Sketchbook Page 38: E is for Encantado
November 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Bones from a Bestiary part 5: E is for Encantado
This is the fifth in a series of chimerical creatures; the aim is to create an alphabet of fabulous beasts over the coming months.
With recent advances in genetic engineering it should be possible to manufacture such creatures in the laboratory; although the results will not always be practical (or, indeed, humane) …
Encantado is a word in Portuguese roughly translating as “enchanted one”.
The term in Brazil is used for creatures who come from a paradisiacal underwater realm called the Encante. It may refer to spirit beings or shapeshifting snakes, but most often it designates dolphins with the ability to turn into humans. Although belief in them is starting to wane, there are still plenty of South Americans who believe in their existence ardently, and claim to have seen and interacted with them, or even that they are related to them. They share the most of the same themes and features as the fairies of European folklore.
Most commonly, the stories involve a type of freshwater dolphin which lives in the Amazon River called the Boto. It is larger and more primitive-looking than the other type of Amazon dolphin, the Tucuxi.
There are three elements that best characterize encantados: superior musical ability, their seductiveness and love of sex (often resulting in illegitimate children), and their attraction to parties. Despite the fact that the Encante where they come from is supposed to be a utopia full of wealth and without pain or death, the encantados crave the pleasures and hardships of human societies.
Transformation into human form is said to be rare, and usually occurs at night. The encantado will often be seen running from a festa, despite protests from the others for it to stay, and can be seen by pursuers as it hurries to the river and reverts back to dolphin form. When it is in human form it wears a hat to hide its blowhole, which does not disappear during the shapeshift.
Besides the ability to shapeshift into human form, encantados frequently wield other magical abilities, such as the power to control storms, “enchant” or haunt humans into doing their will or becoming encantados themselves, and inflict illness, insanity, and even death. Shamans and holy men are often needed to intervene and ameliorate the situation, but sometimes the spell is so great that it cannot be completely cured. Such powers and habits make the encantado very similar to the Japanese kitsune, a supernatural fox that’s famous by its shapeshifting abilities and for having children with human beings.
Kidnapping is also a common theme in such folklore. Encantados are said to be fond of abducting humans they fall in love with, children born of their illicit love affairs, or just anyone near the river who can keep them company, and taking them back to the Encante. The fear of this is so great for many people who live across the Amazon rivers area that many of them, children and adults alike, are terrified of going near the water alone or at certain specified hours in the evening (e.g. 6 pm). Some who have supposedly encountered encantados out in canoes have been said to have gone insane, although the creatures seem to have done little more than follow their boats and nudge them from time to time.