The Brazilian 'Saci'


Justified & Ancient
Mar 13, 2003
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Saci (pronounced: [sa?si] or [s??si]) is a character commonly considered the best known 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 nevertheless grants wishes to anyone who manages to trap him or steal his magic cap.

Now, I don't believe in this kind of thing but I have had some experiences over the past week that make me see how those susceptible to believing in such things could be convinced of their existence. Logically, it is all just coincidence, but...

So, I've been working on a Brazil-based project for a long time and have thus over the past few years become acquainted with certain aspects of the culture. One of which was the 'saci', a mischief-making, one-legged, dark-skinned, red shirt wearing spirit. It was briefly subject to a unsuccessful campaign to make it the mascot of the World Cup. It become something we joked about in the office and then once here I saw a guy busking for money dressed as one. That was that.

Last Friday, after Brazil had beaten Colombia, I headed out with some colleagues and we ended up as a street party and traditional music bar down by Copacabana. At some point during the night a curious guy, dressed in blue and white hoops, so now obvious sack engaged us in conversation, played some songs on his recorder and then offered to sell us some of those friendship bracelets you get from vendors at tourist resorts. Drunk and enjoying his weird recorder music I bought a couple. After buying them from him I turned around and commented something to my colleague, turned back and he was gone. By then the street party was over and the street was emptying out so we should have been able to see him, there was no side street he could have ducked down and no obvious structure he could have disappeared behind. We joked about him disappearing into thin air and forgot about it. Ever sin have had nothing but misfortune ever since.

Our notoriously difficult major client had been generally okay to work with but suddenly began to cause us major problems, which came to a head a day or two ago with a big bust-up, they themselves have suffered a very embarrassing scandal. My next day off I had a very small sum of cash in my wallet and suddenly I found all the cash points were rejecting my card, meaning I was stranded at my hotel on the sunniest day I've had as a day off since I got here (I'd already been having bad luck with always picking a cloudy day for my rest day). The next day I was running late and at breakfast managed to spill an egg into my lap, I returned to my room to try and get changed before heading to the office and my keycard refused to open the door. Yesterday, I forgot my insulin so had to get a cab back to the hotel, I then realised I had forgotten my wallet as well so had no cash to pay the cab driver. I had Brazil in our sweepstake, they lost - but they didn't just lose they got absolutely destroyed.

It had become something of a joke with my colleagues that last night while we were out in the Lapa district I was recounting the story to an old friend I had met up with who has been travelling around the country. It came up after my colleague knocked her full caipirinha over into my lap... the misfortune continuing. As I finished the story, literally seconds after I had finished I felt that sensation that someone was behind me. I turned to look over my shoulder and there standing in the street, hand outstretched begging for money: a dark-skinned homeless guy, wearing a red shirt and propped up on a crutch because he had just one leg...

Now, I know that my accumulation of bad luck could probably happen at any other time and I'd not notice. I know that I'm probably noticing things as being bad luck because I am thinking about it more. I also realise that if you are a one legged homeless man in Brazil then wearing a red shirt and playing on fears of the 'saci' is a good business plan... but despite all this it was one of those moments when your blood just instantly runs cold.

I don't believe in this kind of stuff, but i am definitely burning the bracelet that seems to have instigated the curse. Or at least tying it it knots as this apparently stalls the 'saci'!