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Brazil Travel Guide

Brazil — History and Culture

Brazil is renowned for its culture, which is as unique as the landscape that spans this fascinating country. A history of colonial aggression, forced labor migration and cultural blending has developed this South American marvel into the fun-loving, energetic, fast-paced Brazil we all know and love today.

History

Portuguese settlers began colonizing parts of Brazil during the end of the 16th century. This was unique in that much of South America and the New World were settled by Spanish explorers at the time. During the 17th century, Dutch explorers arrived to several parts of the country too, not recognizing Portuguese rule.

Thriving from the sugar cane industry, the Dutch aimed to continue settlements, despite Portuguese hostility. Dutch and Portuguese forces fought in jungle warfare in the 1650’s, leading to the expulsion of the Dutch from their territory. However, a war with Dutch armies off the coast of Portugal in the 1660’s eventually led to Portugal losing its Asian colonies. Meanwhile, Brazil became solely a Portuguese colony.

In 1808, following two centuries of Portuguese colonization, Brazil became the center of their vast empire. Napoleon invaded Portugal at the height of his reign, forcing King Dom Joao VI to flee to Rio de Janeiro. Subsequently, Rio became the political and economic heart of the empire until 1821.

The 19th century was also a turbulent yet significant chapter in Brazil’s history. Brazilian independence from Portugal was granted in 1822, although Dom Pedro II of Portugal ruled the empire. Brazil was involved in several wars following the next five decades, including the Platine War, Paraguayan War and Uruguayan War. Slavery was abolished in 1888, 28 years after the slave trade ceased operations. In 1889, the empire was toppling, giving way to a republic, which ended all colonial-related leadership in Brazil.

Despite a fractured political system during the 20th century, Brazil continued to prosper with its sugar, coffee, and rubber industries, accompanied by a large labor market. Migration of German, Japanese, Spanish, and Italian nationals added to the labor force, aiding Brazil’s economic growth. The country rose to prominence in the mid-1900’s, becoming South America’s economic tiger and surpassing Mexico and Argentina as the region’s most powerful nation.

In 1988, democracy finally became a mainstream concept for Brazil, following several decades of military involvement in the national government. Even though high-level corruption, social inequalities and high crime still affect the country today, Brazil is continues to develop and is earmarked as a potential world power. Much of Brazil’s colonial history is captured within Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum of History (Praca Marechal Ancora, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, 20021-200), or the Museum of the Republic (Old Presidential Palace, 153 Rua do Catete, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) which houses collections of Brazil’s past since it became a republic in 1822.

Culture

Brazilian culture is quite unique, even in comparison to other South American nations. This goes much deeper than just Portuguese language and colonial influence though. Dance and music account for much of Brazil’s extravaganzas, as high importance has been placed on these features within society. However, even within this large nation, many regions of Brazil provide their own ‘twist’ on historical and modern music or dance. Some of the most popular styles that are quintessentially Brazilian include samba, chora and the new urban creation, funk.

There are even popular dances and music that have been entrenched in the nation’s culture since the African slaves. Umbanda has a massive following within many parts of the country. In addition to music, African roots are also evident through the popular martial art/dance capoeira. Visitors shouldn’t miss capoeira exhibitions, which are popularized by amazing handstands, flips and infectious beats.

People in Brazil are generally fun-loving with a friendly attitude towards foreigners. Football, dance and music are the lifeblood of the country, so it isn’t surprising that local football styles are often characterized by mesmerizing movements and a fast-paced rhythm. This ‘style’ has been successful for the national team on the world stage.

Brazil is one of the most multicultural places on Earth. However, much of the diasporas in the country have been ingrained in local society for many decades, sometimes centuries. This is somewhat different to other multicultural nations around the globe, where modern migration has seen new cultural influences rise in society. Japanese, Italian, German, and Spanish migrants have blended with early African, native South American and Portuguese populations to create a true ‘rainbow’ nation.

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