground, and soon they saw there was another flame. But this one was coming towards them.”

A spirit of the forest, a wild presence many locals claim to feel or hear even when it stays invisible to the eye. Sometimes long sharp whistles can be heard travelling through the trees – a warning to any man who comes carrying ignorance and brutality, and forgets his respect for the Forest. Curupira is one of the most well know legends in Brazil, even if his physical appearance might change from region to region and he sometimes even gets mixed up or blended with Caipora.

I grew up reading stories about a short man with fiery hair and backward feet, who tricked hunters, poachers and arsonists into getting lost deep in the jungle by confusing them with his inverted foot prints and a shrill whistling that eventually made people insane. The indigenous people are said to have had the ritual of making offerings to him when going hunting, so he’d know they came in good faith and would not confuse them. Like with other natural spirits though the story changed through the years and contact with other cultures and, as it’d probably suit best the “modern” man, eventually all you had to do was bribe him with some sugar cane spirits or tobacco  – that would suffice to make him leavea person alone by any means, no matter what their business in the forest was.

Brazilian folklore is full of wonderful, mystical characters, willing to help or destroy the incautious traveller. Here you get to know a little bit of some of them –  specially the ones that were so present in my childhood and forever a part of my imagination.

“The forest cried, but in the ears of the small minded men it just sounded like the wind. A gust shook the leaves sending birds of every colour scattering across the sky, and then fell silent. The men stood there, watching with dull eyes and empty souls as the fire moved forward, a glowing cloak of destruction. As they watched, something moved between the ancient trunks and over the soft layers of sacred, fertile ground, and soon they saw there was another flame. But this one was coming towards them.”

curupira4 copy

A spirit of the forest, a wild presence many locals claim to feel or hear even when it stays invisible to the eye. Sometimes long sharp whistles can be heard travelling through the trees – a warning to any man who comes carrying ignorance and brutality, and forgets his respect for the Forest. Curupira is one of the most well know legends in Brazil, even if his physical appearance might change from region to region and he sometimes even gets mixed up or blended with Caipora.

I grew up reading stories about a short man with fiery hair and backward feet, who tricked hunters, poachers and arsonists into getting lost deep in the jungle by confusing them with his inverted foot prints and a shrill whistling that eventually made people insane. The indigenous people are said to have had the ritual of making offerings to him when going hunting, so he’d know they came in good faith and would not confuse them. Like with other natural spirits though the story changed through the years and contact with other cultures and, as it’d probably suit best the “modern” man, eventually all you had to do was bribe him with some sugar cane spirits or tobacco  – that would suffice to make him leavea person alone by any means, no matter what their business in the forest was.

yara curupira size

“The betrayal was bigger than she could bear. The envy and loathing of the tribe, the misbelief of the father, the unfair sentence. Jaci would have none of it, not against one so undeserving of that horrific end. She would take the young warrior as a gift, fix her broken body with the help of all the creatures she touched with her reflexion. The waters shall be her air, her sustenance, her home. And there, forevermore, she shall be queen.”

The story of Y’Îara, like many others of the Brazilian folklore, is an interlacing of characters and tales from several cultures – the Ipupiara of the indigenous people, the Iemanjá of the candomblé and the European mermaid. Far from the seducing maiden who lures fisherman into the waters, the Ipupiara was a brutal and fearsome monster who crushed men to death or drowned and ate them – things that, during colonial times,  might have very well happened to many hunters and fisherman attacked by local fauna, giving the legend a strong hold on the imaginary.

In fact, there is even an account by historian Pero de Magalhães Gândavo in which he describes how the creature attacked a man, terrified a woman, and was finally taken down by the brave Captain Baltazar Ferreira – after which fact the body was supposedly hung in the village for all to see, in order to “avoid exaggerated beliefs and superstitions amongst the common folk”.

yara curupira size

“The betrayal was bigger than she could bear. The envy and loathing of the tribe, the misbelief of the father, the unfair sentence. Jaci would have none of it, not against one so undeserving of that horrific end. She would take the young warrior as a gift, fix her broken body with the help of all the creatures she touched with her reflexion. The waters shall be her air, her sustenance, her home. And there, forevermore, she shall be queen.”

The story of Y’Îara, like many others of the Brazilian folklore, is an interlacing of characters and tales from several cultures – the Ipupiara of the Tupi people, the Iemanjá of the candomblé and the European mermaid. Far from the seducing maiden who lures fisherman into the waters, the Ipupiara was a brutal and fearsome monster who crushed men to death or drowned and ate them – things that, during colonial times,  might have very well happened to many hunters and fisherman attacked by local fauna, giving the legend a strong hold on the imaginary. 

In fact, there is even an account by historian Pero de Magalhães Gândavo in which he describes how the creature attacked a man, terrified a woman, and was finally taken down by the brave Captain Baltazar Ferreira – after which fact the body was supposedly hung in the village for all to see, in order to “avoid exaggerated beliefs and superstitions amongst the common folk”.

Want to know more? Well, watching for gods and forest spirits is a work of patience.

But don’t worry, one by one we’ll get to see them, they’ll come. In the meantime, I invite you to follow me on instagram, where I’ll post every time I add a legend to this page.

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