Brazil - A Cultural Superpower
A true melting pot of different peoples, Brazil is a veritable giant of culture, entertainment, and sport. It exists as a paradox of sorts, a massive country that reflects every facet of life, and houses a vibrant, beautiful and creative populace amid political and economic distress. It is home to uncontacted indigenous people in the deep reaches of the largest forest in the world, and also to some of the most advanced technology today.
The area that we know as Brazil today has been home to many indigenous peoples before the arrival of the Portuguese, who created the modern nation-state. As a result of the medieval treaty of Tordesillas brokered by the Pope between Spain and Portugal in 1494, the lands to the East of those visited by Christopher Columbus in 1492 would belong to the Portuguese crown, and those to the west were that of Spain. In 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal, and contact with hitherto isolated native tribes resulted in the arrival of European diseases.
The arrival of the Portuguese dramatically changed things for the Amazon. The indigenous population of Brazil was nearly wiped out by contact with hitherto unknown European illnesses, against whom the native population had no immunity. Colonial Brazil was built on an initial economic foundation of Brazilwood exportation (hence the name), then sugar production, and subsequently diamond and gold mining, on the back of slave labour. The workforce was initially composed of indigenous slaves, but Brazil soon wholeheartedly adopted the transatlantic slave trade from Africa. During the infamous transatlantic slave trade era, Brazil imported more slaves than any other territory, with an estimated 40% of all slaves sent there. Slavery continued to be rampant in Brazil until 1888, when, after decades of campaigning by Emperor Pedro II, the last monarch of the Empire of Brazil, it was finally abolished, making Brazil the last country in the western world to do so.
The 1800s saw the formation of modern Brazil, when, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, Dom Pedro I, prince of the Portuguese Empire, declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal. The Empire grew rapidly in the 19th century, seeing large scale immigration from Europe and the new thriving mining business. It was this century that forged Brazil’s national identity and saw the large scale mix of culture and ethnicity that birthed modern Brazilian culture. Although primarily colonized by the Portuguese, Brazil’s unique culture has been strongly influenced by African and indigenous cultures, and even those of other European nations, which played a formative role in the creation of the modern Brazilian identity.
Brazil's unique heritage has been greatly contributed to by those of African heritage. The popular music and dance form of Samba depicted in these shower curtains has its roots in Africa.
The Brazilian carnival, or Carnaval as it is called in Portuguese, is a distinctive marker of Brazilian identity and a living monument. A festival of mammoth proportions, the carnival dazzles with its rich expression of the artistic, creative, ethnic, and musical diversity of this vast Latin American country, marking the beginning of Lent in this predominantly Catholic nation. Six days of festivities are held throughout the country between Friday afternoon before Ash Wednesday and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The carnival of Brazil is an incredibly rich cultural affair and varies from region to region in how it looks and sounds as vast processions throng the cities. Carnival blocks, or blocos de rua, or street bands are ubiquitous in the weeks leading up to the carnival, and responsible for mobilization of large scale crowds, playing the samba, frevo, or maracatu as jubilant crowds in extravagant costumes parade through cities, sometimes by the millions.
The Carnival is a vibrant celebration of music, dance and bedazzling costumes. This wall sticker portrays a flamboyant Samba dancer.
The carnival is expressed differently in different regions of the country. In Rio De Janeiro, samba schools prepare all year round for the official competition, where they are judged in costume, flow, theme, and band music quality and performance. The Bahian Carnival is notable for its blocos Afros, who express African pride in their music, dance and costumes. The carnival is deeply influenced by African culture, and popular Brazilian forms of music and dance that arose at the turn of the 20th century, most notably samba, also have their roots in Africa.
The yellow in the Brazilian flag is meant to represent its material wealth, ensconced in the green which is a symbol of the natural wealth of the nation's flora and fauna. Get your t-shirts here.
In the popular mind, there is perhaps one thing Brazil is even better known for than for its samba music, Cristo Redentor statue, the carnival or even the Amazon. Brazil dominates the most popular sport in the world. Called “o País do Futebol”, or the country of football, by legions of soccer fans, Brazil remains the country to have won the most FIFA world cups and remains the only country to have qualified for and participated in every world cup tournament ever held. Players in the national team are usually all world famous and highly valuable in popular club soccer. Introduced to Brazil by the son of a Scottish railway engineer, football soon became wildly popular. Today, an estimated 10,000 Brazilians play football professionally across the world. Unfortunately, the early history of football in Brazil was plagued by racism and exclusion, and prominent clubs refused to allow non-whites to play. However, under the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas, indigenous, black, and mixed groups began to gain access to the sport, and in the late 1950s, Pele was called up to play for the national team, creating soccer history. Statistically the most successful player in footballing history, Pele blew apart the notion that white players were inherently superior, and popularized football as “the beautiful game”, part of a Brazilian team that won three world cups.
It is physically impossible not to aww at this Brazilian football pet vest. Next time, let your pet cheer on the Esquadrão de Ouro with you!
Brazil is a unique country, home to an extremely diverse population, largely housed in its coastal areas while most of the nation is swallowed up by the largest rainforest on Earth. Its heritage and geography make it a cultural and ecological superpower, and as it continues, sometimes with faltering steps, to make progress in creating a wealthier and fairer world for its people, it also bears a large share of the environmental burden of mankind, being the de facto predominant protector of the Amazon rainforest. Although years of dictatorship, corruption, and human rights abuses have sent shockwaves through the nation since the creation of the modern country, the people of Brazil and the world continue to express faith in and hope for, a more prosperous Brazil.