International Folktale Character: Curupira


What’s that awful squeaking noise? Oh, you can hear that too? It’s just Curupira. Annoying, right?

And what, may I ask, is a Curupira?  Not a what – a who. His name means “child’s body” or “covered in blisters”, depending on which Tupi-speaker you ask.

Back up. Tupi? Yeah, it’s a family of languages spoken by American Indians in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

Sorry for interrupting. Continue. He’s a Brazilian tree spirit who looks like a small man or dwarf and defends the rainforest from hunters, poachers – anyone who might take more than they need from the environment. He’s fiercely protective, a bit of a trickster and not just a little demonic in many versions of his story…

Hey, I’m a pretty eco-friendly kind of person; I’d quite like to meet this dude! Let’s follow his footprints and see if we can talk to him about the best places to check out in the forest. Um…bad plan. The most noticeable thing about Curupira (besides his shock of bright orange hair) is that his feet face backwards. If you try to follow his footprints, you end up hopelessly lost in the rainforest.
Oh. So let’s scratch that idea, then. But how am I supposed to meet this little guy and talk anti-logging marches? You might catch sight of him riding a collared peccary…
Not again with the made-up animals… No, seriously, this is a real mammal that lives in the rainforest. It’s like a very stinky boar. Sometimes people call it the Musk Hog.
All right, so I find the Stinky Boar and… Actually, that won’t work either. If the Curupira doesn’t want you to see him, you won’t. He has super-human speed. Not to mention super-human strength.
Elusive, huh? Only when he wants to be. He must’ve shown himself to the first person to record his story: a priest. Although that was in 1560, and I don’t think he’s been turning up on Instagram since. He often enchants children in order to keep them with him for a time and teach them the ways of the forest. When they come back home, they tell their parents what they’ve seen and learned.

Sorry – I didn’t catch that last bit. That high-pitched noise is starting to get to me. Yeah, he’ll do that. He’s excellent at imitating human and animal sounds and he can also emit that whistle that’s bothering you – it’s supposed to drive people insane. Have you done anything to offend him, by any chance? Like disturb a mother animal while she was taking care of her young? He hates that.

I haven’t done anything wrong! I mean, I found some baby monkeys I was going to take home for pets, but that’s ok, isn’t it? *slaps forehead*

Do say: Do you want some help clipping your toenails?
Don’t say: I feel like this beautiful orchid would make an excellent pigment for really cheap make-up! Let’s get the multinational corporations in here!


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