A Spooky Dance, a Collective Memory, and a Weird Little Puppet: Inside TikTok’s Newest Obsession

brazilian-puppeteer brazilian-puppeteer.jpg - Credit: Mestre Ensinador/TikTok
brazilian-puppeteer brazilian-puppeteer.jpg - Credit: Mestre Ensinador/TikTok

The human brain is thought to start forming memories around the age of two and a half. Anything that happened before? We’ll have to take someone else’s word for it.

Such is the premise for what surely ranks among the strangest TikTok trends of 2022: people trying to convince each other that a puppet dancing and floating in a forest is them when they were a baby. Usually, it’s a parent lying to their child, but sometimes it’s the other way around, or somebody messing with their friend or sibling. And while kids often protest that the puppet isn’t really them, lots of people are willing to go along with the story.

More from Rolling Stone

The original clip, posted on Nov. 17 by a Brazilian artist named Jhonatan Oliveira and featuring music by songwriter Raul Seixas, has been viewed almost 10 million times over the past two weeks. It’s just one among dozens of whimsical videos featuring the character, which Oliveira has been playing with since 2020, when he made a TikTok in which he “discovers” the white-cloaked, green-hatted puppet buried underground. This week, he posed for an Instagram portrait with his beloved, virally famous creation.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Oliveira, who also goes by Mestre Ensinador (“Master Teacher”), used Google Translate to answer a few questions about his playful companion.

“Tibúrcio is a strong gnome,” Oliveira says, once belonging to his late grandmother, “and that’s why I like it very much.” He remade the puppet’s body three years ago, before he began making the videos. His uncle appears with him in the first viral TikTok — he’s the one who took Tibúrcio out of the cruse, an earthenware vessel that Oliveira refers to as a buried treasure. “But, he is not a cash treasure, but a spiritual one,” he explains. “The inspiration to make the videos comes from God!”

Tibúrcio has had an audience ever since, but something really clicked about the footage of the elfin figure’s recent forest dance. Two of the top comments from the day Oliveira posted it were “me when I was a baby” and “i remember doing this as a baby.” This seems to have prompted all the duet videos joking about uncovering long-lost memories of magically floating and twirling around in nature as an infant.

It didn’t stop there, however. TikTokers have dressed up as Tibúrcio, copied his graceful gestures, created beautiful fan art and video game animations, and found even more inventive ways to corroborate the fact that it’s them as a baby. Oliveira himself has amassed well over half a million followers, with many racing to claim they “remember” the action depicted in each new video.

“I find it very gratifying to know that I’m bringing joy to people, and I still have a lot to come,” Oliveira says. “I’m just sad with the companies that use my name to earn just for themselves.” (Among these are the educational tech brand Duolingo, who dressed up their owl mascot as Tibúrcio on their Brazilian TikTok account.) Oliveira is clearly happier with the people who love and engage with his art for its own sake. “I’m separating the wheat from the chaff to really know who’s on my side,” he says. “I have to make a movie for the world!”

You might say he’s already succeeded. Curiously, the lighthearted attempts to gaslight loved ones into believing they used to be a spritely puppet capering around in Brazil have coalesced into an agreement that we all had this experience at a very young age. And why not? You can’t literally recall what it was like to be a baby, so you may as well substitute Oliveira’s version.

How beautiful, then, to think that a universal amnesia has been transformed into a warm collective memory. Even if it’s fake, we still came together this holiday season to rewrite the story of our past — and we can always remember that. Reality is just a construct. Embrace your inner Tibúrcio. It’s who you were always meant to be.

Mon., Dec. 5, 1:15 p.m.: This story has been updated to include comments from Tibúrcio’s creator, Jhonatan Oliveira.

Best of Rolling Stone

Click here to read the full article.