The culture of Brazil is primarily Western, but presents a very diverse nature showing that an ethnic and cultural mixing occurred in the colonial period involving mostly Indigenous peoples of the coastal and most accessible riverine areas, Portuguese people and African people. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, together with further waves of Portuguese colonization, Italians, Spaniards, Germans, Levantine Arabs, Nipponics, Poles, Helvetians and Ukrainianssettled in Brazil, playing an important role in its culture as it started to shape a multicultural and multiethnic society.
As consequence of three centuries of colonization by the Portuguese empire, the core of Brazilian culture is derived from the culture of Portugal. The numerous Portuguese inheritances include the language, the predominant religion and the colonial architectural styles. These aspects, however, were influenced by African and Indigenous American traditions, as well as those from other Western European countries. Some aspects of Brazilian culture are contributions of Italian, German and other European immigrants. Amerindian people and Africans played a large role in the formation of Brazilian language, cuisine, music, dance and religion.
This diverse cultural background has helped boast many celebrations and festivals that have become known around the world, such as the Brazilian Carnival and the Bumba Meu Boi. The colourful culture creates an environment that makes Brazil a popular destination for many tourists each year, around over 1 million.
Main article: Brazilian Portuguese
See also: Languages of Brazil
The official language of Brazil is Portuguese. It is spoken by about 99% of the population, making it one of the strongest elements of national identity. There are only some Amerindian groups and small pockets of immigrants who do not speak Portuguese.
Reflecting the mixed ethnic background of the country, Brazilian Portuguese is a variation of the Portuguese language that includes a large number of words of Indigenous American and African origin.
Minority languages are spoken throughout the nation. One hundred and eighty Amerindian languages are spoken in remote areas and a number of other languages are spoken by immigrants and their descendants. There are significant communities of German (mostly the Hunsrückisch, a High German language dialect) and Italian (mostly the Talian dialect, of Venetian origin) speakers in the south of the country, both of which are influenced by the Portuguese language. Not to mention the Slavic communities, Ukrainians and Poles which are also part of these minority languages.
The Brazilian Sign Language (not signed Portuguese – it likely is descended from the French Sign Language), known by the acronym LIBRAS, is officially recognized by law, albeit using it alone would convey a very limited degree of accessibility, throughout the country.
Main article: Religion in Brazil
About 2/3 of the population are Roman Catholics. Catholicism was introduced and spread largely by the Portuguese Jesuits, who arrived in 1549 during the colonization with the mission of converting the Indigenous people. The Society of Jesus played a large role in the formation of Brazilian religious identity until their expulsion of the country by the Marquis of Pombal in the 18th century.
In recent decades Brazilian society has witnessed a rise in Protestantism. Between 1940 and 2010, the percentage of Roman Catholics fell from 95% to 64.6%, while the various Protestant denominations rose from 2.6% to 22.2%.
Main articles: Brazilian people and History of Brazil
Brazil was a colony of Portugal for over three centuries. About a million Portuguese settlers arrived during this period  and brought their culture to the colony. The Indigenous inhabitants of Brazil had much contact with the colonists. Many became extinct, others mixed with the Portuguese. For that reason, Brazil also holds Amerindian influences in its culture, mainly in its food and language. Brazilian Portuguese has hundreds of words of Indigenous American origin, mainly from the Old Tupi language.
Black Africans, who were brought as slaves to Brazil, also participated actively in the formation of Brazilian culture. Although the Portuguese colonists forced their slaves to convert to Catholicism and speak Portuguese their cultural influences were absorbed by the inhabitants of Brazil of all races and origins. Some regions of Brazil, especially Bahia, have particularly notable African inheritances in music, cuisine, dance and language.
Immigrants from Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary and the Middle East played an important role in the areas they settled (mostly Southern and Southeastern Brazil). They organized communities that became important cities such as Joinville, Caxias do Sul, Blumenau, Curitiba and brought important contributions to the culture of Brazil.
Main article: Brazilian Carnival
The Brazilian Carnaval is an annual festival held forty-six days before Easter. Carnival celebrations are believed to have roots in the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which, adapted to Christianity, became a farewell to bad things in a season of religious discipline to practice repentance and prepare for Christ's death and resurrection.
Carnaval is the most famous holiday in Brazil and has become an event of huge proportions. For almost a week festivities are intense, day and night, mainly in coastal cities.
The typical genres of music of Brazilian carnival are: samba-enredo and marchinha (in Rio de Janeiro and Southeast Region), frevo, maracatu and Axé music (in Pernambuco, Bahia and Northeast Region)
Main articles: Brazilian cuisine and List of Brazilian dishes
Brazilian cuisine varies greatly by region. This diversity reflects the country's mix of natives and immigrants. This has created a national cooking style, marked by the preservation of regional differences. Since the colonial period, the feijoada has been the country's national dish.Luís da Câmara Cascudo wrote that, having been revised and adapted in each region of the country, it is no longer just a dish, but has become a complete food.Rice and beans, also present in the feijoada, and considered basic at Brazilian tables, is highly regarded as healthy because it contains almost all amino acids, fiber, and starches needed for basic human nutrition, aside the non-heme iron present in beans (best absorbed when consumed together with vitamin C, richly present in bell peppers, tomatoes, oranges and acerola, for example).
Brazil has a variety of candies that are traditionally eaten for birthday parties, like brigadeiros ("brigadiers") and beijinhos ("kissies"). Other foods typically consumed in Brazilian parties are coxinhas, churrasco, esfirra, empanadas, and pine nuts (in Festa Junina). Specially in the state of Minas Gerais, are produced and consumed the famous cheese bun. The typical northern food is pato no tucupi, tacacá, caruru, vatapá, and maniçoba; the Northeast is known for moqueca (having seafood and palm oil), acarajé (the salted muffin made with white beans, onion and fried in oil palm (dendê), which is filled with dried shrimp and red pepper), manioc, hominy, dumpling, and Quibebe. In the Southeast, it is common to eat Minas cheese, pizza, tutu, sushi, stew, polenta, and masses of macaroni, lasagna, and gnocchi. In the South, these foods are also popular, but the churrasco is the typical meal of Rio Grande do Sul. Cachaça is Brazil's native liquor, distilled from sugar cane, and it is the main ingredient in the national drink, the caipirinha. Brazil is the world leader in production of green coffee (café); because the Brazilian fertile soil, the country could produce and expand its market maker and often establish its economy with coffee, since the Brazilian slavery, which created a whole culture around this national drink, which became known as the "fever of coffee" – and satirized in the novelty song "The Coffee Song", sung by Frank Sinatra and with lyrics by Bob Hilliard, interpreted as an analysis of the coffee industry, and of the Brazilian economy and culture.
Main articles: Brazilian art and Academic art in Brazil
Painting and sculpture
The oldest known examples of Brazilian art are cave paintings in Serra da Capivara National Park in the state of Piauí, dating back to c. 13,000 BC. In Minas Gerais and Goiás have been found more recent examples showing geometric patterns and animal forms. One of the most sophisticated kinds of Pre-Columbian artifact found in Brazil is the sophisticated Marajoara pottery (c. 800–1400 AD), from cultures flourishing on Marajó Island and around the region of Santarém, and statuettes and cult objects, such as the small carved-stone amulets called muiraquitãs, also belong to these cultures. Many of the Jesuits worked in Brazil under the influence of the Baroque, the dominant style in Brazil until the early 19th century. The Baroque in Brazil flourished in Bahia and Pernambuco and Minas Gerais, generating valuable artists like Manuel da Costa Ataíde and especially the sculptor-architect Aleijadinho.
In 1816, the French Artistic Mission in Brazil created the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts and imposed a new concept of artistic education and was the basis for a revolution in Brazilian painting, sculpture, architecture, graphic arts, and crafts. A few decades later, under the personal patronage of Emperor Dom Pedro II, who was engaged in an ambitious national project of modernization, the Academy reached its golden age, fostering the emergence of the first generation of Romantic painters, whence Victor Meirelles and Pedro Américo, that, among others, produced lasting visual symbols of national identity. It must be said that in Brazil Romanticism in painting took a peculiar shape, not showing the overwhelming dramaticism, fantasy, violence, or interest in death and the bizarre commonly seen in the European version, and because of its academic and palatial nature all excesses were eschewed.
The beginning of the 20th century saw a struggle between old schools and modernist trends. Important modern artists Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral were both early pioneers in modern art in the country, and are amongst the better known figures of the Anthropophagic Movement, whose goal was to "swallow" modernity from Europe and the US and "digest" it into a genuinely Brazilian modernity. Both participated of The Week of Modern Art festival, held in São Paulo in 1922, that renewed the artistic and cultural environment of the city and also presented artists such as Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, Vicente do Rego Monteiro, and Victor Brecheret. Based on Brazilian folklore, many artists have committed themselves to mix it with the proposals of the European Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. From Surrealism, arises Ismael Nery, concerned with metaphysical subjects where their pictures appear on imaginary scenarios and averse to any recognizable reference. In the next generation, the modernist ideas of the Week of Modern Art have affected a moderate modernism that could enjoy the freedom of the strict academic agenda, with more features conventional method, best exemplified by the artist Candido Portinari, which was the official artist of the government in mid-century.
In recent years, names such as Oscar Araripe, Beatriz Milhazes and Romero Britto have been well acclaimed.
Brazilian architecture in the colonial period was heavily influenced by the Portuguese Manueline style, albeit adapted for the tropical climate. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Ouro Preto in the state of Minas Gerais contains numerous well-preserved examples of this style by artists such as Aleijadinho.
In later centuries, Brazilian architects were increasingly influenced by schools from other countries such as France and the United States, eventually developing a style of their own that has become known around the world. Architects such as Oscar Niemeyer have received much acclaim, with the Brazilian capital Brasília being the most notable example of modern Brazilian architecture. Niemeyer received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1988, and in 2006 the prize was awarded to Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha.
In recent decades, Brazilian landscape architecture has also attracted some attention, particularly in the person of Roberto Burle Marx. Some of this notable works are the Copacabanapromenade in Rio de Janeiro and the Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo.
Main article: Brazilian literature
Literature in Brazil dates back to the 16th century, to the writings of the first Portuguese explorers in Brazil, such as Pêro Vaz de Caminha, filled with descriptions of fauna, flora and Indigenous peoples that amazed Europeans that arrived in Brazil. When Brazil became a colony of Portugal, there was the "Jesuit Literature", whose main name was father António Vieira, a Portuguese Jesuit who became one of the most celebrated Baroque writers of the Portuguese language. A few more explicitly literary examples survive from this period, José Basílio da Gama's epic poem celebrating the conquest of the Missions by the Portuguese, and the work of Gregório de Matos Guerra, who produced a sizable amount of satirical, religious, and secular poetry. Neoclassicism was widespread in Brazil during the mid-18th century, following the Italian style.
Brazil produced significant works in Romanticism – novelists like Joaquim Manuel de Macedo and José de Alencar wrote novels about love and pain. Alencar, in his long career, also treated Indigenous people as heroes in the Indigenist novels O Guarany, Iracema, Ubirajara. The French Mal du siècle was also introduced in Brazil by the likes of Alvares de Azevedo, whose Lira dos Vinte Anos and Noite na Taverna are national symbols of the Ultra-romanticism. Gonçalves Dias, considered one of the national poets, sang the Brazilian people and the Brazilian land on the famous Song of the Exile (1843), known to every Brazilian schoolchild. Also dates from this period, although his work has hatched in Realism, Machado de Assis, whose works include Helena, Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, O alienista, Dom Casmurro, and who is widely regarded as the most important writer of Brazilian literature. Assis is also highly respected around the world.
My land has palm trees, Where the Thrush sings; The birds, that sing here, Do not sing as they do there.
Monteiro Lobato, of the Pré-Modernism (an essentially Brazilian literary movement), wrote mainly for children, often bringing Greek mythology and didacticism with Brazilian folklore, as we see in his short stories about Saci Pererê. Some authors of this time, like Lima Barreto and Simões Lopes Neto and Olavo Bilac, already show a distinctly modern character; Augusto dos Anjos, whose works combine Symbolistic, Parnasian and even pre-modernist elements has a "paralytic language".Mário de Andrade and Oswald de Andrade, from Modernism, combined nationalist tendencies with an interest in European modernism and created the Modern Art Week of 1922. João Cabral de Melo Neto and Carlos Drummond de Andrade are placed among the greatest Brazilian poets; the first, post-modernist, concerned with the aesthetics and created a concise and elliptical and lean poetic, against sentimentality; Drummond, in turn, was a supporter of "anti-poetic" where the language was born with the poem. In Post-Modernism, João Guimarães Rosa wrote the novel Grande Sertão: Veredas, about the Brazilian outback, with a highly original style and almost a grammar of his own, while Clarice Lispector wrote with an introspective and psychological probing of her characters. Nowadays, Nelson Rodrigues, Rubem Fonseca and Sérgio Sant'Anna, next to Nélida Piñon and Lygia Fagundes Telles, both members of Academia Brasileira de Letras, are important authors who write about contemporary issues sometimes with erotic or political tones. Ferreira Gullar and Manoel de Barros are two highly admired poets and the former has also been nominated for the Nobel Prize.
Cinema and theater
Main articles: Cinema of Brazil and Television in Brazil
Cinema has a long tradition in Brazil, reaching back to the birth of the medium in the late 19th century, and gained a new level of international acclaim in recent years. The documentary film Bus 174 (2002), by José Padilha, about a bus hijacking, is the highest rated foreign film at Rotten Tomatoes.O Pagador de Promessas (1962), directed by Anselmo Duarte, won the Palme d'Or at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, the only Brazilian film to date to win the award.Fernando Meirelles' City of God (2002), is the highest rated Brazilian film on the IMDb Top 250 list and was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 best films of all-time in 2005. The highest-grossing film in Brazilian cinema, taking 12 million viewers to cinemas, is Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976), directed by Bruno Barreto and basead on the novel of the same name by Jorge Amado. Acclaimed Brazilian filmmakers include Glauber Rocha, Fernando Meirelles, José Padilha, Anselmo Duarte, Walter Salles, Eduardo Coutinho and Alberto Cavalcanti.
Theater was introduced by the Jesuits during the colonization, particularly by Father José de Anchieta, but did not attract much interest until the transfer of the Portuguese Court to Brazil in 1808. Over the course of the 18th century, theatre evolved alongside the blossoming literature traditions with names such as Martins Pena and Gonçalves Dias. Pena introduced the comedy of manners, which would become a distinct mark of Brazilian theatre over the next decades.
Theatre was not included in the 1922 Modern Art Week of São Paulo, which marked the beginning of Brazilian Modernism. Instead, in the following decade, Oswald de Andrade wrote O Rei da Vela, which would become the manifesto of the Tropicalismo movement in the 1960s, a time where many playwrights used theatre as a means of opposing the Brazilian military government such as Gianfrancesco Guarnieri, Augusto Boal, Dias Gomes, Oduvaldo Vianna Filho and Plínio Marcos. With the return of democracy and the end of censorship in the 1980s, theatre would again grow in themes and styles. Contemporary names include Gerald Thomas, Ulysses Cruz, Aderbal Freire-Filho, Eduardo Tolentinho de Araújo, Cacá Rosset, Gabriel Villela, Márcio Vianna, Moacyr Góes and Antônio Araújo.
Main article: Music of Brazil
1 x 0
Choro "1 x 0" ("Um a zero"), recorded by Pixinguinha and Benedito Lacerda. Choro (or chorinho) is a brazilian genre of instrumental music.
Problems playing this file? See media help.
Music is one of the most instantly recognizable elements of Brazilian culture. Many different genres and styles have emerged in Brazil, such as samba, choro, bossa nova, MPB, frevo, forró, maracatu, sertanejo, brega and axé.
Samba is among the most popular music genres in Brazil and is widely regarded as the country's national musical style. It developed from the mixture of European and African music, brought by slaves in the colonial period and originated in the state of Bahia. In the early 20th century, modern samba emerged and was popularized in Rio de Janeiro behind composers such as Noel Rosa, Cartola and Nelson Cavaquinho among others. The movement later spread and gained notoriety in other regions, particularly in Bahia and São Paulo. Contemporary artists include Martinho da Vila, Zeca Pagodinho and Paulinho da Viola.
Samba makes use of a distinct set of instruments, among the most notable are the cuíca, a friction drum that creates a high-pitched squeaky sound, the cavaquinho, a small instrument of the guitar family, and the pandeiro, a hand frame drum. Other instruments are the surdos, agogôs, chocalhos and tamborins.
Choro originated in the 19th century through interpretations of European genres such as polka and schottische by Brazilian artists who had already been influenced by African rhythms such as the batuque. It is a largely instrumental genre that shares a number of characteristics with samba. Choro gained popularity around the start of the 20th century (1880-1920) and was the genre of many of the first Brazilian records in the first decades of the 20th century. Notable Choro musicians of that era include Chiquinha Gonzaga, Pixinguinha and Joaquim Callado. The popularity of choro steadily waned after the popularization of samba but saw a revival in recent decades and remains appreciated by a large number of Brazilians. There are a number of acclaimed Choro artists nowadays such as Altamiro Carrilho, Yamandu Costa and Paulo Bellinati.
Bossa nova and MPB
Bossa nova is a style of Brazilian music that originated in the late 1950s. It has its roots on samba but features less percussion, employing instead a distinctive and percussive guitar pattern. Bossa nova gained mainstream popularity in Brazil in 1958 with the song Chega de Saudade, written by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes. Together with João Gilberto, Jobim and Moraes would become the driving force of the genre, which gained worldwide popularity with the song "Garota de Ipanema" as interpreted by Gilberto, his wife Astrud and Stan Getz on the album Getz/Gilberto. The bossa nova genre remains popular in Brazil, particularly among the upper classes and in the Southeast.
MPB (acronym for Música popular brasileira, or Brazilian Popular Music) was a trend in Brazilian music that emerged after the bossa nova boom. It presents many variations and includes elements of styles that range from Samba to Rock music. In the 1960s some MPB artists founded the short-lived but highly influential tropicália movement, which attracted international attention. Among those were Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Nara Leão and Os Mutantes.
Sertanejo is the most popular genre in Brazilian mainstream media since the 1990s. It evolved from música caipira over the course of the 20th century, a style of music that originated in Brazilian countryside and that made use of the viola caipira, although it presents nowadays a heavy influence from Americancountry music but resembles in many ways including writing style with Pimba Music of Portugal. Beginning in the 1980s, Brazil saw an intense massification of the sertanejo genre in mainstream media and an increased interest by the phonographic industry. As a result, sertanejo is today the most popular music genre in Brazil in terms of radio play. Common instruments in contemporary sertanejo are the acoustic guitar, which often replaces the viola, the accordion and the harmonica, as well as electric guitar, bass and drums. Traditional acts include Chitãozinho & Xororó, Zezé Di Camargo & Luciano, Leonardo and Daniel. Newer artists such as Michel Teló, Luan Santana, Gusttavo Lima have also become very popular recently among younger audiences.
Forró and frevo
Forró and Frevo are two music and dance forms originated in the Brazilian Northeast. Forró, like Choro, originated from European folk genres such as the schottische in between the 19th and early 20th centuries. It remains a very popular music style, particularly in the Northeast region, and is danced in forrobodós (parties and balls) throughout the country.
Frevo originated in Recife, Pernambuco during the Carnival, the period it is most often associated with. While the music presents elements of procession and martial marches, the frevo dance (known as "passo") has been notably influenced by capoeira. Frevo parades are a key tradition of the Pernambuco Carnival.
Brazil has also a tradition in the classical music, since the 18th Century. The oldest composer with the full documented work is José Maurício Nunes Garcia, a catholic priest who wrote numerous pieces, both sacred and secular, with a style resembling the classical viennese style from Mozart and Haydn. In the 19th Century, the composer Antonio Carlos Gomes wrote several operas with Brazilian indigenous themes, with librettos in Italian, some of which premiered in Milan; two of the works are the operas Il Guarany and Lo Schiavo (The Slave).
In the 20th Century, Brazil had a strong modernist and nationalist movement, with the works of internationally renowned composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri, César Guerra-Peixe and Cláudio Santoro, and more recently Marlos Nobre and Osvaldo Lacerda. Many famous performers are also from Brazil, such as the opera singer Bidu Sayão, the pianist Nelson Freire and the former pianist and now conductor João Carlos Martins.
The city of São Paulo hosts the Sala São Paulo, home of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), one of the most outstanding concert halls of the world. Also the city of Campos do Jordão hosts yearly in June the Classical Winter Festival, with performances of many instrumentists and singers from all the world.
Many other genres have originated in Brazil, specially in recent years. Some of the most notable are:
- The mangue beat movement, originated in Recife and founded by the late Chico Science and Nação Zumbi. The music fuses elements of maracatu, frevo, funk rock and hip hop.
- Axé is a very popular genre, particularly in the state of Bahia. It is a fusion of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and is strongly associated with the Salvador Carnival.
- Maracatu is another genre originated in the state of Pernambuco. It evolved from traditions passed by generations of African slaves and features large percussive groups and choirs.
- Brega which literally means 'Tacky' is a hard to define music style from the state of Pará, usually characterized as influenced by Caribbean rhythms and containing simple rhymes, arrangements and a strong sentimental appeal. It has spawned subgenres such as tecno brega, which has attracted worldwide interest for achieving high popularity without significant support from the phonographic industry.
Main article: Television in Brazil
Television has played a large role in the formation of the contemporary Brazilian popular culture. It was introduced in 1950 by Assis Chateaubriand and remains the country's most important element of mass media.
Telenovelas are a marking feature in Brazilian television, usually being broadcast in prime time on most major television networks. Telenovelas are similar in concept to soap operas in English-speaking countries but differ from them in duration, telenovelas being significantly shorter (usually about 100 to 200 episodes). They are widely watched throughout the country, to the point that they have been described as a significant element in national identity and unity, and have been exported to over 120 countries.
Brazilian folklore includes many stories, legends, dances, superstitions and religious rituals. Characters include the Boitatá, the Boto Cor-de-Rosa, the Saci and the Bumba Meu Boi, which has spawned the famous June festival in Northern and Northeastern Brazil.
Main article: Sport in Brazil
Football (Soccer) is the most popular sport in Brazil. Many Brazilian players such as Pelé, Ronaldo, Kaká, and Ronaldinho also Neymar are among the most well known players in the sport. The Brazil national football team (Seleção) is currently among the best in the world, according to the FIFA World Rankings. They have been victorious in the FIFA World Cup a record 5 times, in 1958, 1962, 1970
Brazil—as two recentbook titles point out, and almost any kid kicking a ball anywhere in the world can tell you—is the country of soccer. While the modern sport’s actual birthplace is England, Brazil is the spiritual center of the sport. Brazil, whose beloved canarinho team is the only one to play in all World Cups and to have won five, perfected the English invention, inspiring a more poetic, fluid version of the game. And while Brazil made modern soccer, the extent to which soccer made modern Brazil is often underappreciated.
The sport landed in Brazil (and throughout Latin America) at the moment of the creation of the modern nation state, in the late 19th century. As a result it tied into the historical narratives—the stories that Brazilians crafted about themselves—that underpinned the nascent nation. Soccer helped to knit Brazil together into one country in the early 20th century and played a key role in incorporating people of African descent into the polity.
Soccer arrived in Brazil in the 1890s, brought by British workers and Anglo-Brazilian youth who were returning from school in England. At first played in elite social clubs like the São Paulo Athletic Club, the sport soon diffused downwards to the masses, and by the first decades of the 20th century was already the most popular sport in the country. Most soccer histories in Latin America suggest two separate “births”—the foreign birth marked by arrival of sport and the dominance of expatriate teams; and the national birth, when the local youth began to beat the Europeans at their game. In Brazil a third birth exists: when Afro-Brazilians enter the field in large numbers.
The first Afro-Brazilians played on major clubs in the 1910s—Arthur Friedenreich, Joaquim Prado, and others—but their inclusion was controversial. Freidenreich would straighten his hair and others would put on rice powder in efforts to lighten themselves. And Afro-Brazilian inclusion created political tensions as well. Though Brazil instituted universal male suffrage in 1891, slavery had ended only in 1888, and Afro-Brazilians were not considered a full part of the nation. Nor were they welcome on the field. The first mixed race team to win a top league championship in Brazil was the Rio team Vasco da Gama, in 1923. The following year the league changed the rules so that the club was no longer eligible to play, and though by 1925 Vasco was back in the top flight, the place of Afro-Brazilians in soccer and Brazilian society more broadly was hardly secure.
But racial divisions began to break down in the 1930s for a number of reasons. The rise to power of Getulio Vargas signaled changes both in the state structure and in Brazilian society. Vargas ended regional power struggles, and at the same time searched for elements of quintessentially Brazilian culture to unify the nation. He promoted capoeira—the Afro-Brazilian martial art that had been vilified and associated with supposed Afro-Brazilian criminality—and samba, until then a dance of the poor and the African-descended population.
While capoeira and dance mattered, soccer was already the king of sports, and its influence only grew during the Vargas years. In the 1930s the racial dynamics of soccer began to change as the sport became more inclusive. Professionalization in 1933 opened the doors for more Afro-Brazilians to play, but there was also a greater willingness to select Afro-Brazilians to play on the national team. Brazilians wanted the best team, not one that reflected an idealized “white” nation. Historians point to the inclusion of Afro-Brazilians Domingos da Guia and Leônidas da Silva on the 1938 World Cup squad as the turning point for racial inclusion in Brazilian soccer. And when Leônidas was named player of the tournament in France—where Brazil finished third—it encouraged discussion, and appreciation, for the contributions of people of African heritage to Brazil. That is, success on the soccer field opened up a broader space in the public sphere for Brazilians to debate their racial heritage.
Gilberto Freyre deserves to be credited with an important assist in the shifting of attitudes, alongside Leônidas da Guia and their 1938 teammates. A noted anthropologist, Freyre covered the World Cup for the Correio da Manhã newspaper. In his transatlantic dispatches, he lauded the “courage” of the Brazilian federation to send a “clearly Afro-Brazilian” team to the World Cup. Freyre suggested that Brazil’s brand of soccer dominated Europe (da Silva did not play the semifinal match) because of this African heritage, which in his Freyre’s eyes brought spontaneity, passion, improvisation, and guile to the team. The supposed irrationality of Brazil’s African roots allowed the team to outclass most of its European rivals.
Freyre’s sports journalism tied into the idea of Brazil as a racial democracy, which he had proposed a few years earlier in his magnum opus The Master and the Slaves. The book argued that all Brazilians carried some blackness in them, if only because of the “mammy who rocked us to sleep,” or the “mulatto girl [who] gave us our first complete sensation of being a man.” Notwithstanding its underlying racism and sexism, Freyre’s work was radical in its time, and both The Masters and the Slaves and his more popularly accessible journalism helped to foster a reevaluation of who was Brazilian and what Brazil should look like.
Not surprisingly, not everyone agreed that Brazil should be more inclusive. To the contrary, many continued to hold that Brazil’s population of African descent not only held the soccer team back, but impeded the development of the nation as a whole. They remained concerned with the negative impact of the black population both in soccer and in society more broadly. Moreover, many worried that the outside world—particularly Europe—perceived Brazil as uncivilized and feared that Afro-Brazilian players would reinforce that attitude.
These fears surfaced in 1950, when Brazil hosted the World Cup, and again at the 1954 tournament in Switzerland. In 1950 Brazil needed only a tie in the final game to win the tournament. Two hundred thousand fans packed into Rio’s Maracanã stadium—which was still unfinished—expecting a carnival. Instead, they saw Brazil defeated by a supposedly weaker Uruguayan team. Blame for the defeat fell on two players—goaltender Moaçir Barbosa and defenseman João Ferreira—of African descent. Both were accused of being too passive and too easily intimidated, and neither would play for Brazil again. The 1954 World Cup again brought defeat, to Hungary in the quarterfinals. Again, that loss was blamed on the “mongrel” nature of Brazil and its citizens. The head of the Brazilian delegation blamed the failure on the “physiognomy” of the Brazilian people. Worse, the English press called the Brazilian squad “a mob of hysterical negroids.” Both losses reinforced the idea, current among many Brazilian intellectuals, that the nation’s “racial cocktail” caused players—and the country as a whole—to crumble in the face of pressure. In short, the losses in 1950 and 1954 were interpreted as an indication of the inferiority of the Brazilian people. While soccer had the power to unite the country around race, it also had the capacity to divide.
But 1958 told a different story—one that united Brazil once and for all around the idea of a racially mixed nation. 1958 is of course the year that Brazil first won the World Cup and at which time the whole world really came to know the jogo bonito—the beautiful game—that was based on the play of Pelé, Garrincha, and others. From that point on there was at least general agreement that Brazil had a mixed race heritage and that people of African descent played an important part in society. This is not to suggest a state of complete racial harmony or equality. Afro-Brazilians still lag well behind their white compatriots in most social indicators. While Brazil hovers around the 80th spot in the Human Development Index, when disaggregated for race, white Brazil ranks around 40th and black Brazil around 120th. Nevertheless, for the better part of the 20th century, soccer helped to knit together a racially diverse nation.
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the sport may pull the nation apart again. Protests have been a regular part of life in Brazil since last summer, when a rise in bus fares touched off a wave of street demonstrations that brought millions of Brazilians into the streets during the Confederations Cup, and soon enough FIFA and World Cup expenditures became focal points of the protests. Brazilians have legitimate cause for protest. Government services lag well behind those of nations with similar tax rates; hospitals and schools are woefully underfunded. These concerns have only been exacerbated by the cost of hosting the World Cup. Initial estimates for stadium construction have more than tripled due to cost overruns and corruption, with Brazilian taxpayers covering the vast majority of the cost. Many of the promised infrastructure projects—those with long-term benefits for Brazil—have been scaled back or canceled outright.
When Brazil was first awarded this World Cup back in 2007, the news was met with almost universal acclaim and joy, for what the tournament would say about the nation’s identity and development. Now, on the eve of the World Cup, many Brazilians are legitimately torn, apprehensive, and even angry about what the tournament, and its preparations, say about the nation’s development. But let’s hope that in the days ahead we also see an outpouring of pride and joy at the seemingly more ephemeral legacy the sport has bequeathed Brazil—its mutiracial, pluralistic national identity.