The history of territorial and cultural conquests can provide valuable insight into a region and help us to understand the political and economic climate of the world today. An example of this effect can be seen in how native Brazilian life was changed, not always for the better, when Portugal invaded the shores of Rio Buranhem. The arrogant and dismissive attitudes these European conquerors had toward the natives particularly highlighted the negative impact their presence had on the indigenous population.
In Brazil, the European conquerors saw a land with a great capacity for exploration and exploitation, both material and human. They undervalued the natives found there.
This arrogant attitude of the colonizers generated a very negative view of them by the natives, which fired back in various fields of knowledge. According to Marlon de Oliveira, writer for the Journal of Humanity in Brazil, “The colonization has left deep scars and rooted in the new world, the process of holding even taking a predatory character, was the basis of formation of the Brazilian people, but proved to be the apex of mercenary greed of power. The monoculture of sugar cane […] became the master spring of colonization […] and exorbitant profits that generated those presented as civilized men and great faith.” In addition, slavery helped to promote colonization, which lead to the unification of all races that created a mass of brave people despite the past suffering and embracing the past glories. The Brazilian people have struggled with the effects of colonization because of the corrupt way the powerful upper class treat the poorer lower class, the destruction of indigenous culture, and even though colonization has led to class divisions and the destruction of indigenous culture, it has led to a diverse but united population.
When the Europeans first arrived in the Brazilian territory, a fairly homogenous indigenous population lived there in terms of culture and language. Usually the Indians had their source of food from hunting animals, fishing, and agriculture. Its economy was basically subsistence and for their own consumption, occasionally they would tradefood items with other villages. The arrival of Portuguese people represented a true disaster for the indigenous Brazilian society since the Portuguese mercantilist project did not included the natives as partners. Coming far away from Europe through their huge caravels, the conquerors knew what they were there for and the Indians would have to submit themselves to that project. The contact with Europeans resulted to the Indians very negative effects with such exploitation, cultural violence, epidemics and deaths. In fact, it was a catastrophe since there weremillions of Indians living there at that time, and now only 300,000 are living there today.
Since they first arrived in Brazil, Portuguese people treated the natives as subordinates. This sense of separation between powerful and subordinate is somewhat sustained in the Brazilian culture still today because of this initial treatment of locals. Now, there are still a small number of people in power who subordinate a lot of the population stemming from this original culture during colonization. In the more recent years a middle class has began to emerge, but for most of history the gap between upper and lower class has been very large and unwavering. In an article on BBC News, Roberto DaMatta, Brazilian Anthropologist stated that “ [Brazilian] love for titles and hierarchy is part of [the] Portuguese heritage. People here want to be seen as different, as superior to the others, and don’t like mixing.” (qtd. in Cabral) In a somewhat recent study from Data Popular, researchers found that 55% of upper class believes products should have versions for different social classes and 50% say that badly dressed people should not be allowed into certain places. All of these attitudes and statistics stem from the origins of Portuguese culture when they first colonized Brazil, and unfortunately the problem still exists today. The problems have brought into focus “Brazilians resistance to equality” (DaMatta qtd. in Cabral). However, a large part of the problem is space as well. For example, airports have become more and more crowded because as more people are beginning to afford travel, the airports are unable to accommodate the large rush of people that is so much bigger than before. While internally, many powerful, upper-class Brazilians feel the need to resist the opening of a middle class and support of the lower class, it will be a conflict until the traditional ways are able to be forgotten and the people can move forward and develop a more equal society.
When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil they used violence and treated the Indians as inferiors, thus destroying their culture. Upon observing the Portuguese culture for a number of days the natives became fascinated with their way of life. The Portuguese misunderstood this fascination for docility and took advantage of it. Because Portugal had a more powerful force when they arrived on the shores of Brazil, their culture overtook the native’s social, religious and political customs. The Portuguese people claimed that these changes and introduction of their culture would civilize the natives, who in their point of view were primitive and ancestral, and this would improve their living conditions. However, their main purpose of introducing their way of life was to take advantage of the defenseless native Brazilians and explore their natural resources.Indigenous religious rituals were devalued when they were to be replaced by Portuguese Roman Christianity, through missions taken by the Jesuits. This train of thought was also made clear by Spanish colonization in other countries in South America, also causing more changes of indigenous tradition as a whole. However, it did not take long before the indigenous Brazilians began to defend themselves and the Portuguese learned that although the society was not advanced in some way, their skills at defending themselves were very advanced.
Furthermore, the original language of the native inhabitants disappeared passing the value to the colonizer’s language. In the case of Brazil, the Portuguese language was adapted, which is the official language in present day. While the destruction of the indigenous culture was tragic for the natives and eliminated a lot of what could have been identifiable in Brazilian culture today, the invasion and colonization of the Portuguese helped to enrich in some aspects to the Brazilian way of life. The colonization proved to be good for the country and today some aspects of the Portuguese culture is evident in Brazil, as mentioned before, most identifiable the official language of Portuguese (Portuguese Colonization of Brazil).
The process of Portuguese colonization of Brazil was equally complex and challenging. It had serious impacts on the indigenous culture. Before the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, its indigenous populations lived without any centralized authority. They were divided into clans and tribes. Tupi-speaking people made up the majority of the indigenous populations in Brazil, and Tupi suffered the greatest cultural damage as a result of colonization. Leighton James Hughes writes that the relationships between colonizers and the indigenous populations of Brazil were extremely poor. In the words of Hughes, such relationships created the basis for the success of colonization for the Portuguese. Certainly, religion and language were the primary aspects of the indigenous culture that suffered as a result of colonization. However, while conversion to Christianity displaced the historical values and principles cherished by the indigenous tribes, the introduction of the Portuguese language eventually benefited Brazilians. Religion often served as a justification of colonization and brutality that accompanied it. The Portuguese criticized the indigenous tribes for their cultural practices, including cannibalism. At the same time, according to Alida C. Metcalf, Jesuits had to develop sophisticated and inventive arguments to make the indigenous tribes interested in the religion, which was new to them (99). “Translating Christianity required more than the simple exchange of one set of words for another; Jesuit missionaries had to present Christianity in ways that appealed to the Indians of Brazil” (Metcalf 99). Still, as a result of conversion to Christianity, the indigenous tribes lost their cultural and religious uniqueness. Their self-expression was suppressed, coupled with other negative results of colonization, including corruption.
Native Brazilian people have suffered corruption since the Portuguese conquerors first arrived in Brazil until now-days. Each passing year the expectations for a better future increase among the citizens. Many expectations that accompanied these political and economic reforms were a more clean and efficient democratic government. However, corruption scandals have brought down Brazilians hope for improvements. Unfortunately, income disparities in Brazil continue to persist. While most Brazilians hope for improvements, these improvements are too slow to come. In 2011, Joe Leahy, a reporter for Financial Times, published the results of Brazil’s 2010 census. The results confirmed that every fourth citizen in Brazil lived on less than $188 per month, and every second citizen earned less than $375 on a monthly basis. It should be noted that the minimum wage in Brazil in 2010 was $510 (Leahy). Nonetheless, the situation is not as negative as it seems. Leahy further reports the growing number of Brazilians who belong to the emerging middle class. Between 2003 and 2010, 33 million Brazilians moved from poverty to the middle class, earning between $1,200 and $5,174 per household (Leahy). Still, Brazil is just at the beginning of its economic evolution, although it has the human and material resources needed to translate their economic dreams into reality.
Brazil’s ethnic makeup is so unique and one of the richest in the world. However, behind this ethnically strong country, there are two groups that have caused problems historically because of their inequality and discrimination. As slave trade began in the mid 1550’s, the indigenous people and African’s were the main source of slavery. With the Portuguese colonizing Brazil, there were many crops that needed tending to and this was the primary reason for needing slaves. With this the Africans and the indigenous people automatically and permanently received lower class standing. The slavery was a positive thing for Brazil in that it created brilliant ethnic diversity in the country, but it is not so great in the fact that it caused a lot of ethnic inequality and turmoil, especially for the indigenous and the Africans. Ethnic minorities from Japan, North Africa, and the Middle East have helped to shape Brazil into a country with a very strong national identity today. Arabs migrated into Brazil in order to escape the instability and wars of their own countries. Arab immigrants often had an easier time migrating into Brazil because with the color of their skin they also appeared to be Brazilian natives. Japanese also occupy a large part of Brazil after they immigrated during a time of poverty and low job opportunity in Japan seeking employment at the newly blossoming farming industry in Japan. In fact, Brazil hosts the largest number of Japanese people outside of Japan than anywhere else in the world. Japanese did not integrate into the culture as smoothly because they looked physically different. However, as time went on, they were integrated into the culture flawlessly. Today, a part of the major city, São Paulo, called Liberdade, more closely resembles a part of Tokyo than the Latin America city in which it resides. Although Brazil had a rocky start to its ethnic diversity and inequality, it is evident today that a wide variety of race, ethnicities, and cultures are present in the country. This makes the country so rich with culture and provides it with a national identity.
Recent statistics suggest that Brazil is a multi-ethnic and highly culturally diverse country. Based on the results of the 2010 Census, non-white people make up the majority of Brazilian populations (BBC). Of the 191 million living in Brazil in 2010, only 91 million identified themselves as whites (BBC). 82 million recognized themselves as belonging to mixed races (BBC). The proportion of whites fell from almost 54 percent in 2000 to less than 48 percent in 2010 (BBC). As for the minority groups living in Brazil, 817,000 identified themselves as members of indigenous groups and 2 million identified themselves as Asians (BBC).
Yet, all these cultural and ethnic groups live in harmony and peace. Brazil is well-known for its high levels of tolerance towards cultural and ethnic diversity. One of the most notable signs of this harmony is the changing social and legal status of numerous minority groups in Brazil. Esther Jean Langdon, Professor of the Anthropology Department at the UFSC Human Sciences Center, cites numerous international and state decrees and agreements that empower indigenous communities and minority groups to develop and flourish in their native land. In the last twenty-five years, the number of Indian organizations and their activity has increased significantly (Langdon). These organizations represent the unprecedented diversity that is characteristic of the Indian minority. It consists of multiple groups, cultures, and native languages, micro societies of between 200 and 1,000 people (Langdon). The National Indian Foundation, the Sub-System of Indian Health, national social policies covering the needs of indigenous people and minorities imply the growing attention to the issues of cultural diversity. These policies, organizations, and actions create an atmosphere of harmony, which distinguishes Brazil from many other multicultural countries. It seems that even the years of oppressive colonization did not change the historical commitment of Brazilian people to multiculturalism and diversity. Today, the Brazilian society works together to achieve common economic, social, and cultural goals. The historical legacy of oppression is difficult to forget, but Brazil has everything needed to become a prosperous country.
Brazil historically had a difficult time during the colonization period. There was a lot of problems between allowing outsiders in, integrating new cultures, and learning to accept those who were different races. However, now that Brazil has advanced past most of these issues, minus the large gap between upper and lower class, it is a great country with a historically rich background and a beautiful national identity. The country of Brazil itself has one of the biggest and most celebratory populations in the world, along with one of the biggest cities in the world, São Paulo. Looking at its history it is a miracle they progressed to where they are today.