Aerial view of a dense rainforest with a slender river. Photo by Ivars Utināns on Unsplash

Akawan: a LGBT Monster Story?

I discovered Akawan in the short story of the same name written by Inglês de Sousa, from Pará (Brazil), in 1896. Well, actually I already knew it as any bird, but not as an ominous creature.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Akawan is a bird of prey known for eating snakes and for its scandalous song, which can sound like a laugh. In English it’s called laughing falcon. Its song always foreshadows a misfortune, such as death, heavy rain, hunters and, in the Northeast, drought (I didn’t know about that, for me this is the role of guira cuckoo, but it was Gonzaga who said it, so who am I to question? ).

Akawan is there in the folktale by Inglês de Souza to foreshadow Captain Ferreira’s misfortune. I want to emphasize: Akawan does not bring misfortune, it only foreshadows it. Who brought it was Captain Ferreira himself when breaking a taboo.

It all happened because, mourning the death of his wife, the Captain decides to go hunting on Friday, a holy day on which hunting is prohibited. Thus, he cannot capture any animals. His bad luck doesn’t stop there, a storm ends up lashing the forest while the poor thing returns home. In the suffocating darkness, Ferreira hears a horrible scream coming from the river, a scream that for him can only be Cobra Grande (Big Snake), an enchanted serpent that inhabits the bottom of rivers. Cobra Grande, he realizes, is giving birth.

That’s where Akawan sings for the first time.

Shortly after, the Captain finds a luminous canoe floating in the same river, with a child the same age as his daughter Aninha. He decides to adopt her. He names her Victory.

Aninha and Vitória are then raised together, having a practically normal life until they reach adolescence. In this phase of change, Aninha is constantly sick, her face always sad and frightened, while Vitória gains masculine characteristics, scaring the other men and getting into the woods. During the disappearances, Aninha gets even more sick. Although they share a certain intimacy, Aninha is always shy in her sister’s presence.

When she reaches the age of marriage, Aninha refuses all suitors until her father forces her once and for all, hoping that this will restore her daughter’s happiness. She locks herself in her room until the wedding, only letting Victória in, who always leaves furious.

When the wedding day finally arrives, Victoria doesn’t show up at the church. Aninha looks happy, but when the vicar asks her if she is marrying freely, she starts to shake and doesn’t answer. His startled gaze darts to the side door of the sacristy.

There is Vitória, with snakes for hair, green skin and a split tongue. A snake woman glowering at the bride. Desperate Aninha falls from the altar and, after her sister disappears, she starts having convulsions. In a fit of hysterics, she folds her arms like a bird and starts screaming, “Akawan! Akawan!”

The misfortune of the bird comes true.

When I read the tale for the first time, focusing on the magical feature, I considered that Aninha’s weakness was that Victória somehow drained her energy, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula drinking Lucy’s blood. I didn’t consider that her crises could be from repressed love, something that is even mentioned by the village people. But not for a lad, as the people of the tale think, but for a woman, for her adopted sister, Vitória.

In this interpretation, the taboo of incest, of homosexuality, as well as the abandonment of her sister at the end of the story, brought her an internal conflict that she was not able to bear, triggering the hysterical crisis.

However, this would not be the only possible interpretation. The tale also makes us understand that the relationship between the two sisters did not seem consensual, but a relationship between a “lady” (Vitória) and her “slave” (Aninha). Could only Vitória have fallen in love with Aninha? Thinking in this way, Aninha’s fear would be because she refused the relationship, or because she probably knew her sister’s monstrous nature, which left her in her sick state.

I could not end this analysis without mentioning an ecological moral of the narrative. The breach of the taboo by Captain Ferreira when hunting on a forbidden day may have been the cause of all the tragedy of the daughters, showing that future generations suffer the most from the consequences of disrespect for nature.

Like all folkloric stories, this Akawan tale yields different interpretations.

Of course, we can consider Acauã as having LGBT characters, but we can no longer consider it as a tale that defends the LGBT cause. Let’s face it, the tale is from over a century ago, it reflects ancient morals and values. It says more about the way of thinking of the society of the time. Treating sexual orientation as a punishment for a parent’s sin, linking homosexuality with monstrosity and not leaving the homosexual couple together in the end is not so well regarded and acceptable today.

Times change. Values ​​too.

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Paulo Moreira

Paulo Moreira

Brazilian pharmacist in loved with History, Fantasy and Ecofiction. Author of The Blood of the Goddess. I write about nature in poems and fantasy stories.