World Cultures

Portuguese colonialism shows its influence in large cities, with churches and market stalls converging on central plazas.
A house on the edge of the Amazon River. The Amazon forest is estimated to contain 15 to 30 percent of all species on earth.
A view overlooking Rio de Janeiro. There is stark contrast between the wealthier, more industrialized south and the poorer, undeveloped north.
The market at Belem Port.
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Culture Name


Alternative Names

In Portuguese, Brasil; its citizens are Brasileiros or Brasileiras depending on gender.


Identification. The Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral arrived at present day Pôrto Seguro (Safe Harbor) in the state of Bahia on the Brazilian coast in April 1500 and named the new territory Ilha de Vera Cruz, Island of the True Cross, thinking he was on an island. A year later, Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci sailed to Brazil on a voyage commissioned by the Portuguese crown and returned home with a cargo of hard, reddish wood. The wood was similar to an East Indian variety called pau brasil, which was then popular in Europe for making cabinets and violin bows. Pau brasil (brazilwood), the first product to be exploited by the Portuguese in this new territory, is the origin of the country's name, Brazil.

Because of its size and diversity, Brazil is one of the nations most deserving of the name "land of contrasts." The country is often divided into five regions: Norte (North), Nordeste (Northeast), Centro-Oeste (Central-West), Sudeste (Southeast), and Su l (South). These divisions are used for administrative purposes such as the national Brazilian census and they roughly correspond to geographic, demographic, economic, and cultural variation within this sprawling nation. The Northeast has the greatest proportion of people of African descent, the South and Southeast are home to the bulk of Brazilians of European and Japanese ancestry, while indigenous peoples live largely in the North and Central-West. Still, regional migration and extensive miscegenation (racial inter-breeding) has made Brazil one of the most racially diverse nations on earth.

Aside from the official fivefold regional division of Brazil, a simpler economic distinction is made between the poor, underdeveloped North and the wealthier, more industrialized South. This distinction is sometimes referred to as the "two Brazils" or "Belindia," with the wealthy South being compared to Belgium and the poor North to India. At times these contrasts are translated into negative stereotypes as when inhabitants of São Paulo, the huge metropolis in southeastern Brazil, blame their city's poverty and high crime rate on migrants from the North.

Those who consider themselves urban sophisticates—particularly inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo—have a long tradition of maligning people from smaller cities and towns in the Brazilian interior, calling them uneducated hicks and hillbillies. Urban, middle-class Brazilians are generally unfamiliar with the interior of their own country and misrepresent it as a region of unrelenting poverty and backwardness—a stark place of few creature comforts that is best avoided. One consequence of this attitude is that middle-class and wealthy Brazilians are more likely to have visited Miami, Orlando, or New York than to have traveled to tourist destinations in their own country.

Brazilians are aware of these regional and rural/urban distinctions and closely identify with their place of birth. One is a nordestino (northeasterner) or a mineiro (native of the state of Minas Gerais) or a carioca (native of the city of Rio de Janeiro). Nevertheless, Brazilians share a national culture—making Brazil a true case of unity in diversity. The legacy of the Portuguese in language, religion, and law serves to unify this vast land and its people. Until the mid-twentieth century almost all Brazilians were— at least nominally—Catholic and today, virtually all speak Portuguese and identify with the dominant Brazilian culture.

Location and Geography. Brazil, the world's fifth largest country in geographical expanse and the



largest nation in Latin America, comprises slightly under half the land mass of the South American continent and shares a border with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. It is the size of the continental United States excluding Alaska.


Brazil's physical environment and climate vary greatly from the tropical North to the temperate South. The landscape is dominated by a central highland region known as the Planalto Central (Brazilian Highlands, or Plateau of Brazil) and by the vast AmazonBasin which occupies overone-third of the country.The central plateau juts into theseaina few areas along Brazil's 4,500-mile-long, (7,240-kilometer-long) coast, but it more often runs parallel to the ocean, creating a fertile, lowland area.

Brazil is a land rich in natural resources, principally iron ore, bauxite, manganese, nickel, uranium, gold, gemstones, oil, and timber.

The physical environment in each region determined the types of crops grown or the resources extracted and this, in turn, influenced the populations that settled there and the social and economic systems that developed. Brazil's economic history, in fact, has been marked by a succession of cycles, each one based on the exploitation of a single export commodity: timber (brazilwood) in the first years of colonization; sugarcane in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; precious metals (gold) and gems (diamonds) in the eighteenth century; and finally, coffee in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Brazil's northeast coast with its rich soils became the most prosperous region early on as vast sugar plantations were created to supply a growing demand for that product in Europe. Beginning in the seventeenth century, African slaves were imported to provide labor for these plantations. This is why even today the Northeast is the region with the strongest African influence.

The Southeast also received large numbers of African slaves during the gold boom of the eighteenth century and the coffee boom beginning in the nineteenth century. This region also attracted new immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, and Japan who established family farms and eventually urban businesses.

In contrast, the South—with a climate unsuited to either coffee or sugar—became the destination of many German and Italian immigrants who raised cattle and grew a variety of crops. The heritage of the Northeast coast, based on slave labor and a plantation economy, was distinct from that of the South and Southeast, where plantations existed along with small family farms. Such historical differences partly account for contemporary contrasts between these regions.

Another regional distinction, that between litoral (coast) and interior (inland), arises from the fact that settlement in Brazil has always been concentrated near the coast. To say that someone is from the "interior" usually implies that he or she is from a rural area, even though there are large cities located far from the coast. Although the gold boom of the eighteenth century and the rubber boom of the nineteenth century led to the growth of inland cities, the real movement to settle the heartland of the country began only in the late 1950s with the construction of the new national capital, Brasília, in the Central-West.

Brazil is probably best known as the land of the Amazon, the world's largest river in area drained and volume of water and second only to the Nile in length. The Amazon forest contains the world's largest single reserve of biological organisms, and while no one knows how many species actually exist there, scientists estimate the number could be as high as five million, amounting to 15 to 30 percent of all species on earth.

Although now a focus of Brazilian and international media attention because of the negative ecological consequences of development, the Amazon region had long been isolated from national culture. Still, early in colonial times Jesuit missionaries traversed the Amazon River and its major tributaries and established settlements at Manaus and Belem. Both became thriving urban centers during the rubber boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Beginning in the 1970s with the construction of the Trans-Amazon Highway and other feeder roads, the migrant flow into the Central-West—the site of Brasília—expanded into the Amazon region.

Demography. The population of Brazil was about 170 million in 2000, the sixth largest in the world after China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and the Russian Federation. Despite its large population, Brazil's demographic density is relatively low. Although there has been significant population movement into the interior in recent decades, about 80 percent of all Brazilians still live within two hundred miles of the Atlantic coast.

Fertility rates have dropped dramatically in Brazil in the last three or four decades of the twentieth century, with the completed fertility rate at the turn of the twenty-first century down to an average of 2.1 children per woman. Nevertheless, the population will continue to grow in the first twenty or thirty years of the twenty-first century because of the nation's current youthful age structure.

The Brazilian population has three major components. Somewhere between 2.5 and 5 million Brazilian Indians inhabited Brazil when the Portuguese first arrived in the early sixteenth century. Divided into many different cultures with distinct institutions, Brazilian Indians spoke a large number of languages. Today they comprise only about .02 percent of the country's population. Their numbers fell rapidly as a result of displacement, warfare and, most importantly, the introduction of European diseases against which they had no immunity. By 1955, only 120,000 Brazilian Indians were left and they were thought to be on the road to extinction. This downward trend has been reversed, however. Their numbers are now increasing owing to improved health care, lower incidence of disease, declining infant mortality, and a higher fertility rate. Contemporary estimates of the indigenous population range from 280,000 to 300,000; the population may reach 400,000 early in the new millennium.

Afro-Brazilians, the descendants of millions of slaves brought primarily from West Africa to Brazil over a three-hundred-year period, are the second major component of the national population. Afro-Brazilians and people of mixed racial ancestry account for at least 45 percent of the Brazilian population at the end of the twentieth century.

Brazil also has a large population of mixed European, mainly Portuguese, descent. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Brazil was the destination of many immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Spain. During the same era smaller numbers of immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Rounding out the demographic picture are, Japanese-Brazilians, descendants of Japanese who came to Brazil in the first decades of the 20th century, and Koreans who began arriving in the 1950s. Still, Brazil is among the most racially heterogeneous countries on earth and these distinct categories are somewhat misleading in that many, perhaps most, Brazilians are of mixed ancestry.

Linguistic Affiliation. Nearly all Brazilians speak Portuguese, a Romance language, belonging to the Indo-European language family. The Portuguese language was introduced to Brazil by the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century. Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, the native population spoke languages belonging to at least four major language families: Arawakan, Gê, Carib, and Tupi-Guarani. Tupi-Guarani—which was spoken by coastal Indians, the first to come into extensive contact with the Portuguese—served as the basis for lingua geral, a language developed by the Jesuits for their missionary work with the Indian population.

Aside from a small number of recently contacted indigenous peoples, all Brazilians speak Portuguese. Brazilian Portuguese differs somewhat in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation from the language of Portugal. Brazilian Portuguese contains a large number of indigenous terms, particularly Tupi-Guarani words for native plants, animals, and place-names that are not found in continental Portuguese. While regional accents exist in Brazil, they are not very pronounced and native Portuguese speakers from one region have no difficulty understanding those from other regions. The vast majority of Brazilians are monolingual in Portuguese, although many middle-class and elite Brazilians study English and to a lesser extent Spanish, French, and German. Brazilians are very proud of their linguistic heritage and resent that many foreigners, particularly North Americans, think Brazilians speak Spanish.

Symbolism. Most Brazilians would agree that the symbols that best characterize their nation are the exuberant revelry of the pre-Lenten celebration of carnival and the wildly popular sport of soccer, called futebol in Brazil.

Carnival is a four-day extravaganza marked by parades of costumed dancers and musicians, formal balls, street dancing, and musical contests, a truly national party during which Brazilians briefly forget what they call the "hard realities of life." Carnival is symbolic of the national ethos because it plays to many of the dualities in Brazilian life: wealth and poverty, African and European, female and male. The key to carnival's popularity is its break with and reversal of the everyday reality. Through the use of costume—notably called fantasia in Portuguese—anyone can become anybody at carnival time. Class hierarchies based on wealth and power are briefly set aside, poverty is forgotten, men may dress as women, leisure supplants work, and the disparate components of Brazilian society blend in a dizzying blaze of color and music.

Brazilians are also passionate about soccer and are rated among the best players of the sport in the world. Every four years when the world's best teams vie for the World Cup championship, Brazil virtually shuts down as the nation's collective attention turns to the action on the playing field. And when Brazil wins the World Cup—as it has on more occasions than any other country—the delirium of the populace is palpable. Brazilian flags are hoisted aloft, everyone wears green and yellow (the national colors), and thousands of Brazilians, seemingly intoxicated with pride, take to the streets in revelry.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. In 1530 the Portuguese began to colonize the new land of Brazil, but during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries their hold on this vast territory remained tenuous as they struggled with an unfamiliar environment, indigenous peoples, and with French and later Dutch attempts to undermine Portuguese control.


People harvesting sugar cane in Salvador. Northeast Brazil has the most African cultural influence, due to early plantation labor.


A useful exercise is to compare the early colonization of the United States and Brazil since it sheds light on the ensuing differences between the two modern nations. Both countries imported large numbers of African slaves, but in Brazil the practice began earlier, lasted longer, and involved the importation of two to three times more slaves than in the United States. Estimates range from three to four million Africans forcibly taken to Brazil. Moreover, in contrast to the large number of families who came to settle in the North American colonies, the Portuguese colonists were more often single males. Thus, in the early 1700s, when the importation of slaves into North America was just beginning, the proportion of Africans to Europeans was much smaller in the United States than in Brazil, where the slave trade had been operating for more than a century. The smaller ratio of Portuguese colonists to slave and indigenous peoples in Brazil and the resultant tendency of single men to take African or indigenous women as concubines or wives led to the great racial mix that characterizes Brazilian society today. Extensive miscegenation occurred in Brazil among Africans, Portuguese, and indigenous peoples during colonial times, and later with the arrival of new immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

National Identity. While many people today see Brazil's racial and cultural diversity as one of the nation's strengths, foreign visitors and Brazilians themselves have at times drawn a connection between extensive racial mixing and Brazil's "backwardness." The belief that Brazil was less able to develop due to its racial heterogeneity was at the root of governmental decisions regarding immigration. Nineteenth century government-sponsored colonization schemes, for example, hoped to attract white immigrants, especially northern Europeans. And, in the early twentieth century, when theories of eugenics were popular in many parts of the world, Brazilian elites were straightforward about their desire to "whiten" the country so that it would develop economically.

Others dissented from this view. In the 1930s well-known Brazilian anthropologist, Gilberto Freyre, argued that the richness of Brazilian society lay precisely in its mixed racial heritage. The Portuguese, he argued, had laid the foundation for a "new world in the tropics," a blending of African, Indian, and European elements that made Brazilian culture unique. While later criticized as a conservative romantic who downplayed the harsh realities of life for people of color in Brazil, Freyre nevertheless was instrumental in recasting discussions of the nation's multiracial heritage, making it a source of pride, rather than shame.

Historically the emergence of Brazilian national identity followed a pattern common to many other European colonial territories. During the colonial period (1500–1822), individuals born in Brazil were subject to rules and taxes that were decided in distant Portugal and most of the top posts in colonial administration were held by those born in the mother country. The relative lack of power over their own affairs encouraged the creation of a distinct identity among native-born Brazilians, albeit one made up of diverse elements.

In terms of wealth and power, colonial Brazil was dominated by a small white elite of Portuguese ancestry who owned sugar plantations worked by Indian and later, African slaves. Portuguese of more humble backgrounds and free people of color held the intermediate positions in colonial society; they were plantation foremen, artisans, small shopkeepers, low-level government bureaucrats, and members of militias.

Following Brazil's proclamation of independence from Portugal in 1822, Brazilian national identity was thrown into sharper relief, but its constituent parts remained largely unchanged. A small European elite still dominated Brazil's political and economic life, although gold had replaced sugar as the principle source of wealth (coffee would later replace gold). But the Brazilian masses still consisted of black slaves and free people of color who labored in gold mines, on coffee plantations, and as poverty-stricken sharecroppers and subsistence farmers.

Until the 1870s, in fact, Brazil was primarily a nation of people of color. In the first national census in 1872 over 60 percent of the population was classified as black or of mixed ancestry. Then a massive wave of immigration from Europe—eventually reaching some 2.5 million—helped shift the racial balance. At first a few thousand immigrants arriving from Germany and Spain added to the nation's existing ethnic melange, but once slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, immigration really took off. It reached a peak in the 1890s with over one million Italians settling in the South and Southeast and additional tens of thousands emigrating from Portugal. During those years immigrants from Eastern Europe, including many Jews, also came to Brazil. In the early 1900s, as the coffee economy continued to expand, new waves of immigrants arrived from the Middle East (mainly Lebanon) and Japan.

While some cities in southern Brazil swelled with burgeoning immigrant populations, other immigrants, especially Germans and Japanese, established themselves in isolated rural communities. In many small towns and rural areas in the South and Southeast during the 1920s and 1930s, children were educated in German or Japanese and Portuguese was rarely spoken. But when it was disclosed that the German government was aiding anti– government groups in Brazil, the Brazilian authorities ordered the closing of schools in which the principal language of instruction was not Portuguese.

After World War II Brazil followed a pattern of assimilation common to many nations with a high percentage of immigrants. As the second and third generations settled in and moved up the economic ladder, they became "Brazilian" to varying degrees. They intermarried, no longer spoke the language of their ancestors, and came to think of themselves primarily as Brazilian.

Contemporary Brazilians not only share a common culture, they insist on distinguishing themselves linguistically and ethnically from other Latin Americans, a stance rooted in a sense of cultural pride, in the distinctiveness of their "race" as they call it. Brazilians have long been indifferent to their South American neighbors, dismissing their shared Iberian roots as of no particular consequence. As Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro once remarked, "Brazil and Spanish America are divided into two worlds, back to back to each other."

Ethnic Relations. Brazilians have a strong national ideology that their land is a "racial democracy," one without prejudice towards its darker skinned citizens. The ideology, although patently untrue, nevertheless shapes the contours of interracial behavior and discourse in Brazil, smoothing its edges. While racial prejudice and discrimination do, indeed, exist in Brazil, their expression is more subtle than in the United States and perhaps, therefore, more difficult to combat.

Unlike in the United States, in Brazil there is no "one drop" rule—the custom that defines anyone with any known or suspected African ancestry as "black." The Brazilian system of racial classification is both more complex and more in keeping with biological reality. First, Brazil has never had two discrete racial categories—black and white—and Brazilians recognize and have words for a wide variety of racial types. Moreover, how individuals are classified racially does not depend solely on their physical appearance, their skin color, hair type, and facial features or on those of their relatives. Social class, education, and manner of dress all come into play in assigning someone to a racial category. As Brazilians put it, "money whitens"—that is, the higher the social class, the lighter the racial category to which an individual belongs. A well dressed, well educated woman with dark skin and Negroid features might be referred to as a moreno (roughly, brunette), while an illiterate sharecropper with light skin might be assigned to a darker racial category than his physical appearance alone would warrant.

Ironically, some evidence suggests that since the 1960s Brazil has been moving toward a system of racial classification similar to that of the United States. That is, the multitude of racial terms commonly used by Brazilians may be giving way to a bifurcate system of branco and negro —white and black.

Whatever the trend in racial classification, Brazil is far from being a "racial paradise" as Freyre claimed. Some statistics bear this out. Dark-skinned people in Brazil are more likely to be poor than light skinned-people and whites have average monthly incomes almost two and a half times greater than nonwhites. Nonwhites have fewer years of schooling than whites, with illiteracy rates of 30 percent and 12 percent respectively.

In considering these figures, social scientists have long argued that discrimination in Brazil is more a matter of social class than of race. In other words, one's life chances as a poor person in Brazil are bleak, regardless of one's color. But recent research has questioned this assumption and has shown that even when holding markers of social class such as income and education as constants, nonwhites fare worse than whites in rates of infant mortality and average life expectancy.

The Brazil-as-a-racial-paradise ideology long served to dampen Afro-Brazilian social and political movements. Moreover, because of the absence of the one drop rule, racial consciousness has always been more muted in Brazil than in the United States, making it more difficult to organize on the basis of race. Nevertheless, the more inclusive term Afro-brasileiro (Afro-Brazilian) has gained popularity in recent years, more groups celebrating Brazil's African heritage and decrying racism have emerged, and an affirmative action program, called discriminação posítiva (positive discrimination), has been instituted by the Brazilian government.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use Of Space

By far the most important demographic change in Brazil's recent history has been its shift from a predominantly rural to an urban society. As recently as 1940, more than two-thirds of Brazilians lived in rural areas, but by 2000 the proportion of rural dwellers had dropped to 22 percent. The "urban designation," however, includes many small cities as well as the large population centers of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

With urbanization has come a number of intractable social problems. The large cities of southern Brazil have long attracted migrants from the impoverished north, but the economies of these cities have not expanded rapidly enough to absorb all these migrants. Unemployment, underemployment at subsistence wages, poverty, and crime have been the result. So, too, have been the growth of shantytowns, such as the famed hillside favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are extralegal settlements consisting of makeshift dwellings that lack urban services.

Until the late 1970s various municipal governments dealt with substandard housing through urban renewal, demolishing it to make way for "modern" buildings and thoroughfares and building public housing—often miles from the city center—for the displaced poor. Such benighted attempts to solve the problem were largely replaced in the 1980s with efforts to regularize the status of favelas by providing them with electricity, sewage, paved streets, schools, and clinics, a sign of the growing political clout of their inhabitants.

The desire of many of the urban poor to live in centrally located shantytowns stems from the fact that most Brazilian cities are ringed by miles of working class suburbios (suburbs) that necessitate long commutes to jobs in the city center. In other words, unlike in the United States, poor people in Brazil are more likely to live at the outskirts of urban areas—the suburbs—while the middle class and well-to-do tend to live in more conveniently located neighborhoods in the heart of the city.

Cities, especially big cities, have movimento —a quality of liveliness and bustle that most Brazilians value. And some Brazilian cities have a great deal of movimento indeed. São Paulo, a metropolitan area of sixteenth million people and one of the fastest growing cities in the world, is Brazil's New York, Chicago, and Detroit all rolled into one. Rural zones, in contrast, are generally viewed by urbanites as backlands, as dull places of unrelieved poverty.

Cities have played an important role in Brazilian history. After all, few other countries have had three national capitals. During the colonial period when sugar was king, the nation's locus was the northeast coast and Salvador was the colonial capital. Then with the eighteenth century gold boom centered in the state of Minas Gerais in the southeastern part of the country, the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro where it remained until the founding of Brasília in 1960.

Urban architecture in Brazil owes much to the legacy of Portuguese colonialism. Cities such as Ouro Prêto and Rio de Janeiro grew in importance long before industrialization had brought the factory or the automobile to Brazil. These cities, which influenced patterns of urban construction throughout the country, were largely modeled on Portuguese cities. The neighborhoods built during colonial times have narrow streets with continuous building facades that converge on central plazas. These open areas are often the sites of churches or government buildings, constructions imbued with symbolic power by being set off from the solid mass of private dwellings that line the streets.

Brasília was designed to be the ideal modern city and its architecture and planning were meant to transform Brazilian society. But in Brasília today the distinctions between haves and have-nots are all

The market at Belem Port.

too apparent, concrete reflections of the nation's social and economic divisions. In planning Brasília no provision was made for housing the thousands of workers who built the city or the thousands more who would service it. The only provision for them was the inclusion of tiny maids' rooms in apartments built for the middle class. As a result, jerry-built satellite cities ringing the urban core grew up to house the workers the planners forgot.


The complaints of Brasília's residents illuminate the customary use of urban space in Brazil. Many express dislike for Brasília's traffic circles which replace the intersections and street corners found in most Brazilian cities. This highlights the importance of the street in Brazil as a site of social encounters and public activities.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rice, beans, and manioc form the core of the Brazilian diet and are eaten at least occasionally by all social classes in all parts of the nation. Manioc is a root crop that is typically consumed as farinha , manioc flour sprinkled over rice and beans, or farofa , manioc flour sautéed in a bit of oil with onions, eggs, olives, or other ingredients. To this core, meat, poultry, or fish are added, but the frequency of their consumption is closely tied to financial well-being. While the middle and upper classes may consume them on a daily basis, the poor can afford such protein sources far less often.

Traditionally the most important meal of the day is a multicourse affair eaten after midday. For middle-class and elite families it might consist of a pasta dish or a meat or fish course accompanied by rice, beans, and manioc and a sweet dessert or fruit followed by tiny cups of strong Brazilian coffee called cafezinho. For the poor it would be primarily rice and beans. The evening repast is simpler, often consisting of soup and perhaps leftovers from the midday meal.

As Brazil urbanizes and industrializes, the leisurely family-centered meal at midday is being replaced by lanches (from the English, "lunch"), smaller meals usually consumed in restaurants, including ones featuring buffets that sell food by the kilo and such ubiquitous fast-food eateries as McDonalds. The poor, who cannot afford restaurants, are likely to eat the noon meal at home, to buy snacks sold on the street, or to carry food with them to work in stacked lunch buckets. In rural areas itinerant farm laborers who are paid by the day and who carry such buckets have been dubbed bóias-frias, "cold lunches."


Portuguese colonialism shows its influence in large cities, with churches and market stalls converging on central plazas.


Meals may be accompanied by soft drinks— including guaraná, made from a fruit that grows in the Amazon—beer, or bottled water.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. While the principle foods consumed in Brazil are fairly uniform across the country, there are regional specialties, many of which are eaten on festive occasions. In the northeastern state of Bahia ingredients of African origin—palm oil ( dendê ), dried shrimp, peanuts, malagueta peppers—are the basis of regional cuisine in such dishes as vatapá (seafood stew) and acarajé (black-eyed pea fritters). A variety of fruit and fish native to the Amazon are featured in dishes of that region, while in southern Brazil, an area of extensive cattle ranches, meals of grilled meat ( churrasco ) are favored. Another southern specialty are rodizios, restaurants featuring barbecue in which waiters pass from table to table with large skewers of grilled meats and poultry.

Brazil's national dish, feijoada (literally "big bean" stew), is said to have originated during slave times. Traditionally feijoada contained inexpensive and less desirable cuts of meat such as tripe and pigs feet, Brazilian slaves having concocted the dish from the leftovers of the master's table. Today feijoada consists of a variety of meats slowly cooked with black beans and condiments. A feijoada completa or "complete feijoada" is accompanied by rice, fresh orange slices, a side dish of peppery onion sauce, chopped greens, such as collards, and farinha. Caipirinhas —a potent blend of Brazilian sugarcane alcohol ( cachaça ), crushed limes, and sugar—or batidas ( cachaça and fruit juice) are usually served as aperitifs; beer is the drink of choice to accompany the meal. Feijoada is served in restaurants, typically on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and when made at home, it is a favorite dish for guests.

Basic Economy. Today Brazil has the eighth largest economy in the world. It is a major producer of such agricultural products as sugarcane, soybeans, oranges, coffee, cocoa, rice, wheat, and cotton. It is also a major supplier of beef with vast cattle ranches primarily in the southern and western regions of the country. Nevertheless, because of the tremendous growth of industry, agriculture accounts for only 13 percent of the nation' gross domestic product.

Agriculture employs—directly or indirectly— about one-quarter of the Brazilian labor force. Five million agricultural workers are wage laborers concentrated in the plantations of the North (sugarcane, cotton, coffee, cocoa) and the increasingly mechanized agricultural enterprises of the Southeast and South (soybeans, wheat, sugar, oranges). More than 70 percent of these workers lack contracts and social benefits and less than 40 percent are employed year round. There are also 4.8 million landless families who survive as tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and casual laborers.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, increasing mechanization and monopolization of the best farmlands by agribusinesses has accelerated the displacement of small family-owned farms. Nevertheless, there are still some five million family farms ranging in size from 12 to 250 acres (5 to 100 hectares) that occupy about 143 million acres (58 million hectares). In contrast, large commercial agricultural enterprises cover almost three times that area.

During the 1960s and 1970s Brazil experienced economic growth from agricultural modernization and, by the early 1980s, agricultural production had increased to the extent that Brazil had become the fourth largest food exporter in the world. But, at the same time, Brazil was not adequately feeding its own people. It is sixth worldwide in malnutrition, ahead of only Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Land Tenure and Property. Brazil's agrarian structure is dominated by large land holdings. Estates of more than 2,470 acres (1,000 hectares) make up less than 1 percent of the nation's holdings but occupy 44 percent of its agricultural lands, while farms of 25 acres (10 hectares) or less account for 53 percent of holdings and occupy under 3 percent of agricultural land. More than three million farmers work some 500 million acres (20 million hectares) of land, but the twenty largest landowners in the country themselves own a like amount.

Aside from inequalities of scale, there is also insecurity of land tenure in many parts of Brazil, particularly in the Amazon Basin. There, capangas (hired gunmen) are employed by wealthy landowners to ensure that squatters do not settle on their vast, ill-defined tracts of land. Insecurity of tenure, in fact, has led to a number of violent episodes in the region at the end of the twentieth century.

But there are some bright spots in terms of land security. Although encroachment on indigenous reserves—especially in the Amazon by gold miners, cattle ranchers, and others—is still a problem, today a majority of the 270 officially recognized indigenous groups in Brazil live on reserves protected for them by law. Land is now also being granted to the residents of several quilombos, communities in northern Brazil originally founded by runaway slaves.

Major Industries. Brazil has one of the most advanced industrial sectors in Latin America today and is a major producer and exporter of automobiles, textiles, shoes, durable consumer goods, steel, pharmaceuticals, and petrochemicals.

Industrial activity in Brazil is concentrated in the Southeast, with about half of the nation's industrial production in the state of São Paulo alone. Here, too, most of the country's unionized industrial jobs are found. For this reason, after the 1970s, migration from the Northeast to the Southeast and from rural to urban areas has been particularly intense. Later, however, as unemployment in the Southeast has climbed and tax incentives have led to increased industrial investments in the Northeast, the migrant flow has been reversed to some extent.

Division of Labor. One of the most significant distinctions in Brazilian society is between those who do manual labor and those who do not. Today, as in the past, it is only the working class and poor who work with their hands. This division has deep historical roots and is tied to the "gentleman's complex" that emerged during the colonial period when elite males, typically sugar planters, sported a long nail on the index finger as evidence that they never engaged in physical labor.

The Brazilian middle class is sometimes defined as those with colarinho e gravata —collar and tie—because a major marker of middle-class status is a white-collar job. In Brazil people who work with their hands are, by definition, not middle class. This is why middle-class Brazilian families are far more likely than their American counterparts to employ domestic servants; it would be unseemly for a middle-class housewife to get down on her knees to scrub the floor.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. "Brazil is no longer an underdeveloped country. It is an unjust country," Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso proclaimed in 1994. Today Brazil, although one of the ten largest economies in the world, has the most unequal distribution of income of any nation except South Africa. Moreover, inequality has been growing. In the mid-1990s, the poorest 20 percent of the population received only 3 percent of national income, while the richest 10 percent received 47 percent. Or, put in another way, the wealthiest 20 percent earn twenty-six times as much as the poorest 20 percent. It is estimated that some thirty-three million Brazilians live in poverty, including twenty million workers and ten million pensioners who receive the minimum wage of around $115 a month. In parts of Brazil, particularly the Northeast, infant mortality, a sensitive indicator of social inequality, has actually been rising.

This "social question," as Brazilians call the divide between rich and poor, has characterized the nation since colonial times. With industrialization and urbanization during the first decades of the twentieth century, however, the growth of the Brazilian middle class has made this simple division more complex. Today, depending on how it is defined, the middle class accounts for one-fifth to one-third of the population, but the resources and lifestyle of its members vary considerably. Some claim the Brazilian middle class admires elite values and aspires to elite status and it is indeed true that middle-class families in Brazil are far more likely to employ domestic servants and send their children to private school than their North American counterparts.

Thousands of saqueiros (sack carriers) working on the Serra Pelada gold mine, which is now closed. Gold was one of the most important exports in the eighteenth century.

In the late 1980s, moreover, it was members of the Brazilian middle class who, hurt by then rampant inflation, began seeking their fortunes abroad as immigrants to North America, Europe, and Japan.


Still, a ray of hope emerged with the stabilization of the Brazilian currency and the rapid decline of inflation in the mid-1990s. Estimates suggest that some nineteen million Brazilians moved from the working poor to the lower middle class. For the first time these people had money to spend on consumer goods; those who remained poor also benefitted from stable prices and were better able to afford staples such as meat, chicken, eggs, and beans.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Brazilians are preoccupied with class distinctions and are quick to size up the social distance that exists between themselves and others they meet. Yardsticks of such distance are general appearance and the "correctness" of a person's speech. The degree to which an individual's vocabulary and grammar is considered "educated" is used as a measure of schooling and, hence, social class. And this, in turn, establishes patterns of deference and authority between two individuals should they belong to different social strata. When such patterns are ignored, the "elite" persons may harshly demand of their "lessers," "Do you know whom you're talking to?"—a ritualized response when someone of higher status is not accorded due deference by someone lower on the social scale.

Political Life

Government. The Federal Constitution of Brazil provides for three independent governing branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. Although the constitution has undergone several revisions in the last century, the most recent in 1988, it has always retained this division of governmental powers.

Voting in Brazil today is universal and compulsory for all literate citizens from eighteen to seventy years of age and optional for those who cannot read and write.

Leadership and Political Officials. Brazil's return to free elections in the mid-1980s after two decades of military dictatorship has not resulted in greater social and legal equity, and unequal treatment of rich and poor is ongoing. Government officials and well-to-do individuals who have committed crimes still are more likely to escape the long arm of the law than are those of lesser social status. In part, this is because Brazil is a country in which laws and regulations are passed, yet a significant proportion of them are ignored. Still, today there is growing intolerance of political corruption and a host of official inquiries are evidence that Brazilians are starting to reject impunity and demand accountability of their public officials.

One concept is key to understanding Brazilian political culture: jeitos, ways of cutting through obstacles—such as rules and red tape—to achieve a desired end. Jeitos are partly a response to Brazil's notorious bureaucratic thicket which makes getting a government document—be it a driver's license, passport, or marriage license—a cumbersome process. Those who can afford to hire despachantes (dispatchers), professional facilitators who know how to "do jeitos", to get things done. Others do jeitos on their own; perhaps a small "gratuity" to a low-paid government clerk will produce the desired document.

A personalistic system of patron-client relationships is another key to the nation's political culture. One becomes a government bureaucrat or politician and rises through the ranks by developing influential connections and getting help from personal networks. Ambitious individuals cultivate powerful patrons who promote and protect them, and their own career trajectories typically rise and fall with those of their patrons.

Social Problems and Control. Given the nation's stark economic inequalities, social control in Brazil has long been problematic, even more so at the end of the twentieth century than in the past. High rates of crime, particularly in large urban areas, are a frequent topic of conversation; kidnappings, assaults, and murder receive wide media coverage. The murder rate in greater São Paulo, for example, is some five times that of the New York metropolitan area. Killings by police are common particularly in poorer urban areas. Fearful for their security, corporate executives travel around in armored cars; elite neighborhoods are fortified as private, guarded condominiums surrounded by high walls. Also within this urban landscape of have and have-nots live tens of thousands of street children, eking out a bare existence, ever on their guard against being rousted, or worse, by the police.

Military Activity. The role of the military in Brazilian life declined significantly following the military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985. By 2000 the three forces of the military, the army, navy, and air force, had been subsumed under a new civilian defense ministry and were forced to give up their separate cabinet-level posts. Despite considerable grumbling about this reorganization, particularly among the nationalist wing of the Air Force, no evidence exists that the Brazilian armed forces have either the ability or the desire to regain their lost power through a military coup.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Brazil has long had welfare and pension systems but they do little for poorer workers and largely benefit state functionaries. Brazil also has some of the most progressive social legislation of any developing country—such as paid maternity leave—but as with other legislation, it is more often honored in the breach.

One very successful social program that received national attention is Viva a Criança (Long Live Children), which was begun by the governor of the state of Ceará in the impoverished Northeast. A campaign of preventive health education, the program cut infant mortality in Ceará by one-third in only four years.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Arguably the most visible nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Brazil today is the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), or Movement of Landless Rural Workers. Now with some 500,000 members, it began organizing the occupation of large unproductive estates in the mid-1980s after the federal government was slow to follow through on its promised program of land reform. A convoy of vehicles invade an estate at night so that by dawn too many people will have occupied the land for the police to be able to evict them. Such land occupations have escalated since the mid-1990s, enhanced by the Brazilian media's sympathetic portrayal of the MST as supporting a just cause.

Partly in response to the MST, by the end of 1998 the federal agrarian reform program had settled nearly 290,000 families on eighteen million acres (7.3 million hectares) of land, and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso had promised an acceleration of the process.

Over the last decade or so many other Brazilian NGOs have been established dealing with the problems of street children, rural poverty, hunger, ecological issues, women's issues, and indigenous rights. Some have received international attention and foreign support.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Gender roles in Brazil vary to some extent by social class, race, and place of residence. White, middle-class and elite women living in large urban centers generally have more occupational choices and greater behavioral flexibility than their poorer, darker, rural sisters. Nevertheless, even when women are employed, men are seen as the primary providers of the family, with women's monetary contributions viewed as supplementary. Moreover, whether employed outside the home or not, women remain responsible for the proper functioning of the domestic sphere, with or without the aid of domestic servants.

Today almost 40 percent of Brazilian women have jobs outside the home, although they hold only 2 percent of executive-level positions. And while the number of women in industry has more than tripled since 1970, they are primarily employed in low-skill, low-paying jobs in textiles and electronics. Poor women, especially those in the 20 percent of households with no permanently resident male, take whatever work they can get. Afro-Brazilian women are particularly disadvantaged in this regard; about 70 percent are employed in low-level agricultural, factory, and domestic service jobs.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. The mostly male Portuguese colonizers of Brazil brought with them the concept of machismo, which identifies men with authority and strength and women with weakness and subservience. Still, machismo is tempered in Brazil. It lacks the sharp-edged stress on heterosexuality and obsessive dread of homosexuality that characterizes it in other Latin societies. Nevertheless, this world view, combined with the patriarchy of the Catholic Church, laid the foundation for male dominance. As in most of Latin America, Brazil has a double standard in sexual matters. Traditionally, at least, men were expected to demonstrate their virility through premarital and extramarital sexual escapades, while women were supposed to "save themselves" for their husbands and remain faithful after marriage. So-called "crimes of passion" are linked to this dual sexual standard. In the past—and occasionally even in modern times—men who killed their wives believing them to be unfaithful often went unpunished.

Women have been slow to receive legal equality in Brazil. They were not given the vote until 1932 and, until the 1960s, women were the equivalent of children under Brazilian law. They needed permission from their fathers or husbands to leave the country and could not open bank accounts on their own.

A women's rights movement emerged fairly late compared to that in the United States and has just started influencing legislation and the political process at the onset of the twenty-first century. While it has had some success, for example, in setting up special police stations for abused women, abortion is still illegal, although widespread. Moreover, the emphasis on youth and beauty as a measure of female worth remains unchanged and it is no coincidence that Brazilian plastic surgeons enjoy international renown.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Both civil and religious marriage exists in Brazil but the number of religious marriages is on the decline especially in urban areas. The poor continue to cohabit and are less likely to legalize their unions than those of higher social status. Owing to the strong opposition of the Catholic Church, divorce was made legal in Brazil only in 1977.


Lace next to a lacemaker at work, Fortaleza, Brazil. Less than 50 percent of Brazilian women hold jobs outside the home.


Domestic Unit. While the typical household in Brazil may consist of parents and children, this is not the isolated nuclear family unit familiar to Americans. Brazilian culture puts a high premium on extended family ties and Brazilians, regardless of social class, do not like to live any distance from their kin. Grown sons and daughters almost always remain at home until they marry and ideally live near their parents after marriage. Brazilians normally interact weekly, if not daily, with members of the extended kin group—cousins, aunts and uncles, married children and their spouses, and inlaws. Among the urban middle class it is not uncommon for members of an extended family to live in separate apartments in the same building.

Inheritance. Brazilians trace their ancestry and inherit through both maternal and paternal lines. They typically have two surnames, that of their mother's and father's families. When a woman marries she usually adds her husband's surname to her own and drops that of her mother's family, while her children are given the surnames of their mother's father and their own father, all indicating a patrilineal slant.

Kin Groups. When Brazilians speak of "family" they usually mean a large extended kin group rather than the immediate family of spouse and children. This large kin group, the parentela , consists of all maternal and paternal relatives, along with in-laws. The parentela is at the core of social life and in time of need ideally provides assistance to its members. Such support can also be obtained through ritual kinship ( compadrio ) in which parents select additional allies and protectors as godparents for their children. Some claim that the multiple functions of these extended kinship networks has inhibited the development of extrafamilial organizations in Brazil, such as parent–teacher associations and garden and civic clubs.


Child Rearing and Education. Like so many aspects of Brazilian life, educational opportunities are tied to social class. Brazil has never invested heavily in public education and most middle-class and elite families send their children to private school. Education is also linked to race and geography. A white person in the Southeast has an average of 6.6 years of schooling, whereas a person of color living in the Northeast has spent an average of just 3.5 years in school.

Despite the low level of funding, the last four decades of the twentieth century witnessed a significant increase in the number of Brazilians attending school and a concomitant rise in the literacy rate— in 2000 about 82 percent of Brazilians are literate. In 1960 almost half the population had little or no schooling, a figure that fell to 22 percent by 1990. Notably, school is one setting in which females are often more successful than males. In some regions of Brazil, girls are more likely than boys to be in school and women tend to be more literate than men.

Higher Education. Two-thirds of all public monies spent on education in Brazil goes to universities, the other third to public primary and secondary schools. While public universities in Brazil—widely considered superior to their private counterparts—charge no tuition, they have very competitive entrance exams which generally favor students who have attended costly private schools with high academic standards.

The value placed on higher education by certain segments of Brazilian society may explain why it receives such a large share of revenue. Economic success in Brazil is said to come more from who one knows than what one knows, and where one is educated, influences who one knows. University education then, aside from training students in a particular profession, also confers (or confirms) social status which, in turn, provides the personal connections that can influence future success.


Brazilians have less sense of personal space than North Americans and are not bothered being packed together in crowded public places. They are physically expressive and convey emotional information through touch. While in some societies touching has sexual overtones, Brazilians equate it with friendship and a show of concern. Women tend to touch more than men and greet others with kisses on both cheeks, but men also welcome each other with hearty pats on the back and bear hugs. Such informality extends to conversation. Brazilians usually address teachers, doctors, priests, and other professionals using their title followed by their first name—Professor João, Doutora Maxine or Presidente Henrique.

Still, body language and terms of address vary with an individual's social standing. A domestic servant will greet her employer with a limp handshake, head slightly bowed and eyes lowered, and address her using the respectful "you" ( a senhora ), rather than the familiar "you" ( voceê ); the mistress of the house, by contrast always addresses her servants as você. University graduates or, at times, even those who appear to be well educated, are addressed as doutor or doutora (doctor).

Brazilians also have relaxed attitudes towards nudity and toward the body in general. Witness the scanty costumes of carnival performers which consist of little more than a wisp of fabric and a few feathers, and the tiny string bikinis—called "dental floss" ( fio dental ) in Brazilian slang—that women of all shapes, sizes, and ages wear on Brazil's public beaches.


Religious Beliefs. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world even though the percentage of Brazilians who belong to the Catholic Church has declined in recent years, down from 95 percent in the 1950s. Today about 73 percent of Brazilians identify themselves as Catholic but an unknown number are Catholics by tradition, not by faith.

Although church and state are separate in Brazil and, by law, there is freedom of religious belief and expression, a close relationship exists between the Catholic Church and the state. Major Catholic holidays are public holidays and a priest (or bishop) always presides at the inauguration of public buildings. Also, church-based welfare and educational institutions, such as religious seminaries, receive financial support from the federal government. At various times in Brazilian history the Catholic Church has either strongly endorsed the state or vigorously challenged the status quo, as in the case of liberation theology, a late-twentieth century movement that provided religious justification for questioning the yawning gap between haves and have-nots in Brazil.

Catholicism varies somewhat in rural and urban settings. What has been called "folk Catholicism," which includes beliefs and practices long abandoned in cities, is observed by people in the interior of the country. Such popular Catholicism survives in pilgrimage centers in the backlands which attract thousands of Brazilians, often from great distances. The faithful take vows to make a pilgrimage to honor the saint who fulfills their request—recovery from illness or getting a job are examples. Sometimes the grateful supplicant offers the saint a carved likeness of the body part that has been cured.

Brazilian Catholicism has always coexisted— generally in relative harmony—with other religions including those of the nation's indigenous people, African religions brought to Brazil by slaves, European spiritism, and various Protestant denominations.

A house on the edge of the Amazon River. The Amazon forest is estimated to contain 15 to 30 percent of all species on earth.

Moreover, many Brazilian Catholics participate in the rituals of other religions but nevertheless consider themselves "good" Catholics.


Candomblé, the best known and most traditional of Brazil's African-derived religions, is centered in the city of Salvador and traces its origin to the Yoruba and Dahomey religions of West Africa. In Candomblé—a syncretic religion (one that combines elements of more than one religion) with both African and European elements—deities are called forth through the spirit possession of cult initiates. Despite police raids and other forms of social discrimination in years past, Candomblé has persisted and flourished as a vibrant symbol of Afro-Brazilian cultural identity.

Umbanda is another highly syncretic religion with spiritist elements that began in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1920s and spread to urban areas throughout the country. With some thirty million followers today, Umbanda has been called the one true national religion of Brazil because it embraces elements of all three of the nation's cultural traditions: African, European, and Indian.

Spiritism, based on the teachings of French philosopher Alain Kardec and introduced to Brazil in the nineteenth century, is yet another spiritual movement with a growing following. Spiritism is more an intellectual endeavor than an emotional cry for salvation. Spiritists, most of whom are from the upper-middle-class and elite sectors of society, believe that humans are spirits trapped in bodies and that moral perfection is life's goal.

The live and let live stance of Brazilian Catholicism towards other forms of religious belief and expression is absent in Brazilian Protestantism, especially in its fundamentalist variant. The so-called "new Pentecostals" view Afro-Brazilian religions and Umbanda as the work of the Devil and dramatically exorcize new converts to rid them of such evil.

Pentecostal churches have enjoyed great success in recent years. In often highly emotional services, converts claim inspiration from the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, and perform cures. Using radio and television, the sects target the poor and preach here-and-now self-improvement through individual initiative. One relatively new sect, the Igreja Universal (Universal Church), founded in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1970s, now has churches all over Brazil and throughout the world.

A development in the Brazilian religious panoply at the end of the twentieth century was the growth of the Charismatic movement within the Catholic Church. With its strong emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit to heal physical, emotional, and material distress; its rituals involving speaking in tongues; and its lively, emotive religious

A view overlooking Rio de Janeiro. There is stark contrast between the wealthier, more industrialized south and the poorer, undeveloped north.

services, Charismatic Catholicism has much in common with Pentecostalism.


Medicine and Health Care

Brazil has long had a public health system, but like other social programs that primarily serve the poor, it is vastly underfunded. In the early 1990s, per capita spending on health care was only about $50 annually, a paltry sum for a system on which over 60 percent of the Brazilian population depends. Many of the poor either self-medicate or get whatever remedies they can from local pharmacists who are the only health care providers in some rural areas. For those who can afford it at the other end of the social spectrum, Brazil has world class health care in modern medical centers, particularly in the prosperous Southeast and South.

Secular Celebrations

Most secular celebrations in Brazil are tied to the liturgical calendar since many originally started as religious celebrations and then became secularized.

The Feast of the Three Kings, 6 January. Children go door to door singing songs and requesting gifts. This tradition has almost died out in urban areas, but survives in the interior.

Carnival, variable dates, from late January to March. Brazil's famous four-day "national party" preceding Ash Wednesday is marked by street parades, samba, music, parties, and elaborate costumes. Its forms vary from city to city and region to region. The most popular street carnivals are in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, Olinda, and Salvador.

Tiradentes Day, 2 April. Tiradentes (literally, tooth-puller) was leader of the Minas Conspiracy, the most important early movement for Brazilian independence. When the Portuguese Crown discovered Tiradentes was leading an independence movement, he was hanged and quartered in the public square in Vila Rica, a town in Minas Gerais.

Festas Juninas (June Festivals), June. Brazilians celebrate a series of popular festivals with origins in Roman Catholic tradition. The feasts of Saint Anthony (13 June), Saint John (24 June) and Saint Peter (29 June) are marked by huge bonfires, traditional foods and games, square dancing, and parties for children. Urban children dress up like hillbillies during these Festivals.

Brazilian Independence Day, 7 September. Brazil was a colony of Portugal until 1822 when Pedro I, the crown prince, declared its independence from the mother country.

Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Our Lady Aparecida), 12 October. The Feast of Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil, is a legal holiday.

Proclamation of the Republic, 15 November. This holiday celebrates the demise of the Brazilian Empire and the proclamation of the republic in 1889.

New Year's Eve, 31 December. Thousands of followers of Afro-Brazilian religions celebrate New Year's Eve on Brazil's beaches to honor Yemanjá, goddess of he sea.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. The country has a rich literary tradition and several Brazilian writers have achieved international renown, including Jorge Amado, Brazil's best known contemporary author. His books have been translated into fifty languages and his writings vividly evoke the sensual and popular delights of Brazil, especially his native Bahia, the setting of most of his work.

Brazil also has a tradition of folk literature that is little known abroad. The literature de cordel (literally, literature on a string)—derived from the custom of displaying booklets of verse by hanging them from a thin string or cordel— is a form of rhymed verse still popular in the Northeast interior. In the region with the country's highest illiteracy rate, these verses disseminate news and carry on cultural traditions. The cordel singer, who travels from town to town performing his verses to the accompaniment of a guitar or accordion, writes the verses, composes the melody, prints the lyrics in a booklet—which he also sells—and may even illustrate the work with his own woodcuts or sketches.

Performance Arts. Music is not just entertainment in Brazil, it has been called the "soundtrack" of national life. Brazil gave the world samba and bossa nova, but other musical traditions—batuque, forró, maxixe—are less well known outside the country. Like so much of Brazilian culture, the country's music borrows from its three cultural elements, although in the musical realm it is the African tradition that has the largest influence. While Brazil's musical energies are mostly focused on popular, not classical, music, the country was also home to one of the world's most esteemed neoclassical composers, Heitor Villa-Lobos, who made imaginative use of folk themes in his best known composition, Bachianas Brasileiras.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Research in both the physical and social sciences was hard hit by Brazil's economic crisis since almost all academic research is done at public universities which receive about 90 percent of their funds from state or federal governments. The private sector contributes very little to research.

The social sciences in Brazil have far more visibility than they do in the United States and a number of academics are known to the general public. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a senator and two-term president of Brazil, was a renowned sociologist before he entered politics. This visibility may be linked to the fact that all of the social sciences focus on Brazil and on national issues. The vast majority of Brazilian anthropologists, for example, have conducted their field research within national territory.

Anthropologists in Brazil shifted their interests over the years from indigenous populations to the contact situation, including inter–ethnic friction. This was followed by research on peasants, urban populations, and popular culture. Sociology, which tends to be more quantitative than anthropology, often combines an interest in policy with research. Or as one Brazilian social scientist put it, "In Brazil theory is politics."


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