The Soul Snatcher of Rio de Janeiro – An Adventure in Street Art

Surely just about every blogger, travel website owner or aspiring Rick Steves has at some point written something – or posted a series of arty shots about street art. ‘Street art?’ What happened to ‘graffiti’? During the 80s it was thought of as vandalism, now we call this visual, often unsanctioned work, carried out more or less spontaneously in various public locations, ‘neo-graffiti’, ‘post-graffiti’, ‘urban art’ or even ‘guerilla art’ and it is very much… cool.

My Favourite Banksy

My Favourite Banksy

In large part street art’s status as cool, occasionally establishment even, is thanks to artists such as Banksy (staged or not, I love ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’), Keith Harring or Shephard Fairey, people who have jumped the traditional gap between artist and viewer – and managed to communicate directly with their public.

In doing so, in this most amorphous of art forms, they have succeeded in presenting socially relevant content, infused with genuine aesthetic quality. In short, Street Art now matters.

As you may know, I recently returned from Rio de Janeiro, a city blessed with more street art than I can recall seeing anywhere. Design Week, wrote of Brazilian Street Art, calling it; ‘the most significant strand of a global art movement, it’s diversity defying the increasing homogeneity of world graffiti. I don’t know much about that, but I certainly concur it is often stunning and it is certainly plentiful.

My Favourite Rio Artist - Jemima Photos

My Favourite Rio Artist – Jemima Photos

In March 2009, the Brazilian government passed law 706/07 which decriminalised street art. Today it is legal to express oneself colourfully in public in this manner, when done with the consent of the owners. I do not intend to make this a documentary of Street Art in Rio. Today in Rio de Janeiro, the street art is ubiquitous. It exists in all corners of the city from the favela to upper class neighbourhoods, from residential to institutional. All this is, is a tale I was inspired to write after visiting a favela and within the space of a few hundred yards, coming across all the wonderful examples that follow – a sort of different take on the traditional blogger post on Street Art, or so I hope… the plot of the story, as mine often are, is entirely made up…

(unfortunately I had only the broken camera on my iPhone with me that day, so forgive the quality of the photos – I’ve modified them as best I could, trying to be a little ‘artsy’ myself in the process)

The Soul Snatcher of Rio de Janeiro…

Once upon a time, not so very long ago in fact, in one of Rio’s infamous favelas people were particularly scared of dying. This in itself may not seem all that new or even eyebrow rising. I’d venture few are the people who can be said to be exactly looking forward to the event. However, in this most Catholic of countries, it was whispered throughout the favela that when you died, your soul instead of flying to heaven would be swallowed up by the Soul Snatcher of Rio de Janeiro, as the poor unsuspecting soul exited the window after leaving it’s earthly remains.

window monster

No-one seemed to know why this terrible creature had chosen to take residence in this particular corner of the city or even the country. However, as theirs was hardly the happiest of lots anyway, most simply put it down to their continued bad luck, inherited from birth.

Of course not everyone accepted this tragic state of events entirely placidly. And various techniques were used. One Catholic tradition dating back to the very times of its birth held that placing grotesques on buildings would help keep evil spirits away. Often called ‘Mascaron’ these can still be seen all over Europe. In the favela someone learned of this, and as they could think of no more evil a spirit than the Soul Snatcher and as resources were limited, many tried painting masks on their doors and hoped…

Door face

One night in June the husband of the sister of a little boy called Pixote, passed away. His sister and her husband had only married less than a year ago. He was a driver of one the Volkswagen buses people used to reach the favela and charged 3 rials per ride. Sadly not long after the wedding the husband had fallen ill. What the family could afford in the way of doctors had been to visit, but long since shrugged their shoulders and charged their unaffordable fees.

The Soul Snatcher had learned to recognise the car of the local doctor ages ago. He smelled blood no doubt. In the days leading up to the tragic death he had been seen on more than one occasion hanging out underneath the window of the house where Pixote lived with his family. Resigning himself to his fate, the young husband had already painted a mask on the door, tried herbal remedies and all the tricks he could think of to help keep away the Soul Snatcher, when one night, he drew his last breath.


However, everything failed and the family could only watch on as his soul flew out of the window and into the jaws of the waiting Soul Snatcher, who skulked off into the night. Not surprisingly the young bride was devastated. For seven nights and seven days she cried non stop. It is tragic enough when we lose a loved one, but the idea of her husband’s soul finding no peace, made things seem truly horrific.

Crying girl

Pixote, watching his sister cry, felt like his little heart would burst in his chest. He had to act. But what could he do? He was ten years old, a small boy, alone against a Soul Snatcher. From watching adults place bets on their favourite Rio football team, he had learned about odds and whichever way he looked at them, they did not seem to stack up in his favour. In the end he took the only decision he saw open to him…

Now there lived – as there often did – in the favela, a famous lady of the night. Now at least it was said this was her profession, for no one seemed to know for sure. Her beauty was legendary and she had an air about her which literally made the local men too afraid to approach her. Therefore, no one was really sure what she did, but tongues will wag. Pixote, not knowing exactly why, perhaps he thought as she frightens the local tough guys, maybe she can do the same to the Soul Snatcher, decided to pluck up courage and call her…

call girl

The beauty, answered her phone and agreed to meet Pixote. Moved by his story and despite her isolation, she too had heard of the Soul Snatcher and together they hatched a rather daring plot…

The following day the lady started to fake an illness. She called the doctor, offering him more money to drive very fast and loudly, as if extremely urgent. After an extra long visit – which she paid for, she seemed to have quite a bit of cash – Pixote followed the doctor out, clinging to his trouser leg, begging him to return, to not give up. That very night, the beautiful girl ‘died’.

Together they had done things properly. Prior to her ‘death’, she had let Pixote build a great wall of bricks surrounding her bedroom and loudly to himself state his wish that when his dear friend, soon to pass away, would do so, this wall would surely keep the Soul Snatcher from claiming his prize.

Walled up Mouth

At the very least said Pixote – as loudly as he could – this would prevent her soul from escaping the house and the Soul Snatcher would have his work cut out trying to get through it. Then when all was ready, in the most risky of plans, they stopped her heart. The Soul Snatcher, long since ready, sensing he might lose his prize – he liked fresh souls, smashed through the brick wall and leapt into the house.

At this very moment, Pixote attached the defibrillator they had borrowed from the doctor and, perhaps with some degree of luck, revived the girl, who grabbed the Soul Snatcher and ensnared him.

Throat Machine

They had their prize. The Soul Snatcher was behind bars. However, even the littlest of boys know that Soul Snatchers cannot be killed. The most one can really aspire to is that they grow tired of an area and move on. However as both Pixote and the call girl were a little more altruistic than that, this seemed to them merely a shift of the problem and hardly fair.

The Key

So keeping him behind lock and key was the only option. Without much thought to how long they would need to maintain this incarceration, Pixote and the girl, went about their business, occasionally checking on their charge, who grew more and more sad as days turned to weeks. Eventually one day, the Soul Snatcher called to his captors and begged to be released.

Why of course they could agree to no such thing and they told him as much. Desperate, the Soul Snatcher told them he could nothing to reverse the deceased status of the souls in his possessions. Soul Snatchers simply do not posses that quantity of magic. However, he said, he could release every single of the hundreds of souls he had snatched and let them take their natural course, if only they would release him.


If they did as much, how were they to know he would not simply return to his evil ways? He looked them in the eyes and confessed that he was actually tired of dealing with things already dead. Years of this will bring anyone down he said. What he really wanted from life was, life. To make things live. And they believed him. True to his word, he duly released all the souls who flew up and out along the walls on the favela and on their way…

But what happened to the Soul Snacther? Well, the tale has a happy ending, for as the favela became a safer, better place to live, many residents decided they wished to make their neighbourhood a greener place too. And would you know it? it turns out Soul Snacthers have the very greenest of thumbs…

Green Grower

Whether all the details of this tale happened exactly as I have laid them out here, I cannot be sure. However if you visit this favela today, you cannot help but notice just how many well tended plants are placed directly below windows…

Magic Plant

The End…

~ by 2ndcupoftea on January 5, 2016.

3 Responses to “The Soul Snatcher of Rio de Janeiro – An Adventure in Street Art”

  1. Love that story.

  2. […] know if you read my strung together adult fairy tale about Rio Street art, The Soul Snatcher of Rio, that I recently spent time in that wonderful city. I visited a favela and took some photos one of […]

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