Cultural Aspects of the Brazilian Society

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INTRODUCTION

Differently than most civilizations in Latin America, the Brazilian society has some unique aspects that were formed as a result of a very singular colonization process performed by the Portuguese. The lack of political interest, social inequality between the black population and the white population, the feeling of individualism that prevails on our so called “jeitinho brasileiro” (Brazilian way), are all cultural traces left by a colonization process that was basically only looking forward to take all the benefits the country could provide without an intention of actually developing the country properly. Cycles of extractivism such as the commercialization of Brazilian wood (pau brasil), sugar cane, gold and rubber shows us the real intentions of Portugal behind the colonization. Moreover, the greatly developed slavery market – that lasted almost 400 years, beginning with the Indians and later the blacks from Africa, with a total of almost 3 million slaves being brought to Brazil – also helped to define our social and physical traits, with a virtual abolitional process “for the English man to see” that helped with the perpetuation of the black population on poorer classes and by giving the color miscegenation that is so characteristic in Brazil, originating the mulatto. The objective of this essay is to enlighten the reader on how some of the particular characteristics of this process influenced directly on the formation of the Brazilian character present up until the present days on our society.


DISCOVERY OR CONQUEST?

Ever since the beginning of Brazil's history, contradictions have been present. First, it can be said that Brazil had not been discovered as it is mentioned often, but conquered by the Portuguese. The meeting of these two cultures (Europeans versus the indigenous peoples of the Americas) resulted in a confrontation that led to the establishment of the Europeans in detriment of the locals. The natives lived in constant contact with nature, with a different religion from Christianity in Europe.

Well before the Europeans came to Brazil, Indians had their moral norms and their religious rites. They respected themselves and others, as well as nature as a whole. The Spaniards and later the Portuguese came, conquered and imposed their power with violence (weapons) and ideology (religion): on one hand, with the cross of Christ, symbolizing the power of the Church, on the other, the sword for conquest. The result was the extermination trough war, slavery and diseases (syphilis, smallpox, influenza) of millions of Indians. Much of the indigenous population was wiped out quickly by the "civilized" man. It is estimated that there were in Brazil at the time of the discovery, nearly 4 million Indians. In 1823, there remained less than 1 million.

Another feature of the colonial period is linked to the commercial connotation. Brazil served as a field used for monoculture in order to solve the problem of European demand, supplying cane sugar. This required large tracts of land and slave labor of Africans, which developed greatly the slave market. Moreover, other exploration cycles have occurred in Brazil as time went by, such as mining, wood, livestock, rubber and coffee. Therefore characterizing Brazil as a supplier of raw materials to the Portugal.


SLAVERY

It was around the year 1550 that the slaves began to be imported. This practice continued until 1850, 28 years after independence. It is estimated that up to 3 million slaves have been brought to the colony until 1822. At the time of Independence in a population of about 5 million people, including 800,000 Indians, Brazil had more than 1 million slaves, and all social classes of that period, including ex slaves, had slaves.

After more than 300 years, Brazil finally abolished slavery, however this happened more due to external pressure than by a maturing of the social consciousness of the population. In this sense,...
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