The culture of modern Brazil has been formed from a rich background of ethnic traditions. The early Portuguese settlers borrowed many customs and words from the original Native American population. During the colonial period millions of black African slaves who were brought into Brazil added an African element to Brazilian cultural life; their religious rites merged with Roman Catholicism to form unique Afro-Brazilian cults, notable for their exotic ceremonies. The most influential of these cults is Candomblé.
Brazil, however, is a predominantly European-formed society, settled largely by the Portuguese, Italians, Germans, and Spaniards. These European origins are the bases of Brazilian family life, which is a rigid and patriarchal structure that permeates all areas of Brazilian life. Within this century, cultural ties between Brazil and the United States have significantly increased.
Sculpture flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries in Brazil. Much of the work included striking religious figures. Most Brazilian art before the 20th century was anonymous, but the influence of this work has been strong, and traces can be seen in the work of contemporary Brazilian artists. The painter Cándido Portinari, in a mural executed for the United Nations headquarters in New York City, clearly shows these earlier influences.
Many contemporary Brazilian artists have taken unmistakably individualistic directions that have received international recognition. Brasília, the capital, has been acclaimed for its striking modern architecture, the chief designer of which was the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Heitor Villa-Lobos is considered perhaps the most gifted Brazilian composer. His works are based largely on Brazilian folk themes. The Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayão has been a foremost interpreter of his music. Brazil has a rich folk music tradition that synthesizes elements of African and Portuguese traditional music. A Brazilian ballroom dance, the samba, was introduced to the United States in 1938. Its music, based on that of African-derived folk dances, became popular and eventually developed into the even more popular bossa nova. The infectious melodies and rhythms of the bossa nova have been performed by such entertainers as the guitarist and singer João Gilberto. Among contemporary composers are Luis Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim, who created the score for the film Black Orpheus (1959).
The climatic pattern is largely shaped by Brazil’s tropical location and by topographic features. Most of Brazil has high annual average temperatures, above 22° C (72° F). Only in the South and in the highest elevations does the average fall below this. In the higher elevations, the seasonal variation in temperature is more marked. the south has seasonal changes as experienced in Europe and the USA, but most of the country does have noticeable seasonal variations in rainfall, temperature and humidity.
Winter lasts from June to August. The summer season is from December to February. With many Brazilians on holiday at this time, travel is difficult and expensive, while from Rio to the south the humidity can be oppressive. But it’s also the most festive time of year, when Brazilians escape their small, hot apartments and take to the beaches and streets. In summer, Rio is hot and humid; temperatures in the high 30°Cs are common and sometimes reach the low 40°Cs.
The Northeast coast gets about as hot as Rio during the summer, but due to a wonderful tropical breeze and less humidity, it’s rarely stifling. The planalto (highlands) such as Minas Gerais and Brasilia, are usually a few degrees cooler than the coast and not as humid. Here summer rains are frequent, while along the coast the rains tend to come intermittently. Although there are variations in rainfall throughout Brazil, rain is a year-round affair. The general pattern is for short, tropical rains that come at all times. These rains rarely alter or interfere with travel plans. The sertão is a notable exception – here the rains fall heavily within a few months and periodic droughts devastate the region. The Amazon Basin receives the most rain in Brazil, the average temperature is 27°C but humid. The best time to see it is July-August, when it’s neither the peak of the rainy season nor the time when the river is lowest.
Brazil has the largest economy in South America and the ninth largest in the world. However, income distribution is highly unequal and poverty affects more than one-third of the total population. Unequal land distribution is a contributing factor: nearly half of all private lands are owned by only 1 percent of the people. Many of the landless live in favelas (shantytowns) on the outskirts of urban centers.
Hyperinflation and low growth marked the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1994, Cardoso introduced a new currency, the real (R$), as part of a program that dramatically cut inflation. Inflation was about 6 percent in 2000, and the government hopes to cut it to 4 percent in 2001.
The government’s failure to cut spending following the Asian financial crisis in 1997 weakened investor confidence in the Brazilian currency. In January 1999, the government was forced to devalue its currency by more than 40 percent, plunging the country into crisis. Government spending cuts, tax increases, high interest rates, and other emergency measures were implemented to strengthen the real and stop the flight of foreign capital. However, despite predictions, the economy grew by almost 1 percent in 1999; growth in 2000 reached about 4 percent, and similar rates are expected for 2001. Unemployment is 7.1 percent overall and close to 20 percent in São Paulo.
Brazil is largely self-sufficient in food and consumer goods. Agriculture employs about 30 percent of the population. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, oranges, and bananas. It also is a major producer of soybeans, corn, cocoa, beef, pork, and rice. Much of Brazil’s sugarcane is used to produce ethyl alcohol, a fuel used in more than 1.5 million Brazilian cars. The industrial sector exports automobiles and parts, textiles, minerals, iron ore, steel, and metals; other industries include cement and chemicals. Natural resources include gold, nickel, tin, timber, and oil. A series of oil spills in 2001 affected not only the economy but also the environment. Hydroelectric dams generate most of their electric power. Brazil is a member of Mercosur, a regional free-trade pact that includes Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
The hub of the Brazilian diet revolve around arroz (white rice), feijiio (black beans) and farofel (manioc flour). It’s possible to eat these every day and in some regions it’s hard not to. The tasty black beans are typically cooked in bacon. The white rice is often very starchy. Farofel, the staple of the Indians, slaves and Portuguese for hundreds of years, is a hardy root that grows everywhere. It seems to be an acquired taste for foreign palates. From the rice-bean-farofel group, meals go in one of three directions: carne (steak), galinha (chicken) and peixe (fish). This makes up the typical Brazilian meal and is called prato feito (set meal) or prato do diG (plate of day) in lanchonetes from Xique Xique to Bananal. They are typically enormous meals and incredibly cheap. Steak, big and rare, is the national passion. The best cuts are filet and churrasco. Chicken is usually grilled, sometimes fried. Fish is generally fried.
Breakfast usually consists of café com leite (coffee with milk), fruit, and bread with marmalade. Lunch is the main meal and often includes beans, rice, meat, salad, potatoes, bread, and fruit. Dinner is lighter and may include a bowl of soup with bread, followed by coffee or milk with a piece of cake. Pastries are typical snacks. Favorite foods vary by region. In Bahia and other states, foods may be spiced with dendê (palm) oil. Churrasco, which originated in the south, is a barbecue with a variety of meats. Bife à cavalo com fritas (meat with egg and french fries) is popular in many areas. Common drinks include lemonade, milk, fruit juices and shakes, soft drinks, coffee, and mate (MAH-tay), an herbal tea enjoyed in southern states. Tropical fruits and fruit juices are wonderful and unlike anything in the temperate zones of the world.
From 1875 until 1960, about 5 million Europeans emigrated to Brazil, settling mainly in the four southern states of Sao Paulo, Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants have come mainly from Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Poland, and the Middle East. The largest Japanese community outside Japan is in Sao Paulo. Despite class distinctions, national identity is strong, and racial friction is a relatively new phenomenon.
Indigenous full-blooded Indians, located mainly in the northern and western border regions and in the upper Amazon Basin, constitute less than 1% of the population. Their numbers are declining as contact with the outside world and commercial expansion into the interior increase. Brazilian Government programs to establish reservations and to provide other forms of assistance have existed for years, but are controversial and often ineffective.
Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. Approximately 80% of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church; most others are Protestant or follow practices derived from African religions.
Brazil was claimed for Portugal in 1500 by Pedro Alvares Cabral. It was ruled from Lisbon as a colony until 1808, when the royal family, having fled from Napoleon’s army, established the seat of Portuguese Government in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil became a kingdom under Dom Joao VI, who returned to Portugal in 1821. His son declared Brazil’s independence on September 7, 1822, and became emperor with the title of Dom Pedro I. His son, Dom Pedro II, ruled from 1831 to 1889, when a federal republic was established in a coup by Deodoro da Fonseca, marshal of the army. Slavery had been abolished a year earlier by the Regent Princess Isabel while Dom Pedro II was in Europe.
From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional democracy, with the presidency alternating between the dominant states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. This period ended with a military coup that placed Getulio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency; Vargas remained as dictator until 1945. From 1945 to 1961, Eurico Dutra, Vargas, Juscelino Kubitschek, and Janio Quadros were elected presidents. When Quadros resigned in 1961, he was succeeded by Vice President Joao Goulart.
Goulart’s years in office were marked by high inflation, economic stagnation, and the increasing influence of radical political elements. The armed forces, alarmed by these developments, staged a coup on March 31, 1964. The coup leaders chose as president Humberto Castello Branco, followed by Arthur da Costa e Silva (1967-69), Emilio Garrastazu Medici (1968-74), and Ernesto Geisel (1974-79) all of whom were senior army officers. Geisel began a liberalization which was carried further by his successor, Gen. Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo (1979-85). Figueiredo not only permitted the return of politicians exiled or banned from political activity during the 1960s and 1970s, but also allowed them to run for state and federal offices in 1982.
At the same time, an electoral college consisting of all members of congress and six delegates chosen from each state, continued to choose the president. In January 1985, the electoral college voted Tancredo Neves from the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) into office as President. However, Tancredo Neves became ill in March and died a month later. His Vice President, former Senator Jose Sarney, became President upon Neves’ death.
Brazil completed its transition to a popularly elected government in 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello won 53% of the vote in the first direct presidential election in 29 years. In 1992, a major corruption scandal led to the impeachment and ultimate resignation of President Collor. Vice President Itamar Franco took his place and governed for the remainder of Collor’s term culminating in the October 3, 1994 presidential elections, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected President with 54% of the vote. He took office January 1, 1995.
President Cardoso has sought to establish the basis for long-term stability and growth and to reduce Brazil’s extreme socioeconomic imbalances. His proposals to Congress include constitutional amendments to open the Brazilian economy to greater foreign participation and to implement sweeping reforms–including social security, government administration, and taxation–to reduce excessive public sector spending and improve government efficiency.
People and Population
The population of Brazil is approximately 172.8 million and is growing annually at a rate of 0.94 percent. More than 80 percent of the people live in cities. The two largest cities of the southeast, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, together hold some 20 million people. Brasília, the capital, is a planned city that was completed in 1960; its population now numbers more than two million. Nearly 50 percent of the population is younger than age 20. Brazilians of European (mostly Portuguese) descent make up 55 percent of the population, while 38 percent are of mixed heritage and 6 percent are Black African descendants.
There are only about 200,000 indigenous peoples in Brazil, many of whom inhabit the Amazon region including some who have never been contacted by modern society. Many of the mixed peoples have some indigenous blood through intermarriage. Groups of German, Italian, Lebanese, and Japanese immigrants settled in the south and still maintain ethnic communities. In fact, Brazil is home to the largest cohesive community of Japanese outside of Japan. The black population descended from African slaves brought to Brazil before the 1880s; they live mostly in northeastern states like Bahia.
Brazilians are warm, fun loving, and free spirited. They are also outgoing and enjoy being around others. At the same time, they are hard working. Brazilians are proud of the Portuguese heritage that sets them apart from other Latin American peoples. One point of pride is the “Brazilian way”-their ability to find creative ways around seemingly insurmountable problems. Brazilians often are opinionated and will argue for their conviction with a vigor that may seem like anger but is not. In spite of recent economic crises, most Brazilians are hopeful about their country’s future as a stable democracy with a strong, growing economy.
Brazilians are fashionable and like to dress according to the latest styles. People in urban areas like to wear European fashions, particularly Italian. People in warmer and humid regions dress more casually and colors are lighter and brighter year-round. In São Paulo and parts of the southern region, people often dress in black, white, and other neutral colors. Stylish suits or a dress with a jacket is common business attire.
Both men and women pay careful attention to their appearance. Shoes are well kept and polished. Manicures and pedicures are popular. People like to dress up for special occasions and parties. In rural regions, more traditional clothing is common, especially among the native people. Families traditionally are large and may include the extended family. However, smaller nuclear families, with one to three children, are becoming more common. The family is led by the father, but the mother influences decisions, especially those affecting the home. Women, even those who work outside the home, are responsible for household duties. Middle and higher-income families often hire domestic help. Children rarely leave home before they marry. Unmarried men may leave early for employment reasons, but they usually live at home until they are 30.
The elderly who cannot care for themselves live with their children because it is considered improper to send them to a nursing home. Family ties are strong, and members rely on each other for assistance and enjoy being together. Among the urban youth, however, some of these values are becoming less important. While middle-income families live in modest homes or apartments, the poor commonly lack the basic necessities of life, including food and sanitation.
The national sport and passion is soccer. Businesses and schools may even close during the World Cup or important national competitions. Basketball and volleyball are also popular. People enjoy visiting the country’s many fine beaches, boating, fishing, and swimming. Brazilians are avid fans of auto racing.During leisure hours, people commonly visit friends or watch television. Brazilians will celebrate any occasion, and get-togethers often include singing and samba dancing. Weekend and holiday barbecues are common.