Story – Brazil


“Boto e um peixe do rio Amazonas e se parece com o dolfin. A lenda diz que o Boto vive no rio muito solitario e as noites se transforma num jovem bonito. Uma caracteristica interessante sobre ele e que ele usa um chapeu para evitar que a agua saia do orificio que ele tem como peixe. As noites ele sai entao para seduzir mulheres e antes de amanhecer ele volta para o rio , onde ele se transforma em Boto novamente. Nas manhas seguintes, as mulheres que eram seduzidas por ele ficavam gravidas. Hoje, quando ume mulher fica gravida naquela regiao e nao se sabe quem e o pai legitimo, as pessoas dizem que esta tudo bem, porque ele ou ela
deve ser filho ou filha do Boto.

Boto is a fish in the Amazon River that looks like a dolphin. The tale is that Boto lives a lonely life in the river and in the evenings, transforms into a young, handsome male. The interesting thing about this is that he wears a hat to cover the blowhole where the water would come out. In the evenings, he goes back around seducing women and by the morning, goes back to the river where he transforms back to Boto again. The following morning, the women he seduces always become pregnant. Nowadays, when women become pregnant in the northeastern region of Brazil and don’t know who the legitimate father is, they say “Oh, that’s ok…that’s the son/daughter of Boto.” – Peter Wen


My dad shared this story with me recently. He learned about this folklore from a good friend and client of his, who is well acquainted with popular Brazilian tales. While it originated in the Northeastern region of Brazil, its cultural significance stays true to the stereotype of Brazilian men. Brazilians have a stigma for being lazy, which holds partial truth. According to my dad who has travelled to Rio numerous times, working class people go straight to the beach after work as early as 3:00 pm on weekdays. Also, if it were not for beer, soccer, and samba, the country “would go bust,” which is a colloquial phrase Brazilians use to describe their culture. Like the dolphin, Brazilian men are perceived as tranquil, exotic animals. However, at night, the dolphin seduces women, which is where the negative stereotype comes into play. The playful nature of the tale is a safe medium to address these negative stereotypes; that Brazilian men are known for excessive flirting and being unfaithful. My dad said that those who didn’t want to raise their children in this kind of environment left the country, which is one of the reasons why my family never lived in Brazil (other reasons include safety and the education system).

Boto has survived throughout generations and continues to carry negative connotations. The stereotype of men as agents of sexual violence has been a deep seated myth, infiltrating many tales and legends, perhaps the tale of Boto. This results in a general distrust for the male species and negative connotations of masculinity. Boto, however, is not portrayed in a completely negative light. During the day, Boto transforms back into a dolphin and loses his ability to harm women. Maybe the legend is encouraging us to embrace and question nature’s intentions. Or perhaps nature allows us to explore the dual nature of men. The ending of the folklore drives this point home with, “Oh, that’s ok, that’s the son/daughter of Boto,” as if this kind of behavior has been normalized and accepted in society.

I think the point of the tale is to reflect the light-hearted, playful nature of Brazilian people. While this is not to say that Brazilians condone the behavior of Boto at night, it is valid to say that they are much more relaxed and less judgmental about the forward, flirtatious male types. When my dad told me the story, he had a very lighthearted, humorous tone in his voice. While Boto does not reflect an entire gender, it does perpetuate a stereotype of the way Brazilian men interact with women.