Boto, the Brazilian Pink Dolphin

Informant: A lot of Brazilian mythology is either trying to scare children, or – trying to scare children from being bad – or trying to scare people away from messing with anything nature related. And there’s also a lot of weird ones that involve sexuality, but we don’t have to go into those, those are just strange. Actually no, I will go into one. There’s one – I don’t know what this animal is called in English, but you know those dolphins that aren’t dolphins, they’re just pink?

Me: I think I know what you’re talking about, yeah.

Informant: In Portugese it’s called Boto, and it’s basically just a pink dolphin. And they have them by the Amazons or whatever. And there’s a myth that one of the – ‘cuz these animals are like dolphins, they’re fun and want to play all the time, and they’re usually seen as tricksters or whatever, like they’ll play with you. Well, for some reason, Brazil was like, “Wow, that means evil.” So they took this poor creature, and they – there’s a myth behind it that one of these animals is, like – at a certain point of time in the night, it’ll transform into, like, a man. A really fancy looking man, who’s good looking and kinda shady, and he’s always wearing a hat, because – you know how dolphins have holes on their heads? The man also technically has a hole in his head, and he has to wear the hat to hide it. And essentially, when he comes out of the water and goes out to mingle out at night, he’ll find some random woman and make her fall in love with him in… one hour, or whatever. And they’ll have sex and she’ll get pregnant and he’ll leave. And then – I don’t know exactly what this says about the culture of Brazil, like, I don’t know I don’t know, but a lot of people use it to be like – if someone doesn’t have a father, they’re like “oh haha your father’s a fuckin’ dolphin.” And I’m like… “Whyyyy? Why a dolphin?” It’s supposed to be spooky. Not really. It’s a dolphin. It’s cute and it’s pink. The concept of a man with a hole in his head? That’s spooky. But not the dolphin.

My informant is a 19-year-old college student at a small liberal arts college in Washington state. She was born in Brazil, and grew up there, moving to Florida in late elementary school, back to Brazil for a few years, then finally settling outside of Seattle in our last two years of high school. Her father’s American, and her mom’s Brazilian. Portugese was her first language, and she still speaks Portugese at home with her mom. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this piece was collected via an interview that took place over FaceTime. 

I think it’s really interesting that in Brazil, the man to stay away from is actually a pink dolphin, because in America, that’s one of the least threatening animals and one of the least threatening colors. I agree with my informant that it’s not particularly spooky. The fears of getting pregnant by someone who’s evil and will leave you is a universal one, but I can’t think of an American comparison to this myth that would involve a character who had the connotations of a pink dolphin. Maybe the fact that he’s a dolphin is trying to emphasize a theme of being afraid of creatures that seem boundlessly joyful, that maybe they aren’t what they seem? I’m not sure, but I find it fascinating.