Portuguese settlers began colonizing parts of Brazil during the end of the 16th century. This was unique in that much of South America and the New World were settled by Spanish explorers at the time. During the 17th century, Dutch explorers arrived to several parts of the country too, not recognizing Portuguese rule. Thriving from the sugar cane industry, the Dutch aimed to continue settlements, despite Portuguese hostility. Dutch and Portuguese forces fought in jungle warfare in the 1650’s, leading to the expulsion of the Dutch from their territory. However, a war with Dutch armies off the coast of Portugal in the 1660’s eventually led to Portugal losing its Asian colonies. Meanwhile, Brazil became solely a Portuguese colony. In 1808, following two centuries of Portuguese colonization, Brazil became the center of their vast empire. Napoleon invaded Portugal at the height of his reign, forcing King Dom Joao VI to flee to Rio de Janeiro. Subsequently, Rio became the political and economic heart of the empire until 1821.
The 19th century was also a turbulent yet significant chapter in Brazil’s history. Brazilian independence from Portugal was granted in 1822, although Dom Pedro II of Portugal ruled the empire. Brazil was involved in several wars following the next five decades, including the Palatine War, Paraguayan War and Uruguayan War. Slavery was abolished in 1888, 28 years after the slave trade ceased operations. In 1889, the empire was toppling, giving way to a republic, which ended all colonial-related leadership in Brazil.
In 1988, democracy finally became a mainstream concept for Brazil, following several decades of military involvement in the national government. Even though high-level corruption, social inequalities and high crime still affect the country today, Brazil continues to develop and is earmarked as a potential world power. Much of Brazil’s colonial history is captured within Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum of History (Praca Marechal Ancora, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, 20021-200), or the Museum of the Republic (Old Presidential Palace, 153 Rua do Catete, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) which houses collections of Brazil’s past since it became a republic in 1822.
Brazilian culture is quite unique, even in comparison to other South American nations. Dance and music account for much of Brazil’s extravaganzas, as high importance has been placed on these features within society. However, even within this large nation, many regions of Brazil provide their own ‘twist’ on historical and modern music or dance. Some of the most popular styles that are quintessentially Brazilian include samba, chora and the new urban creation, funk. There are even popular dances and music that have been entrenched in the nation’s culture since the African slaves. Umbanda has a massive following within many parts of the country. In addition to music, African roots are also evident in the popular martial art/dance capoeira. Visitors shouldn’t miss capoeira exhibitions, which are popularized by amazing handstands, flips and infectious beats. People in Brazil are generally fun-loving with a friendly attitude towards foreigners. Football, dance and music are the lifeblood of the country, so it isn’t surprising that local football styles are often characterized by mesmerizing movements and a fast-paced rhythm. This ‘style’ has been successful for the national team on the world stage. Brazil is one of the most multicultural places on Earth. However, much of the Diasporas in the country have been ingrained in local society for many decades, sometimes centuries. Japanese, Italian, German, and Spanish migrants have blended with early African, native South American and Portuguese populations to create a true ‘rainbow’ nation.
Portuguese is the national language in Brazil and is spoken by 99% of the population, making it one of the strongest elements of national unity. The only exceptions are certain indigenous groups and immigrants who have preserved their native languages. There are major variations in the Portuguese languages spoken in Brazil and Portugal. In Brazil, there are no dialects, but regional variations in vocabulary and accent. The Brazilian sign language, LIBRAS, is a descent of the French sign language and is officially recognized by law, although it has limited use.
Temperatures along the equator are high, averaging above 25°C, but not reaching the summer extremes of up to 40°C in the temperate zones. There is little seasonal variation near the equator, although at times it can get cool enough for wearing a jacket, especially in the rain. At the country’s other extreme, there are frosts south of the Tropic of Capricorn during the winter (June-August), and in some years there is snow in the mountainous areas, such as the Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. Temperatures in the cities of São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Brasília are moderate (usually between 15°C and 30°C), despite their relatively low latitude, because of their elevation of approximately 1,000 meters. Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and Salvador on the coast have warm climates, with average temperatures ranging from 23°C to 27°C, but enjoy constant trade winds.
Precipitation levels vary widely. Most of Brazil has moderate rainfall of between 1,000 and 1,500 millimeters a year, with most of the rain falling in the summer (between December and April) south of the Equator. The Amazon region is notoriously humid, with rainfall generally more than 2,000 millimeters per year and reaching as high as 3,000 millimeters in parts of the western Amazon and near Belém. It is less widely known that, despite high annual precipitation, the Amazon rain forest has a three- to five-month dry season, the timing of which varies according to location north or south of the equator.