Brazil: Culture and Society

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Aaron Meltzer/ Culture and Society/ Brazil Creating a national identity in Brazil in the early 20th century. Brazil, like any other Latin American country, had its unique Brazilian culture and society partially lost and completely distorted by European influences; specifically Portuguese influences. In the early twentieth century, Brazilian society was made up of a mix of native Brazilians, Europeans (Portuguese and Italian mainly), Japanese, Africans, and immigrants from the Ottoman Empire. The economic boom during and after World War I sparked all of these new immigrants. The social classes were divided into bourgeoisie and the working class (middle and lower). The bourgeoisie consisted mostly of white Europeans on a quest to whiten (branqueamento) Brazil. The oppressed working class was made up of indigenous people, immigrants, and Afro-Brazilians who had been enslaved until 1888. The problem Brazil faced in the early 20th century like other Latin American countries was the need of a national identity. Brazil wanted to prove to the world that even though its economy was heavily dependent on Europe, its social and traditional culture should be uniquely known as Brazilian. The concept of “cultural cannibals” was big for Brazilian modernism. Led by Oswald de Andrade, this anthropophagic movement, referencing earlier Brazilian Indian cannibals, sought to borrow from European and American artists and writers into Brazilian culture and add its own original characteristics (MLA, 415). This does not imply a fusion of white and black culture, although it does accomplish this anyways. By absorbing European style, Brazilian culture remains polished and up to date in regards to literature and art. One modernist artist, Emiliano de Cavalcanti, paints with the realism style of a European, but with Brazilian portrayals, neither black nor white—simply


 

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Brazilian. Similarly, writers would create novels, stories, and poems to portray Brazilian immigration, social issues, culture, and their overall strength. The indented audiences for these writers were bourgeoisie, people who were literate, and the rest of the world. Unfortunately in the early 1900’s, more than 60 percent of Brazil’s population over 15 years old was illiterate (HLA, 341). This means that it was the writers’ job to represent their country in a sophisticated and interesting way. As for the artists, like Cavalcanti and Heitor Villa-Lobos, a renowned samba painter, their audiences include Brazil’s entire illiterate group. Since the unknowing illiterate group could not connect with Brazil through literature, paintings helped to boost their overall feeling of nationalism. This entire movement began during Modern Art Week in 1922 to commemorate the centenary anniversary of Brazil’s independence from Portugal. Although Brazilian society was so heavily influenced by European ideals to the point where the entire nation speaks Portuguese, a large part of Brazilian culture emulated from African culture. The samba, a Brazilian song and dance that is known globally, resembles Angolan and Congolese cultural traditions (HLA,341). Samba originated in Rio de Janeiro from the big masses in the slums made up of blacks and lower classes. Samba played a big role in Carnival, a street festival and defined popular culture. Brazil also became known for its respectable ability to play soccer. Even though the country did not win a world championship until 1950, the local clubs thrived and the national sport became soccer. Now Brazil has won the world cup a record number of 5 times. Just like football and baseball are America’s pastimes, soccer is Brazil’s, and it is known worldwide. Even though Brazil was not known for its rich and fun culture then, it


 

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blossomed into one of the world’s most recognizable cultures. The roots were implanted by these modernistas and succeeded in created a national identity. In the case of Brazil, the...
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