Brazil: the world’s 5th-largest country both in area and population, and 8th-9th economically — considered an emerging superpower. Within the Latin American region, though largest by any measure and by a margin, Brazilians often express a perceived disadvantage and even alienation on the basis of language — as the only non-Spanish speaking country.
One cultural feature that Brazil does share with its neighbors is the religious legacy of its colonisers: Catholicism. And, as in other South American countries, the European colonisers had a common primary interest: gold. One of the ways to show off one’s wealth was to ‘give thanks to God’ (and the Holy See) — by building gold-laden churches and cathedrals.
Brazil’s indigenous peoples suffered enormously under the Portuguese colonisation, with 90% loss of an estimated 11 million in 2,000 tribes during the first century. Today there are an approximate 305 tribes with 900,000 remaining people, in 690 recognised territories representing 13% of the land mass, 98.5% of it in the rainforest.
More than 50% of Brazilians self-identify on census as having African heritage. Brazil expresses pride in its African influences today; however, as in North America and the Caribbean, this history is steeped in slavery. The largest in the Atlantic slave trade by a margin and for 3.5 centuries, Brazil already had a longstanding practice of enslaving its indigenous peoples. It was the last country in the Western world to formally abolish the practice.
With the abolishment of slavery, Brazilians of African heritage moved strongly into all aspects of society. Brazilian arts, and music in particular, have obvious African influences. São Paulo’s Museu Afro Brasil in Ibirapuera Park, a large facility with a comprehensive collection, celebrates the vast contribution made by Afro-Brazilians to the culture of Brazil.
The arts, in all forms, are hugely important to Brazilian culture. Examples of sophisticated artworks from earliest human habitation can be seen, through today with the additional influences of European and African heritage and multiple immigrant groups. Street art is prevalent throughout both São Paulo and Rio de Janiero, alongside museums and galleries, theatres, and a vast array of music venues.
Brazil also keeps its traditional markets, with artisanal products alongside basic wares. The Municipal Market of São Paulo is one of the largest, set in an historic building — and spilling out into the surrounding streets. As ever, the marketplace is a public space teeming with local culture, and with so much land and a large agricultural industry, the lifeblood of Brazil.
With such a long coastline, the sea also has its influence on Brazilian culture, and many communities are oriented to the sea. Afro-Brazilians have a festival to the sea goddess Iemanjá, many have their summer beach homes, Rio is famous for its beaches — and in the north, the world’s largest rainforest takes its cues from the sea.
The people of Brazil must also live with a high crime rate, including violent crime that ranks among the world’s top twenty. Organised and street gang crime are a large reason for this, and there are many measures of security — including not only police but also at the community level. Good news: from 2017 to 2018, the murder rate dropped by 13% — a significant improvement.