Brazil History, Language and Culture

History of Brazil

Portuguese conquistador, Pedro Álvares Cabral, led his fleet to the shores of the country now called Brazil in 1500. The Europeans saw great potential in a land inhabited by intransigent tribes but rich in natural resources.

Despite French and Spanish resistance, the Portuguese slowly expanded their territory in Brazil, finally setting the borders of modern Brazil in 1777. In 1808, the Portuguese royal family fled the Napoleonic wars and declared Brazil the centre of the Portuguese Empire. When King João VI returned to Europe, his elder son, Pedro was crowned the first Emperor of Brazil in 1822.

The tribespeople were happy to trade with the settlers, but they balked at the intensive labour imposed on them by the new plantations, especially when forced into slavery. Instead, the Portuguese brought slaves over from Africa, a trade that totalled up to 13 million over a period of 300 years, until its abolition in 1888.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the monarchy was overthrown and a period of political instability began. After a number of rebellions, coups and changes of power, a brutal military dictatorship led by Getúlio Vargas, gained power in 1937. After WWII, Vargas was overthrown and the country enjoyed a period of remarkable economic growth before a democratic government was finally re-established in 1985.

It was also this period that saw a further wave of immigration, begun in the 19th century, with arrivals from Europe, Japan and the Middle East. The diverse and largely harmonious cultural and racial mix that characterises Brazil today is the result of its history of settlement and integration.

In 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) became president, running a widely celebrated left-wing government. He helped establish Brazil as a major international economic power whilst investing in social welfare for its poorer citizens.

Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, became Brazil’s first elected female president in 2011. Rousseff maintained economic stability and continued her predecessor’s socially inclusive programmes until her impeachment and removal from office in August 2016. Rousseff’s Vice President Michel Temer was named her successor and is now serving as the 37th President of Brazil. 

One of the BRIC countries (newly emerging economic powerhouses, with Russia, India and China), Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

Did You Know?
• Before the European conquest, there were approximately 10 million indigenous inhabitants in Brazil; today they number some 896,000.
• The geographic centre of South America is in Mato Grosso state, near the town of Santa Carmem; odd magnetic phenomena have been reported here, such as driverless cars rolling uphill.
• The Amazon River carries nearly one-fifth of all the world’s surface water.

Brazil Culture

Religion in Brazil

There is no official religion, but approximately 64% of the population are Roman Catholic, with another 22% Protestant. A number of diverse evangelical cults are also represented, as are animist beliefs (particularly the Afro-Brazilian religion of candomblé).

Social Conventions in Brazil

In informal situations, it is common to kiss women on both cheeks when meeting and taking one's leave, whilst handshaking is customary between men. Frequent offers of coffee and tea are customary when visiting a host; if invited to someone’s home bring a gift. Flowers either before or after your visit will be appreciated, as will small gifts from your country of origin, but avoid the colour purple or black, which are associated with mourning.

Time-keeping is loose and fast in Brazil, so whilst punctuality may be expected from visitors, don’t expect it in return – arriving 30 minutes later than scheduled is quite normal and acceptable. In terms of what to wear, casual wear is normal, particularly during hot weather. Brazilians are known for their love of skimpy beachwear (thong bikinis for women and Speedos for men are the norm) but going shirtless anywhere besides the beach is generally frowned upon.

Language in Brazil

The official language is Portuguese, with different regional accents characterising each state. Spanish, English, Italian, French and German are also spoken, particularly in tourist areas. Four linguistic roots survive in the indigenous areas: Gê, Tupi-guarani, Aruak and Karib.

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