In most of the versions, curupira is a small boy or a gnome, with a red head of hair, that has inverted feet with its heels in front. This image agrees with the meaning of his name, which is formed by “curu”, a contraction of “curumim”, that means “boy” and “pira” that means body. From there, “curupira” means something like “body of a boy”, or creature with the body of a boy.
In other variations, however, the curupira becomes a giant. Its characteristics, incidentally, are modified in agreement with geographical displacements, says folklorist Luis da Câmara Cascudo. In some regions of Pará, the curupira is four palm trees tall. In the Rio Negro (Amazon), he is bald and has a hairless body; in the Solimões (also the Amazon) he has blue teeth and big ears.
Regardless of any variations, he always has backwards facing feet, which perhaps is justified by being the protector of the trees, animals and of the forest. Leaving backwards tracks, the curupira disorients hunters and makes them get lost in the forest. To confuse them even more, he makes whistling sounds that seem to come from one direction when in fact, they come from another.
The curupira also tends to be the explanation of mysterious forest rumors, lost hunters or losing one’s way in general. According to some legends, this little (or big) protector makes deals with hunters, providing them with guns that have infallable aim in exchange for food, smokes or cachaça.
The offering of presents in the jungle, in order to calm the curupira so that he doesn’t attack humans, is a registered practice among indians and even rubber tappers and farmers of the Amazonas state. However, the presents often change: the indians offer necklaces, bracelets and feather ornaments, whereas those who are only part indian offer food, drink or cigarettes.
One myth very close to the curupira is that of the caapora. “Caapora” comes from “caa” which means jungle and “porá” which means resident. The caapora looks the same and, like him, he also is a protector of the forest. Although, he doesn’t have inverted feet and usually rides a pig or wild hog.
Whether talking about the curupira myth or that of the caapora, both are passed on through all the regions of Brazil. The myth itself is quite old and the first register of it was via a letter from the priest José de Anchieta, on the 30th of May, 1560. In it, the priest speaks of the indians of Piratininga (São Paulo) and how they told him of demons that walk the forests, attacking the indians and needing to be appeased with presents.
In the state of São Paulo, a law from 1970 is devoted to the curupira as a state symbol of the protector of the forests. – Source (in PT)