Note from BBT: Any non-Brazilian who has taken interest with elements of Brazilian culture will be familiar with the character known as Saci Pererê. I first became aware of the character in the Globo television children’s program Sítio do Pica-Pau Amarelo. As the program was for children, there was never a time when I really got into the show, but the program always attracted my attention, if only for a few moments whenever I was in Brazil, in a hotel, a friend’s house, or later when I started paying for the Globo international channel from my home in Detroit.
I remember always wondering, ‘What’s the deal with the one-legged black boy hobbling around with the pipe in his mouth?’. Not being familiar with the character, I first wondered if he had any connection to the elves associated with the Santa Claus myth. Also aware of the stereotypical ‘magic negro’ character that has long appeared in American films, as well as the little space given to black actors in Brazil’s media and the criticism of Sítio’s black characters, I wondered if the character was yet another method of belittling the black population.
In all of the portrayals of the Saci character that I’ve seen, whether in cartoon or comic form, or being played by an actor, the character was always depicted as a very dark-skinned black boy or actually the color black in cartoons. Given the character’s mischievous personality and Brazilian society’s stereotyping of the black body as always being ‘suspicious’, I also saw problematic elements to the character. How could I not when seeing little black boys and girls being harassed by security guards or removed by business establishments is such a regular occurrence in Brazil?
Reading about the character yesterday, I had no idea that in some parts of Brazil, the Saci-Pererê character is actually celebrated in October 31st, the same day as Halloween. Learning about this day, I wondered why this date was chosen when Halloween, like so many other forms of american culture, was becoming more and more popular in Brazil. As I would soon discover, this was actually one of the reasons this date was chosen.
I, like any American who has spent any amount of time in Brazil, am often blown away seeing how much American culture dominates the country. Whether it’s American fast food restaurants, seeing men dressed as Santa Claus in 90 degree heat for Christmas time, Black Friday, American films and television series overdubbed in Portuguese, American music or any of the hundreds of other examples of American cultural domination, Brazil continues to come across as a colony of the United States. With this in mind, I began to understand why the celebration of the Saci character has been promoted and even necessary for Brazilians to recognize their own culture against the continuous invasions of Uncle Sam.
Halloween vs. Saci Pererê, the one-legged black boy: Why some Brazilians are calling for a folkloric character to replace October 31st traditions
With information courtesy of Afro TV Brasil, EBC, Blog de Daltro Emerenciano
He is black, has only one leg, wears a red cap and smokes a pipe. This is the representation of Saci Pererê, a character from Brazilian folklore. The boy who loves to make mischief has the mission of taking care of nature, where he lives.
Saci-Pererê Day is celebrated on October 31. The date was created in 2003, celebrated in São Paulo since 2004, and instituted in 2013, in order to rescue and value the national culture, traditions, and Brazilian identity.
Saci-Pererê is part of Brazilian cultural history and has both indigenous and African influences. With different versions, some sources claim that the story emerged in Brazil in the middle of the 17th century, describing him as a little Indian with a tail that scared animals, destroyed crops and turning milk sour. Others say he was a young protector of flora and fauna who had red hair.
The enslaved Africans in Brazil made an association with the deity Anansi, having a connection with freedom, cunning, and intelligence.
The character became popular with the image of the black boy wearing a red cap and smoking a pipe. In addition, the story tells that Saci has only one leg, because the other leg was lost in a capoeira fight. In other versions, the character has his hands pierced or only half of his body can be seen.
Saci-pererê is known for his antics.
Among the main ones, Saci likes to make things disappear, tie knots in horses’ manes and tails, confusing people and animals with whistles and switching up salt for sugar in the kitchens.
To value Brazilian traditions and culture, Saci Pererê Day is a response to the celebration of the October 31st Halloween, a traditional festival in several Anglo-Saxon countries, especially in the United States, which takes place on the same date. “There was a cultural invasion represented by Halloween that has nothing to do with Brazilian culture,” points out Mouzar Benedito, from the Saci Observers Society (Sosaci), which is directly linked to the choice of the celebration date, in 2003.
The idea of Saci Day is to combat foreignness and encourage children to celebrate their folklore instead of American folklore. “Since it’s a party date, the party always induces you to cultivate a little more of the reason for the party. In this case, Saci and his friends. Saci’s friends are all Brazilian myths”, defends Mouzar.
Botucatu, a city on the countryside of São Paulo state, is considered the national capital of Saci. Pi National Association of Saci Creators (ANCS) is located in the city. In São Luiz do Paraitinga, in São Paulo, the Society of Saci Observers (SOSACI) was created, an organization that aims at valuing the Brazilian popular culture by encouraging the development of projects. Other cities that observe the date are Vitória, the capital of Espírito Santo state, Uberaba, Minas Gerais, and Fortaleza, Ceará. The determination of a nationwide celebration is shelved and still awaiting approval in Congress.
“The most important thing is to legitimize the discussion of Brazilian mythology as a resistance to cultural invasion”, justified Mouzar Benedito, one of Sosaci’s members, in a recent interview. “Halloween only if it is with jerked beef. Halloween is an imported tradition and based on commercial aspects. Our children and we, adults, are forgetting our folklore”, he reinforced.
The councilman and former federal deputy Chico Alencar (PSOL-RJ) is responsible for the proposal to make the date a national celebration. The project, however, has been shelved. “The date… seems pertinent to us. The celebration of Halloween in Brazil – like so many other celebrations of American culture with strong commercial appeal – has attracted an increasing number of young people and children. Creating Saci Day on the same date is, therefore, a way to offer Brazilian youth an alternative to celebrate the manifestations of their own culture,” said the congressman, in an interview with Época magazine in 2017.