Brazilian Trickster Creature
"I've always imagined them in the woods. This last time to Brasil, I was taking some pictures inside a bamboo lot. The weather changed and it started getting windy and dark. The bamboo made such a ruckus, I could understand how superstitions get started. Then some big bird took off from behind some of the bamboo and I nearly had a heart attack! I never even saw it, the bamboo was so thick."—my friend Harry
In the wilds of Brazil, Saci sits plotting some unspoken prank. The wind rustles the tall bamboo behind him, making eerie sounds. His eyes glint with inhuman mirth as he quietly draws a puff from his long-stemmed pipe. Suddenly he stands; he places a red cap atop his head, a stark contrast with his coal-black skin in the fading light. He turns his gaze toward the nearby town and begins in that direction, hopping without a sound on his single leg, a quiet chuckle in his throat. Slowly, he fades to invisibility...
Saci is the name of a folkloric creature, a mischievous little pixie or imp-type entity whose stories are popular in Brazil. This strange character seems to have been a local trickster god who received some updates from Christian and African sources. Saci has only one leg, and is usually shown smoking a long-stemmed pipe—he also has holes through the palms of his hands. He wears a magical red cap which can cause him to become invisible at will (although the glow of the pipe sometimes remains visible, as does his hat).
Saci is a typical trickster, one who enjoys playing pranks on everyone: old and young, rich and poor. Household mishaps are blamed (sometimes superstitiously, sometimes humourously) on Saci’s meddling—bugs getting into the flour, plants dying, torn clothing, or soured milk for example. He sometimes harms livestock, frightening cattle and chickens and otherwise raising hell in the barnyard. Still, most of his mischief is pretty minor stuff, not the sort of thing that will really injure humans, just make them very annoyed.
Mythic and folkloric tales have the world filled with small tricksters. From the pixies of Cornwall to Mayan legends, which spoke of tricky ghosts of the dead which would play pranks on the living, we have a lot of creatures on whom to blame our mishaps. A fairly familiar example is the dreadful little men called redcaps from England and Scotland who wore cloaks and caps dyed with the blood of the wayfarers they had misled and killed. While they have similar taste in headgear to Saci, he never seems to be so malevolent.
Saci and a Long-Lost Relative?
There is a mythical trickster who is quite reminiscent of this odd fellow in the New World—a strange little fellow who was imported from the West African Yoruba people. Called by various combinations of the names Eshu, Elegua, or Elegeba in Africa, he was the advisor and friend of the wisdom god Orunmila. Eshu is the very mischievous god of chance, of accidents, and the teacher of lessons, particularly those which involve opening the doors of perception, a usual role for a trickster.
In the religion of Voodoo, this powerful little guy's name was rendered as Ixu/Ishu/Exu (Eleggua in Cuba). He is seen as a boyish prankster who takes the hot air out of the windbags and puts the hurt on those who don't sacrifice to the gods. Like Saci, Ixu is a big fan of tobacco, and cigarettes and cigars are common offerings to this clever deity.
The Devil is in the Details
Saci may be an individual creature, or there may be a whole race of them, and there appears to be a bit of disagreement on this matter. The most popular view seems to be that saci are a race of creatures, like pixies or faeries, and there may even be several types of these tricksters: Saci Perere with coal-black skin, Saci Trique with brown skin, and Saci Sacura who has red eyes. Of the three, the Saci Trique are supposed to be less malicious than the other sorts.
The legend is told that any person who can steal Saci's magical red cap will be granted wishes for its return—to me, however, robbing malicious magical pixies of their enchanted items seems a phenomenally bad idea. The creature may also be captured with a sieve or a special rosary. This may be necessary if one is plaguing you, but I would think it should only be attempted as a sort of last-ditch effort.
Here are some tips, in case you ever find yourself being pursued by this creature (I warned you not to steal that hat!). For one thing, Saci will not cross running water. Rivers and streams have been seen as symbols of purification in many cultures, and there are a lot of tales about faeries and vampires being incapable of crossing running water (which, I suspect, is why there are so few great Canadian vampires!).
If you can't find a stream or river, some people elude this fellow by dropping a knotted piece of cord (probably ought to prepare that in advance—I'd imagine it's hard to tie knots while running from an angry spirit). Saci will feel compelled to stop and untie the knots. Many cultures tell similar stories about vampires, who may sometimes be evaded with a similar trick, or by scattering a handful of seeds, which the compulsive bloodsucker will have to pick up (and perhaps count*).
The Saci may be able to turn into a type of bird called a matiapere, whose eerie and melancholy call is hard to localize. Dust devils are sometimes associated with the weird creature, created as he spins through Brazil's wild places, making eerie winds and strange sounds.
* I think it would be really cool to get to try that trick with the most famous vampire of all. When he stopped and started compulsively picking up the seeds, you could turn around—at a safe distance, of course—and shout "Count, Dracula!" Then run away really fast.
I'm terribly sorry for the preceding footnote. I found myself unable to resist it. I sincerely apologize.
Much of this information has been gleaned from a (self-published) book on mythology I have written and am constanly in the process of revising.
Thanks to my friend Harry P. for remembering this critter from his childhood in Brazil and for translating the info on Saci from Portuguese for me!
Crystal, Ellie, "Crystalink’s Metaphysics and Science Website" http://www.crystalinks.com/trickster.html