Portuguese Language Blog

The Legend of the Cuca Posted by on Sep 12, 2011 in Culture

While there are a number of Brazilian legends, one of the best known is that of the cuca, a mythical character popularized in Brazilian culture. The cuca, which originally came from the Portuguese coca, a dragon legend, was brought to Brazil in colonial times. The cuca is an ugly old woman who appears in the form of a crocodile and robs disobedient children. The cuca only sleeps once every seven years, and parents sometimes use this element of the legend to scare children who don’t want to go to sleep, telling them that the cuca will get them if they don’t go to bed. Although cuca came from the Portuguese coca, in Tupi (an indigenous language of Brazil), cuca means to swallow something with a single gulp.

The cuca legend was further popularized by a 1921 book by Monteiro Lobato, O Saci, which detailed a number of Brazilian legends, including the cuca. Later, the legend was made into a movie in the 1950s, and was adapted for TV on the Globo show Sítio do Picapau Amarelo beginning in the 1970s. The TV cuca had a blonde wig, lived in a cave, and made magical potions.

The cuca was also popularized in music, including the lullaby “Nana nené”:


The main refrain of the lullaby goes:

Nana nenem                             Sleep, little one
que a cuca vem pegar             The cuca’s going to get you
papai foi pra roça                    Daddy went to the fields
mamãe foi trabalhar               And Mommy went to work
Desce gatinho                          Come down, little cat
De cima do telhado                 From the roof
Pra ver se a criança                 To see if the child
Dorme um sono sossegado    Is sleeping peacefully.

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