The boto encantado is an enchanted Amazon river dolphin. This may sound charming and cute, but only if you’ve never beheld an Amazon river dolphin belch itself up through the waves right next to your canoe. You see, botos are fat, ugly, loud, and big enough to easily capsize small watercraft. It’s clear, even before any enchantment takes place, why people believe making eye contact with one of these guys leads to hellish nightmares.
But the real story here is the shapeshifting. In Brazilian folklore, botos transform at night from ghastly fish to handsome men and visit the drinking holes and dance halls to seduce young women. The only part of their bodies that doesn’t change, the blowhole, is always hidden underneath some kind of fashionable hat, whence springs the custom to ask unidentified dudes at the bar to remove their hats and prove they’re human. In addition to a hat, the boto is (or at least was, traditionally) described as wearing a sword, a fine belt, and white shoes. All of these items are themselves river creatures – the hat a stingray, the sword an electric eel, and the belt and shoes different kinds of fish.
One tale of the boto encantado tells of two men who spent a night drinking and carousing in town, only to disappear at dawn. The next day, fishermen caught two botos and, while gutting them, found they smelled strongly of liquor. In another case, a man was suspected of being a boto, chased to the river, and speared with three harpoons as he dived into the water. A dead boto was later found in the vicinity with three harpoons protruding from its body.
The legend of the boto is often applied in cases of uncertain paternity. Kids with unknown fathers are simply the filhos de boto, or the dolphin’s children. Problem solved!