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ETHNONYMS: Black Brazilians (archaic), Brazilian Negroes, Negro Brazilians, Pardos, Prêtos


Afro-Brazilians did not receive the kind of attention devoted to African Americans of the United States in the scholarly and popular literature until the 1970s. To the extent that they were discussed, they were viewed as part and parcel of Brazil's exceptional race-relations patterns, in which flexibility in racial categorization and definition, linked to a history of the absence of legally mandated or sanctioned racial discrimination in the postabolition period, obviated the need for Black protest and other forms of activity geared to the gaining of civil rights. Since then, this roseate rendition of the Afro-Brazilian situation has been steadily challenged by both Brazilians and foreigner observers, controverting the impression that the specific historical, cultural, sociological, and politicoeconomic universe in which Afro-Brazilians have lived and continue to live remotely resembles a privileged environment in terms of race relations. These recent discussions offer insights into race relations, racial prejudice, and racial discrimination of another kind than that found elsewhere. Briefly put, neither history nor culture in themselves have proven sufficient to legitimize a case for a unique immunity to racism in Brazil. Furthermore, race mixture or multiracialness do not imply an absence of racial ranking, racial preference, or outright discrimination.

If there is agreement on the above issues, the question of the definition of "Afro-Brazilian" remains debatable. By the late 1970s, the term "Afro-Brazilian" rather than "Black Brazilian" appeared to be increasingly favored, especially by younger and politically active Blacks. The choice of "Afro"meant to emphasize ancestry rather than the traditional Brazilian focus on color (in 1980 non-Whites described themselves to the census takers in an array of more than 100 shades)became equivalent to a political statement. Any description that lays the remotest claim to accuracy must factor race, class, and gender into the categorization. It is in this factoring that Afro-Brazilians come to manifest the contradictions of the society at large (see "Sociopolitical Organization").

It is still not entirely clear how extensive the Afro-Brazilian population is within the national population of more than 150 million. Within the census categories"White," "Brown," "Black," and "Yellow"Afro-Brazilians can be categorized or identify themselves as both "Black" and "Brown." That being the case, it is difficult to proclaim with any degree of certainty the size of the Afro-Brazilian poulation. Furthermore, there are regional differences in the concentration of Afro-Brazilians. It is estimated that, of the 2.5 million people living in the metropolitan area of the northeastern seaport of Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia, 80% are either Prêto (Black) or Pardo (Brown). There are sizable numbers in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, but Afro-Brazilians reside in less dense concentrations throughout the national territory. It is important to provide a cautionary note with regard to what has become an increasingly common statement in discussing Brazil and Afro-Brazilians within the global context of the Black world: that Brazil has the largest Black population of any nation except the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Although this statement makes for good symbolism, it is by no means clear what it actually reflects. If there is no agreement about what constitutes blackness, the claim that Brazil has the second-largest Black population becomes meaningless.

The situation is rendered more problematic by conflating Afro-Brazilian history and culture with the present-day status of Afro-Brazilians and their institutions. A closer look reveals several contradictory tendencies. There is, for example, absolutely no doubt about the presence, and an impressive one at that, of Africa-derived religious and cultural traditions in Brazil that have become Afro-Brazilianized. Whereas these institutions were the targets of official condemnation and persecution during the nineteenth century and a large part of the twentieth, they have undergone a process of nationalization in which the dominant society and its cultural institutions have extended legitimacy to the formerly marginalized and persecuted Afro-Brazilian manifestations. Nevertheless, cultural integration has not translated into a commensurate political presence. As part of a national union that views itself as one people with a common destinyand does not brook threats to this unityAfro-Brazilians are in the ambiguous position of asserting their nationality and striving to maintain their specificity without becoming perceived as antinational.

In a real sense, there is no Afro-Brazilian space that is separate from Brazilian national space. There is no equivalent of the Black church in the United States; no historically Black institutions such as colleges, hospitals, and funeral homes; and no Black residential areas within cities. It is axiomatic that Afro-Brazilians are found among the major religious groups in the countryCatholics and mainstream Protestants (with long histories in Brazil), Pentecostalists (of more recent provenance; they began evangelizing in Brazil in the mid-1960s, and continued their activities with increasing crescendo throughout the 1970s and 1980s), and, of course, the major Afro-Brazilian religions of Candomblé, Macumba, and Umbanda (see "Religion and Expressive Culture").

In view of the sheer size of Brazil, the cultural and linguistic differences among its regions, although they do not negate nationally shared commonalities, nonetheless serve as a warning against gross generalizations. It is therefore useless to posit a "typical" Afro-Brazilian whose physical features and behavioral patterns can be considered emblematic of all Afro-Brazilians. Variant regional historical experiences are manifested in differences in music, folklore, religion, and patterns of speech. Such differences account for the diverse responses of specific Afro-Brazilian populations to sociocultural and political movements between the 1920s and 1930s and from the 1970s into the 1990s. A major characteristic of Afro-Brazilian culture has been its ability to adapt or transform itself, Brazilianizing itself without losing its identity in the process.

History and Cultural Relations

There is a rich history of the arrival of African slaves from different religious backgrounds (e.g., Yoruba, Fon, Ewe [Gege], Hausa, Angdon), beginning in the sixteenth century; of African adaptations and resistance to slavery; of Brazil-born individuals of African ancestry; and of cooperation and conflicts between Brazilian-born Africans and newly arrived slaves. New importations of slaves continued into the nineteenth century, particularly between 1807 and 1835. Contributing to the discontents of the newcomers was the disdain other slaves exhibited toward them because of their inability to speak Portuguese, the tribal and ethnic markings on their faces, and their non-European religionsfor example, some of the Yorubas were Muslims. Newly imported Yorubas organized the Revolt of the Males (the term "Male" is believed to derive from "I-male"the followers of the Imam) in 1835. Despite this and other acts of resistance, abolition did not occur until 13 May 1888.

Although there has been a tendency to focus on slaves of Yoruba (western Nigerian) origin, especially because of the preeminence of Yoruba religious traditions in Brazil, African slaves came from a much wider geographical area, stretching from the Guinea coast to present-day Angola, Mozambique, and Zaire. Increasing attention is being paid to Bantu influences in Brazil, especially in the area surrounding Rio de Janeiro and in the state of Minas Gerais, a movement away from Yorubacentrism, under the sway of which Yoruba traditions were studied to the exclusion of those of other continental African groups that made major contributions to the formation of Afro-Brazilian culture.

Sociopolitical Organization

Afro-Brazilian forms of religion, music, and dance have all been summoned in the service of resisting the hegemonic tentacles of the Brazilian state and society, both in the past and in the present. If in the period before abolition (both colonial and postcolonial), Afro-Brazilian religious brotherhoods (cofradías ) affiliated with the Catholic church and religio-civic organizations devoted themselves to helping manumit slaves, providing a form of social-welfare service to widows and dependents, and organizing religious and cultural celebrations showing elements of both Brazil and Africa, in the postabolition period they organized civic groupings and even a political party.

Yet there has not been and there does not now exist an autonomous Afro-Brazilian universe within which Afro-Brazilians have the luxury of conducting their affairs. In fact, it is clear that, since the early 1900s, whatever sociocultural and political movements have been organized and patronized by Afro-Brazilians have been reflections of the general socioeconomic and political developments within Brazil at large. Syndicalists and frustrated young army officers were among those who engaged in intense political activity in the first half of the 1910s and the second half of the 1920s. The Frente Negra Brasileira, which some saw as having fascist tendencies, registered as a political party on 16 September 1931. The immediate inference to be drawn is that to the extent that the national political climate is relatively open and that a politically and culturally entitled citizenry is able to participate in issues affecting state and society, there is greater likelihood that Afro-Brazilians can act visibly than in periods when the political system becomes closed to such participation, as was most recently demonstrated by the period of authoritarian governance of a civilian-military nature between 1964 and 1985. What is illustrative about such exclusionary periods is the breaches that develop, providing examples of the contradictions in Brazilian political life. An earlier version of such exclusion from participation was the period between 1937 and 1945 under Getúlio Vargas. The "new state" (i.e., the authoritarian-corporativist regime) prohibited all political activity it did not sponsor.

In 1944 Abdias do Nascimento founded the Black Experimental Theatre in Rio de Janeiro, which was then Brazil's capital. It was an effort to bring those who attended to political consciousness and show the importance of Afro-Brazilian life. (For the theater's first production, do Nascimento sought a potent Afro-Brazilian playwright; failing in his search, he instead staged Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones. By 1968 the theater was more or less defunct, although friends of do Nascimento went through the motions of keeping it going. Do Nascimento, after teaching for eleven years at the State University of New York at Buffalo, became a congressman in Rio and, subsequently, Secretary of State in charge of Black issues.

By the mid-1970s it was obvious that the regime could not continue as it had been. In 1974 President Ernesto Geisel introduced the concept of political decompression, whereby tentative attempts were made to create avenues for political expression, and the climate began to shift. In 1978, during the period of military governance with civilian collaboration, the Movimento Negro Unificado contra Discriminacao Racial (MNU; Unified Movement against Racial Discrimination) was launched in Sao Paulo at the same time other groups, such as automobile-factory workers, were forming community-based units within the Catholic church.

Afro-Brazilian women sociocultural and political activists have argued in no uncertain terms that, just because Afro-Brazilians as a group have been and continue to be victims of racial discrimination does not necessarily mean that Afro-Brazilian men are any less predisposed to discriminate against Afro-Brazilian women. The latter are thus doubly disadvantaged in a society that has historically given precedence to males and continues to do so.

By the same token, Afro-Brazilians are not impressed by any discourse that argues that the realities of a machista society and the commonality of accumulated disadvantages visited on all women because of their gender automatically occasions a sisterly solidarity. The women's movement in Brazil, on account of its origins, membership, and the fact that it does not exist in a universe separate from Brazilian society, has reproduced some of the same racially discriminatory practices against Afro-Brazilian women. Following this line of discussion, it has also been argued that to assume that the labor movement or progressive movements per se have resolved basic contradictions and confusions about race and the position of Afro-Brazilians within Brazilian society is at best naive.

Beginning in the 1980s, Afro-Brazilians made certain symbolic gains on the national political scene. In the state government of Rio de Janeiro there were, between 1982 and 1986, three Afro-Brazilian secretaries of state, including the first Afro-Brazilian woman to hold such a position. The head of the military police and his deputy are also Afro-Brazilians. In 1991 three state governors, two of whom readily identified themselves as Afro-Brazilian and a third who could be characterized as having reached self-definition as Afro-Brazilian reluctantly or by default, were elected. Another noteworthy political event was Benedita ("Bené") da Silva's 1992 electoral campaign for the mayoralty of Rio, which failed by a narrow margin. She combines the activism born of living in a favela (slum) and being a member of the Pentecostal church with membership in the Workers party, under the banner of which she serves as a deputy in the Federal Chamber of Deputies. It bears emphasizing that some of these political gains have been made in places with minuscule Afro-Brazilian populations, as in the election of Governor Alceu Collares in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul.

The contrast with Salvador, Bahia, could not be more dramatic. The one Afro-Brazilian mayor of the city,' Edivaldo Brito, was appointed to the post in 1980, during the period of authoritarian rule. The fact that Afro-Brazilians are the majority in Bahia has not resulted in the election of Afro-Brazilian mayors or representatives to the Federal Chamber of Deputies. The salient point is that impressive institutions derived from Africa and developed by Afro-Brazilians in areas where Afro-Brazilians are the majority have not automatically produced Afro-Brazilian elected officials or access to political power in a clientelistic polity that has not veered from traditional patronage distribution. Until the mid-1970s Salvador could not be ranked with Sao Paulo or Rio, where Afro-Brazilian political activities have been more prominent.

To the extent that it has become more legitimate (which is not to be confused with fully legitimate) to discuss Brazilian race relations as part of global race relationsand that inserting Brazil into this framework provides no guarantee of a privileged position for Brazil as the one place in the world where racial discrimination and racism have not been state policy, coded in the law, rendering inappropriate the contemplation of concrete measures to ameliorate or abolish its consequencesthere is some hope for a greater appreciation of the Afro-Brazilian predicament. Racial discrimination and racism do not have to be legally codified or systematic, formal, and frequent to be effective or to prevent those who see themselves as its intermittent or perennial victims from articulating the need for redress. Despite this, Afro-Brazilians have resisted customary and conventionalized forms of individual and institutional racism through straightforward political, as well as more subtle cultural and religious, activities. The state of race relations within Brazil is the real test of idealized notions of nationality; daily realities subvert such notions.

Religion and Expressive Culture

There is no gainsaying the fact that all Brazilians now pay tribute to Afro-Brazilian cultural, religious, and artistic contributions to Brazil. Many Brazilians, irrespective of race, color, or class, partake of Afro-Brazilian culture.

Umbanda began to appear in the first decades of the twentieth century, at a time of rapid industrialization, internal migration, and urbanization. It was depicted as quintessentially Brazilian, syncretic, functionalist at its core, and providing space for upwardly mobile individuals by the 1970s. Some social scientists questioned this idealized picture and saw Umbanda more as a contested space in which members of the middle-class elite intervened to clean up or "whiten" the Black, more proletarian image of Umbanda, thus distancing it from its African and Afro-Brazilian roots.

Candomblé, as considered by both followers and observers, is the most Orthodox of Afro-Brazilian religions, with roots going back to slave life in Brazil. The term "Candomblé" refers to both the religion qua religion as well as to the ceremonies and celebrations that draw participants who might not be full members of the terreiro, which is both the space in which religious activities are conducted and the house in which the resident mãedo santo (if female) or pardo santo (if male) perfoms ceremonies, engages in divination, and supervises those who are to be initiated. Especially in Bahia, such practitioners trace their history to West Africa.

The origins of Candomblé are linked to specific ethnic groups, or nations, as they became known in Brazil. Nations came from different regions in Africa. The introduction of Catholic symbols, such as altars, into terreiros is evidence of the adaptations made by Afro-Brazilians to the dominant religious traditions of colonial and postcolonial Brazil.

What is Candomblé in Bahia becomes Macumba in Rio de Janeiro. Macumba in Rio is considered to be less orthodox than the older Candomblé terreiros in Bahia, just as even in Bahia, newer, less prestigious terreiros, which are more likely to draw upon a wider circle of influences, including Amerindian traditions and spiritist (European-derived) ones. In regard to the latter, the ideas of the French writer Allan Cardeac began permeating Brazilian spiritism at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Another notable aspect of Afro-Brazilian religious traditions and their diffusion into the broader society is the fact that such influences have become transnational. There are Afro-Brazilian-derived religious traditions in Argentina, for example.

The musical styles and personalities of three of the best-known Afro-Brazilian musicians and pop idolsGilberto Gil, from the northeastern state of Bahia; Milton Nascimento, from Minas Gerais; and Martinho da Vila, from Rio de Janeiroexemplify the spectrum of regional differences. The exuberance of Gil; the cooler, quasi-religious style of Nascimento; and the conversational style of da Vila reflect variously their Bahian, Mineiro, and Carioca (i.e., characteristic of Rio) contexts.

Gil and da Vila, who have visited Africa, have directly connected to continental African themes in their songs. Nascimento's composition "Missa dos Quilombos," derives its liturgical text from Brazilian liberation theologians. The title of the mass comes from the name given to communities of fugitive slaves in colonial Brazil. da Vila has organized Kizomba festivals, which have brought performers from continental Africa together with their Afro-Brazilian counterparts.

There is perhaps no Brazilian who is better known to the world than Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), the former soccer player. By his very presence, Pelé is a demonstration of both the possibilities and limitations of the Brazilian model of individual mobility. The fact that Pelé "made it" is sometimes presented as proof of limitless possibilities; this viewpoint fails to recognize the mathematical improbability of reproducing hundreds, or even scores, of Pelés among Afro-Brazilian youth. Since, according to the model, a condition of success is the avoidance of any controversy that would call it into question, Pelé has not readily taken public stances on the predicament of Afro-Brazilians.

Not unlike other Blacks in the Americas, Afro-Brazilians have utilized opportunities presented by the worlds of sport and entertainment to mediate (albeit on an individual rather than on a group basis) the difficulties of being Blackthat is, being disadvantaged in education, the professions, housing, and socioeconomic mobility.


Brissonet, Lydie Carmen (1989). "A Structuration of Communities in the Carnaval of Salvador, Bahia (North-eastern Brazil)." Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University.

Dreller, Gerald (1974). "The Afro-Brazilian: An Expression of Popular Culture in Selected Examples of Bahian Literature." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Dunn, Christopher (1992). "Afro-Bahian Carnaval: A Stage for Protest." Afro-Hispanic Review 11(1-3): 11-20.

Dzidzienyo, Anani (1985). "The African Connection and the Afro-Brazilian Condition." In Race, Class, and Power in Brazil, edited by Pierre-Michel Fontaine, 135-153. Los Angeles: UCLA Center for Afro-American Studies.

Dzidzienyo, Anani (1993). "Brazilian Race Relations Studies: Old Problems, New Ideas?" Humboldt Journal of Social Relations 19(2): 109-129.

Frigerio, Alejandro (1989). "With the Banner of Oxalá: Social Construction and Maintenance of Reality in Afro-Brazilian Religions in Argentina." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

Hanchard, Michael (forthcoming). Orpheus and Power: The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1945-1988. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Harris, Marvin (1964). "Racial Identity in Brazil." Luso-Brazilian Review 1(6): 21-28.

Horeis, Martin Werner (1974). "The Afro-Brazilian Candomblé Cult: An Anthropological Study of Cultural Performances of Good and Evil." Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University.

Nascimento, Abdias do (1991). A luta afro-brasileiro no Senado. Brasília: Centro Gráfico do Senado Federal, OS 4073/91.

Nascimento, Abdias do, and Nascimento, Elisa Larkin do (1992). Africans in Brazil: A Pan-Africanist Perspective. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press.

Oliveira Pereira, C. L. (1991). "O negro e o poder: Os negros candidatos a vereador em Salvador em 1988." Cadernos CRH (Salvador, Bahia: Centro de Recursos Humanos), supplement 9:91-116.

Omari, Mikelle Smith (1984). "Cultural Confluence in Candomblé Nago: A Socio-Historical Study of Art and Aesthetics in an Afro-Brazilian Religion." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

Perrone, Charles A. (1989). Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song: MPB 1965-1985. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Perrone, Charles A. (1992). "Axé, Ijexa, Olodum: The Rise of Afro and African Currents in Brazilian Popular Music." Afro-Hispanic Review 11(1-3): 42-52.

Reis, João José (1993). Slave Rebellion in Brazil Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Ribeiro, João Ubaldo (1989). An Invincible Memory. Translated by João Ubaldo Ribeiro. New York: Harper & Row.

Silva, Luíz (1992). E disse o velho militante José Correia Leite. São Paulo: Secreteria Municipal de Cultura.

Skidmore, Thomas E. (1993). "Bi-Racial U.S.A. vs. Multi-Racial Brazil: Is the Contrast Still Valid?" Journal of Latin American Studies 25:373-386.

Stam, Robert (1983). "Samba, Candomblé, Quilombo: Black Performance and Brazilian Cinema." Journal of Ethnic Studies 13(3): 54-84.

Winant, Howard (1992). "Re-thinking Race in Brazil." Journal of Latin American Studies 24:173-192.


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PRONUNCIATION: AH-frow brah-ZILL-yuhns


POPULATION: About 16 million

LANGUAGE: Portuguese with some African terms

RELIGION: Afro-Brazilian sects such as Condomble; spiritualist sects


Brazilians of African origin comprise nearly 10 percent of the total population of Brazil. As in the United States, their arrival can be traced back to the slave trade of the mid-1500s. It is estimated that nearly 4 million slaves were shipped to Brazil from Africa. This is higher than the estimated 600,000 slaves that were transported to the United States. Consequently, their cultural heritage is pervasive: Afro-Brazilian cooking customs and religion, for example, are practiced by Brazilians of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Brazilian law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. There is little open tension between people of different races in Brazil. However, there is subtle racial discrimination. For example, few Afro-Brazilians attend college and they have more difficulty finding good-paying jobs.


The population of Brazil is 162 million. There are indigenous Indians in the Amazon River region; immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, and Japan; and Afro-Brazilians. These ethnic groups have intermarried. As a result, the percentage of the population that considers itself to be Afro-Brazilian or black in the national census has declined, while the percentage of those who consider themselves brown has increased. This has been called the "bleaching" of Brazil.

Both sugar and cacao (plant whose seeds are used to make chocolate) were produced in Bahia, a state in northeastern Brazil. Bahia became the port of arrival for many slaves, and the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. In fact, most Bahia Brazilians are Afro-Brazilians. As of the late 1990s, Afro-Brazilians lived throughout the country. Many live in the major cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.


The official language of Brazil is Portuguese. Afro-Brazilians also speak Portuguese. They learned it to communicate with European Brazilians and with other Afro-Brazilians. Some words, such as samba (a Brazilian dance), have their roots in African languages. In Afro-Brazilian religion, the original African names of deities (gods), ceremonies, and dances are still used.


One of the most revered historical figures is Zumbi, a rebel slave leader. Many Afro-Brazilians celebrate November 20, the date on which Zumbi jumped off a cliff to avoid being captured by government forces.


Afro-Brazilian religions are popular with blacks and whites alike in Brazil. Some groups follow traditional African religious practices. An example is Condomble, a religion brought by the Yoruba people of Nigeria when they came to Brazil as slaves. Based in the state of Bahia, Condomble followers worship many different gods and goddesses of nature. One is Iemanja, the goddess of the sea. Condomble services, conducted late at night, feature pulsating drums and rhythmic music that encourage followers to reach a trancelike state.

Umbanda is a religion that combines African and non-African religious influences. It is common for the services to be led by a priestess. Followers of Umbanda invite spirits into their bodies as part of the services. Umbanda has many members in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Salvador.


In the state of Bahia, Afro-Brazilian festivals are celebrated. On February 2, people in the city of Salvador celebrate the Condomble goddess of the sea, Iemanja. Gifts and offerings are made to Iemanja and are floated out to sea in small, handmade sailboats. These offerings are usually sent by fishermen's wives in the hope that the goddess will protect the fishermen and ensure calm waters. Condomble rhythmic music accompanies the ceremonies.

An annual Afro-Brazilian festival to celebrate the liberation of slaves is held in the city of Cachoeira in the center of the country. Dancing, music, and prayer remind Afro-Brazilians of their slave ancestors.

All Brazilians celebrate Carnival during the week before the Christian observance of Lent begins.


Major life transitions, such as birth, puberty, and death, are marked by ceremonies appropriate to each Afro-Brazilian's religious tradition.


Afro-Brazilians are outgoing and gregarious. They speak animatedly and use a variety of hand gestures for emphasis. Afro-Brazilians are also accustomed to close personal contact. Women often walk hand-in-hand down the street. Male friends greet each other with a hug.

Music has been incorporated into many aspects of Afro-Brazilian life. Samba clubs that rehearse for Carnival are an important form of social organization. In addition, music is incorporated into their traditional sports, capoeira (a martial art), and into religious services. Most Afro-Brazilians are deeply religious and these beliefs pervade every aspect of their lives. It is common, for example, for food and candles to be left on street corners as offerings to spirits.


Many Afro-Brazilians live in poverty in the urban slums that surround the major cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Many of these slums, called favelas, are on steep hillsides. The first people to settle in these areas chose homes at the base of the hillside, which is more accessible and is likely to have electricity and running water. Further up the hillside are newer, less accessible communities. Pathways between houses are narrow and cramped. Often, large families live in a one-room dwelling. The lack of running water and accumulation of sewage in these crowded areas create health problems for residents. Clinics and other health care facilities, when they exist, are overcrowded and poorly equipped. The favelas surrounding Rio de Janeiro are also likely to flood. Heavy rains carry garbage down the hillsides and create landslides that wash away flimsy housing.


Not everyone goes through a formal wedding in Brazil. Long-term relationships between couples who live together are common and socially accepted. This practice, known as amasiado, is also common among Afro-Brazilians. Couples in amasiado are viewed as married by the community. They may have children together without fear of being shunned.




  • 1 pound (2 cups) black beans, rinsed
  • ¾ pound pork loin, butt, or shoulder
  • ¼ pound bacon
  • ½ pound smoked pork sausages
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 ounces dried beef, chopped (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 green onions including tops, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 bay leaves, crushed
  • 1½ Tablespoons dried oregano
  • Parsley for garnish
  • Rice


  1. Place the beans in a pot, cover with several inches of water, and soak overnight. Drain.
  2. Return beans to pot, cover with three inches of water, and simmer until beans are tender (about 2 to 2½ hours); check periodically to be sure there is enough liquid. Add more water if necessary.
  3. While the beans are cooking, preheat the oven to 375°f to roast the meats.
  4. Dice the pork and the bacon into ½-inch cubes.
  5. Place the pork, bacon, sausages, and chopped yellow onion in a large baking pan. Roast until well done. Check after 40 minutes, and remove the sausages if they are cooked through. All the meats should be well-done after one hour.
  6. Cut the sausages into rounds and add them, the dried beef, bacon, and pork to the beans.
  7. Add all the seasonings and green onions to the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  8. Garnish with parsley and serve with rice.

Adapted from Cusick, Heidi Haughy. Soul and Spice: African Cooking in the Americas. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995.

The extended family provides assistance and support. Godparents, appointed when a child is christened, take their role and responsibilities seriously.


There are regional differences in dress in Brazil. In the largely Afro-Brazilian region of Bahia, black women known as Baianas dress in clothing inspired by eighteenth century attire. Colorful, full-length skirts are worn with delicately embroidered white blouses, sometimes worn off the shoulder. Baianas also wear scarves or turbans wrapped tightly around their heads.

Brightly colored beads are worn by both men and women. These beads have religious symbolic meaning. The color of the beads reflects the African Condomble god that is special to the wearer, known as the person's orixa.


Afro-Brazilian food combines African, Portuguese, and indigenous (native) ingredients and cooking traditions. African peppers and spices are now grown in the tropical northeastern state of Bahia. They are widely used in Afro-Brazilian cooking. Dende oil is extracted from an African palm grown in Brazil. Dende is used to make moqueca, a spicy mix of sautéed shrimp, tomato, and coconut milk.

The most distinctive Afro-Brazilian dish is feijoada, a black bean and pork stew, traditionally cooked in an African-style earthenware pot. Feijoada is considered the national dish of Brazil. Brazilian slaves created feijoada using the discarded pieces of pork (such as the tail, snout, and feet) they were given by their owners. These were stewed slowly with spices and beans. This dish was so tasty that it was soon copied by the slave owners. Feijoada is now made with prime cuts of pork and beef.


Brazil has a serious problem of illiteracy (people unable to read or write). Approximately 20 percent of the Brazilian population is illiterate. Many others have only a rudimentary ability to read. The schools in the poorer neighborhoods where many Afro-Brazilians live have limited resources, and the quality of education is poor. Many Afro-Brazilian children don't attend school because they must begin work at a young age to help the family make ends meet. The low level of education most Afro-Brazilian children receive makes it difficult for them to find employment as young adults.


Most of the slaves brought to Brazil from Africa were illiterate. Slave owners preferred to keep it that way. As a result, an oral tradition of storytelling and history became very important in Afro-Brazilian culture. Family histories, stories, and myths continue to be passed down through successive generations.

Brazil's music traditions draw heavily from traditional African instruments, rhythm, and dance. Samba music, now popular around the world, is a direct descendant of African music. Afro-Brazilian music accompanies afoxes, dance groups that perform to music of the Condomble religion.


Brazil is the fourth-largest country in the world. Work varies by region. In the northeast, cattle-raising and ranching are important activities. In the southeast, sugarcane, cotton, and coffee are grown and exported. Many Afro-Brazilians work as field hands on ranches and large plantations. This is hard work and does not pay very well. In addition, many field workers must live away from their families at harvest time.

Brazil also has industry and manufacturing. Autos, shoes, textiles, and electronic equipment are all made in Brazil. The manufacturing sector does not generate enough employment for the millions of urban favela (slum) dwellers. Many favela residents work as self-employed street vendors or develop home-based enterprises. Many women, for example, work as seamstresses or hairstylists in their homes.


One of the most famous soccer players in the world is Pele (1940), an Afro-Brazilian. (Pele's full name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento.) Pele led the Brazil national team to World Cup championships in 1958, 1962, and 1970. He is so popular that some people think he should run for president of Brazil. Everyone in Brazil plays and watches soccer. The soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro seats 200,000 people and is the largest stadium in the world.

A more distinctive Afro-Brazilian activity is capoeira, a martial art that is more like dancing than fighting. Brought over by slaves from Angola, this form of foot-fighting was banned by slave owners. In order to disguise this practice, slaves transformed foot-fighting into a rhythmic gymnastic dance form. Accompanied by music, capoeira dancers gracefully use arm and leg motions, designed to barely miss the opponent. Well-aimed high kicks skim over the head of the other fighter.


Most entertainment revolves around music and dancing. Preparations for Carnival can begin up to six months in advance of the festival. Samba schools are popular in the favelas (slums). They provide an outlet and form of recreation for many Afro-Brazilian young people.

The other central form of recreation for Afro-Brazilian youths is practicing the national sportsoccer. Brazil is probably the country most enthusiastic about soccer in the world. Both in urban and rural areas, playing soccer is the preferred after-school activity.


In Bahia, the African tradition of cooking in ceramic pots is followed. As a consequence, functional clay pots can be found in many markets. Intricately handcarved rosewood and handmade lace are art forms passed down from generation to generation. Banana leaf fibers are sometime used in place of thread for lacemaking.

In January in Bahia, colorful ribbons are sold that are believed to be good luck. These ribbons must be received as giftsa person should never buy one for himself or herself. The ribbons are tied around the wrist with multiple knots. The wearer makes a wish as each knot is tied. When the ribbons fall off from daily wear, it is believed that the wishes will be granted.

Many Afro-Brazilian arts and crafts are closely linked to African religious traditions. Many objects used in Condomble rituals are produced by skilled goldsmiths in Bahia. Charms and other forms of jewelry traditionally once worn around the waist by slave women in Brazil are still popular today.


Drug trafficking and related violence are serious problems that are on the rise in favelas (slums). Organized gangs sell drugs and engage in other types of crime. In part, this is the result of high unemployment among youths.

Teenagers in the favelas probably did not finish high school, and their employment prospects are bleak. The lure of easy money by selling drugs has drawn many young people into this dangerous activity. Conflicts between competing gangs often lead to violence.


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