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Mysterious merfolk of Brazil

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pink dolphins of brazil
The Amazon River region is home to many rare creatures as well as curious stories and myths about those creatures. One interesting legend tells about a man called Bufeo Colorado. This strange man dresses normally, but he must wear a white straw Panama hat at all times, even at night when he is sleeping. Like other men, he desires to dance with beautiful women and, if possible, he makes love to them. But if he sleeps with a woman, he must not stay with her till dawn. During the hours of darkness, he silently slips out of bed and disappears mysteriously into the night.

Those few women who have dared to remove his hat while he is asleep have reported seeing that he has what looks like a round dolphin-like blow hole on top of his head. If a woman is bold enough to follow him when he leaves, she will see him dive into the Amazon and turn into a dolphin. That is the last she ever sees of him.

According to Brazilian folklore, the dolphin-man called Bufeo Colorado is believed to be from a race of water gods who dwell in beautiful underwater cities. If one of these gods lures a human down into the water, the human is said to be so enchanted that he or she never wants to return to land.

Pink dolphins

Thie charming and intriguing legend of the dolphin-man has a basis in fact: "bufeo colorado" is the name of dolphins native to the Amazon Basin. They are related to the more familiar bottle-nosed dolphins, but the profile of the bufeo colorado dolphins is slightly different. In English "bufeo colorado" means "funny color" because of the pink appearance of the dolphins which is caused by blood vessels directly under their skin.

These dolphins are found in the Pacaya and Alfaro Rivers which flow into the Amazon. The rivers are called "black water" because they are stained with the color of tea or coffee by the tannins seeping from decaying vegetation in the rainforest. In these dark waters, the pink river dolphins must use their sonar to navigate. They appear like whisp-like spirits darting to the surface, then diving into the forbidding darkness.

The exotic appearance of the dolphins and the equally exotic locales in which they live help contribute to the odd, haunting stories that have become part of the mythology of Brazil. These Amazonian dolphins and the legends associated with them have appeared in several films.

The Dolphin (1987)

the dolphin The story of the legend itself is told in a Brazilian film called The Dolphin (1987) which is in Portuguese with English subtitles. In the film, a pink river dolphin becomes a man on nights of the full moon. He comes onto land and makes love to a woman, making her pregnant, then abandoning her when he returns to his true form in the black river water. Their male cross-breed offspring has an Oedipal desire for his human mother causing him to pursue and haunt her.

An interesting film despite its low-budget look, there is one scene which the man is on top of the woman when his legs suddenly turn to a dolphin tail and he splashes off into the river. We never see him as a merman, but the fact that he is one is of course suggested.

Where the River Runs Black (1986)

where the river runs black An American film titled Where the River Runs Black (1986, MGM-UA) tells a fairy-tale story about a beautiful, naked Brazilian native girl called "the Eagle Woman". When she jumps into the black water, she turns into a dolphin. She seduces an American priest who is later killed by an enormous anaconda (apparently a reference to the story of the serpent and the fall of Eden). Their offspring, called Lazaro (an allusion to the biblical Lazarus story), is taken from the jungle to live as an orphan in the city. But seeing himself as a slave to modern civilization, he is instinctively driven to return to the Amazonian jungle to spend the rest of his life in the river swimming with dolphins. The natives revere him as a guardian spirit who is protecting the rainforest which is threatened by encroachment of corrupt "civilized" humans.

The film points out the difference between the wisdom of living in harmony with nature as opposed to trying to conquer nature. Lazaro's desire to escape the city and return to the strange waters where his mother lived seems to symbolize the human instinct to re-create the Eden-like garden upon which we depend for life but which we ignore or destroy. If, like Lazaro, we raise ourselves above the destructive and deadly aspects of technological civilization, we can once agin go back to he mysterious waters of life from which we came.

Le Grand Bleu (1988)

le grand bleu Though not directly related to these Brazilian stories, Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue) (1988) is a French film with a similar theme. It tells about a young deep-sea diver who feels that dolphins are his only true family. Despite the fact that he tries to find love with a human girl, he actually carries a picture of a dolphin in his wallet similarly to the way other man carry pictures of their sweethearts and family.

Although this man is never called a merman, there are hints that perhaps he is one because he yearns for the sea and feels more at home with dolphins than with humans. His desire to dive deep into the ocean may represent the human longing for reconnection with the wellspring of life in the water.

"Red Shoe Diaries"

red shoe diaries As part of the Showtime Cable network series called "Red Shoe Diaries", there was an episode in 1994 titled "Night of Abandon" that once again tells of Brazil's Bufeo Colorado. In the story a young sexually-repressed woman visits her grandmother in Rio de Janeiro during the New Year's festival. The older woman encourages her granddaughter to experience the joys of living by making a special offering to Yemaya, the mermaid goddess of the sea. The girl puts the pages of her diary onto a little papier-maché boat and sends it out into the sea. This action is the girl's prayer to the sea-goddess asking for the experience of true love.

A few months later at the Mardi-Gras, she meets a powerful, handsome man who tells her that he received a message from Yemaya sending him to the girl. They make love all night on the beach and both are totally exhausted. In the morning, the man returns to the water, and she can now go on with her life having discovered the passion and abandon of living life to its fullest.

The story's use of water imagery suggests that we must connect with the sea to be fully alive. The couple's night of unbridled sex in the salty sea foam of the beach makes this an erotic story about how we need to regain our lost kinship with water.

We are all merfolk

All of these stories share the common theme that we are more closely related to dolphins than we may think. If we are, then we will only know how to truly live if we are willing to learn from the sea and her creatures.

In some way or another, we are all mermaids or mermen. Realizing this fact, we will have more reverence for the sea and the life she gives to us.

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