Favela, an urban shantytown in Brazil, often either perched precariously on a steep hillside or occupying low-lying, humid river lands, vulnerable to heavy rains and flooding. Individual houses are typically constructed from scrap wood, corrugated metal, or cement blocks. As squatter settlements without official recognition, favelas are deprived of city services such as water, sewage, and electricity, and they lack municipally sponsored schools and health clinics. One or two spigots located on the outside perimeter may supply residents with water, carried home in cans, for cooking or washing. Dwellers pay high prices for illegal electricity hookups. Although outsiders have frequently condemned favelas as lawless places, sociologists have demonstrated that favelas can become communities, displaying the range of solidarities and conflicts that the word "community" implies. Some favelas have persisted for decades, their residents even resisting attempts to forcibly remove them to more remote sites.
The first favela arose in the Morro da Providência, near the Ministry of War in Rio de Janeiro, when disabled soldiers returned home after the Canudos expedition in 1897. The soldiers doubtless named the settlement after Mount Favela, a point near Canudos that had figured prominently in battle strategies. As Rio de Janeiro expanded to the southern seaside suburbs in the early twentieth century, hillside favelas replaced the razed slums of the central city known as cortiços, or beehives.
To an extent, favela is a regional term most commonly used in the center-south of Brazil. In the Northeastern city of Recife, for example, similar neighborhoods are referred to as mucambos, a term that once referred to slave quarters or runaway-slave settlements.
In recent decades, high levels of largely drug-related violence between gangs, police, and militias has increased the precariousness in the lives of many favela residents.
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Sandra Lauderdale Graham