A Complex and Beautiful Culture

Brazilian culture is a rich blend of European, African, and indigenous elements, which varies strongly by region.

Brazil’s larger cities birthed the samba and many other kinds of Latin dancing, including strange mixes such as samba-reggae and Axe styles and capoeira, a uniquely Brazilian martial art which is also a dance in its own right. It was created by enslaved Africans as a sly method of maintaining their skills and physical shape under the watchful eyes of their masters. Meanwhile, at the southernmost tip of Brazil, Argentine and Uruguayan gaucho influences take precedence.

Brazil's music diverges from other musical styles of South America. The country is famous for samba, bossa nova, frevo, and foro. The samba is Brazil's unofficial national music style. Its roots are African, and it is full of intricate harmonies made with drums and a type of guitar.

In 2014, Brazil will be able to celebrate its strong football (soccer) culture when it hosts the FIFA World Cup. The main host city will be Rio de Janeiro, but Brazil has received special permission from FIFA to have 12 hosting cities. The Brazilian national football team has won 5 previous World Cups, more than any other FIFA nation. As the Brazilians say, “The English invented football. The Brazilians perfected it.”

The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, with a Brazilian twist. Much of Brazil’s distinct architecture has Portuguese roots as well, especially along the coast in places such as Holambra in Sao Paulo. Further inland, the historic opera house in Manaus, built with imported Italian marble and French glass, bears silent witness to the bygone days of the rubber barons.

One of the most ambitious architectural projects ever is Brasilia, the largest planned city ever completed. When coming into Brasilia by air, you can clearly see how the streets, parks, homes, and government buildings of Brasilia are laid out along the pattern of a flying bird. Located just 200 miles from the historic quarter of Old Goias, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Brasilia was designed to be a thoroughly modern capital city for a country which was coming of age. The dream became reality on April 21, 1960, when the capital was officially transferred to Brasilia from Rio de Janeiro.

Portuguese colonization was also the original source of Brazil’s strongly Catholic religious roots, although Roman Catholicism is not as dominant in Brazil as it used to be. However, many good Brazilian Catholics see no contradiction in participating in spiritist or Afro-Brazilian rituals under the shadow of the 130-foot tall Christ the Redeemer statue, blessing Rio de Janeiro from its lofty perch atop Sugarloaf Mountain.

One of Brazil’s most famous traditions is based on a Candomble ritual to honor the orisha of the sea. More than 2 million people dress in white and go to the Copacabana beach every year on New Year’s Eve. At midnight, everyone throws flowers into the ocean or lights candles on the sand, and many people also go into the water and jump 7 waves while making a wish for the coming year.

No introduction to Brazilian culture would be complete without mentioning Carnival. On the weekend, Monday, and Tuesday before Lent begins, every major city in Brazil bursts into party mode, with parades, pagents, unbelievably fantastic costumes, regional music, and samba performances. Business which is not related to Carnival shuts down for the week.

The festival originated when the Church incorporated pagan celebrations of thanksgiving into its calendar. Portugal was particularly fond of these celebrations, and brought it to the New World where it caught on quickly. Carnival occurs to mark the start of Lent, as a "farewell to the pleasures of the flesh".

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