The Saci is arguably the most popular character in Brazilian folklore. He is a one-legged black or mulatto youngster with holes in the palms of his hands, who smokes a pipe and wears a magical red cap that enables him to disappear and reappear wherever he wishes (usually in the middle of a dust devil). Considered an annoying prankster in most parts of Brazil, and a potentially dangerous and malicious creature in others, he will nevertheless grant wishes to anyone who manages to trap him or steal his magic cap.
There are several variants of the myth, including:
- Saci Pererê. black as coal.
- Saci Trique. mulatto and more benign.
- Saci Saçurá, with red eyes.
Saci Pererê is also the name of a Brazilian cocktail consisting of 1/4 cup of cachaça and 3 tablespoons of honey, which is said to be good for the common cold.
The character remains quite popular in present-day urban culture, mainly due to the immensely popular children’s book O Saci by Monteiro Lobato (1932).
Blame It On Rio Saci
An incorrigible prankster, the Saci will not cause major harm, but there is no little harm that he won’t do. He will hide children’s toys, set farm animals loose, tease dogs, and curse chicken eggs preventing them from hatching. In the kitchen, the Saci would spill all salt, sour the milk, burn the bean stew, and drop flies into the soup. If a popcorn kernel fails to pop, it is because the Saci cursed it. Given half a chance, he will dull the seamstress‘s needles, hide her thimbles, and tangle her sewing threads. If he sees a nail lying on the ground, he will turn it with the point up. In short, anything that goes wrong — in the house, or outside it — may be confidently blamed on the Saci.
While some claim that the Saci myth originated in Europe in the 13th century, it probably derives from the Yaçi-Yaterê of Tupi-Guarani mythology, a magic one-legged child with fire-red hair who would spell-bind people and break the forest’s silence with his loud shouts and whistles. He was originally a creature of the night, and indeed the Yaçi (Template:Ipa) means “Moon” in Old Tupi.
This indigenous character was appropriated and transformed in the 18th century by the African slaves who had been brought in large numbers to Brazil. Farm slaves would tell Saci stories to amuse and frighten the children, black and white. In this process the creature became black, his red hair metamorphosed into a red cap, and — like the African elders who usually told the tales — he came to be always smoking his clay-and-reed pipe. His name mutated into various forms, such as Saci Taperê and Sá Pereira (a common Portuguese name), and eventually Saci Pererê.
His red cap may have been inspired on the Phrygian cap which was at one time worn by Portuguese peasants. The Saci-Pererê concept shows some syncretism with Christian elements: he bolts away when faced with crosses, leaving behind a sulphurous smell — classical attributes of the Devil in Christian folklore.
The concepts of imprisoning a supernatural being in a bottle by a magically marked cork, and of forcing him to grant wishes in return of his liberty, have obvious parallels in the story of Aladdin from the Arabian Nights. This may be more than just a coincidence, since many slaves were Muslims and thus presumably familiar with the Arabian tales. Moreover, the occupation of parts of the Portuguese territory (namely in the south) by the Muslim Moors, between the years 711 and 1249, provides another possible path for Arabian influence on the Saci legend.