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Brazil: Places, Culture, Tradition

Brazil: Places, Culture, Tradition

May 20, 2021 8 min read

One of the biggest countries in the world, with forests, lands, beaches, and coastlines. A land that “has palm trees, where the Thrush sings,”, according to the poet Gonçalves Dias. A place where various cultures and religions coexist. The home of samba, caipirinhas, and the world-renowned style of football. These are just some of the things for which Brazil is known around the world. Being the fifth-largest country on the planet, it comes as no surprise that Brazil is a world within itself: a place of multiple traditions, perspectives, and horizons. Today, we’ll try to cover some of these interesting facts about this complex and beautiful nation. Let’s get to it!

A brief history of Brazil and its heritage

Brazil has been inhabited by many indigenous civilizations for a very long time: the Tupinambás, the Tupiniquins, the Aimorés, the Tamoios, the Potiguaras, the Xingu peoples, and many others. With established societies, cultures, and specific agriculturalist systems of their own, it is believed that there were around 2,000 different indigenous nations making up the original inhabitants of Brazil. Also, it is estimated that more than 1,000 languages were spoken by Indigenous peoples before the Europeans arrived. These civilizations provided the foundations of Brazil’s cultural heritage.

After the arrival of the Portuguese, large parts of the territory were claimed as part of their empire, and Brazil went through complex political, social, and economic changes. From a colony in the Capitaincies period (territorial grants by the king of Portugal), Brazil eventually developed into part of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves, with the capital being established in Rio de Janeiro in 1808.

Another fundamental part of Brazil’s history and heritage are the many African civilizations that were brought to the country during its slavery period, which ended in 1888. Most of these peoples were from West Africa, such as the Bantu, the Yoruba, the Hausa and the Fula. Their languages, cultures and traditions have contributed immensely to Brazil’s diversity and cultural landscape.

After achieving its independence from Portugal in 1822, the country became a constitutional monarchy (the Brazilian empire), which was followed by the Proclamation of the Republic in 1889. Through many political changes, Brazil has established itself as a federal republic under a presidential government system.

Today, Brazil is considered an advanced developing economy, with the local currency being the Brazilian Real (BRL). Composed of 26 states (and a Federal District), the country shares borders with every South American country with the exception of Chile and Ecuador. It even has archipelagos! The most famous one is Fernando de Noronha, part of the State of Pernambuco and located more than 350 kilometers from the Brazilian coast.

Brazil is home to more than 212 million people, having received many migrants and diasporas throughout the years. And, as expected, there are many Brazilians who currently live in another country, with almost 2 million Brazilian expats all over the globe.

Brazil’s multicultural traditions

Brazil’s cultural life – its music, religions, languages, art and other aspects – has three primary origins: its indigenous tribes, Africa, and Portugal. Perhaps the best example of this is the language itself: while Portuguese is the official language, one can find many words used in day-to-day conversation that have either Indigenous or African origins. That’s without mentioning the dialects that came later with the arrival of Italian and German migrants.

And what about Brazilian holiday traditions, such as the world-famous Carnaval? Well, that can be linked to Brazil’s cultural and religious roots, too. Being a predominantly Catholic country, Brazil observes many religious holidays. Carnaval itself is a celebration before the period of Lent, in preparation for Easter. Along the same lines, there are other religious national holidays, such as the Our Lady of Aparecida Day on October 12, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patroness of the country. And, on November 20th, the Black Consciousness Day is celebrated, to honor Zumbi dos Palmares, a leader of the resistance against slavery, and the contributions of African culture as a whole.

Brazilian music is yet another fascinating chapter in this mix of influences and origins. Samba, one of the most popular musical genres from Brazil, originates from African culture. Bossa nova, with its exquisite chords and beats, was born from Samba. Then there are more regional styles, such as Frevo and Forró, associated with the Northeast region, and Sertanejo, connected to the Brazilian countryside.

And then there’s another very enticing aspect of Brazilian culture: gastronomy.

Brazilian Cuisine: Food, Drinks, Sweets

As with any other cultural aspect of Brazilian life, food has multiple origins. The combination of Indigenous, African, and European cultures has produced a plethora of tasty dishes that are immensely popular both in Brazil and abroad.

  • Feijoada: the popular national dish, it consists of a black bean, pork, and beef stew. Thanks to its ingredients, it can be considered a full meal in and of itself, which might be why it’s also prepared and consumed in other Portuguese-speaking countries.
  • Churrasco / Brazilian barbecue: primarily associated with the state of Rio Grande do Sul, churrasco is a nationwide tradition and is typically served in many restaurants under a style called rodízio, where meats are served directly from barbecue sticks onto the plates.
  • Moqueca: traditionally served in the state of Espírito Santo under the name moqueca capixaba, Moqueca is a delicious stew made with seafood, such as fish and shrimp, along with tomato sauce and herbs such as coriander.
  • Acarajé: with a West African origin, acarajé is an essential street food item in Bahia. It is fried and made with a cowpeas-based dough. Similar versions can be found in other countries, but the acarajé from Salvador is unique – and delicious.
  • Pão de Queijo: Quite typical from the state of Minas Gerais, pão de queijo is a special type of baked cheese bread, usually eaten for breakfast (as it goes really well with coffee).
  • Açaí: the berries of the açaí palm tree are crushed into a pulp that can be consumed in many ways. The most popular of these is açaí na tigela, a dessert made with the frozen pulp itself. This food is very traditional in the states of Pará and Amazonas, but it is enjoyed all over the country.
  • Brigadeiro: a must-have Brazilian sweet, it is a staple in Brazilian birthday parties and other celebrations. Made with condensed milk, cocoa, butter, and covered with chocolate sprinkles, this dessert is one of the true gems of Brazilian gastronomy.
  • Cachaça & Caipirinha: Cachaça, distilled from sugar cane, is considered the national liquor. With it, the world-famous Brazilian cocktail caipirinha is made – a mix of cachaça, sugar, and lime.

Places to visit in Brazil

While the options of interesting places to go in Brazil are abundant, here’s a list of just a few of them – widely celebrated locations to help you decide on your next visit.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is a microcosm of Brazil, with its history, beautiful landscapes, and complexities. Rio is famous for its beaches (such as Ipanema, Barra da Tijuca and Copacabana), locations like the Sugarloaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, sport venues such as the Maracanã stadium and, of course, its Carnaval celebrated in the Sambódromo. Also, there are many natural parks to see in the city and its surroundings, such as the Tijuca National Park and the Pedra Branca State Park, where Rio’s highest peak is located. It’s not surprising that Rio de Janeiro is the top destination for tourists in Brazil.

Florianópolis

The capital of Santa Catarina State, Florianópolis is famous for its beaches, some of them dedicated to surfing, for its natural recreation areas like the Lagoa da Conceição district, and for its hotels and resorts. As part of a large island, also called Santa Catarina, Florianópolis is a lively and dynamic city with a healthy serving of jaw-dropping natural landscapes.

Ceará

The northeastern State of Ceará, once an area disputed between the Portuguese and the Dutch during the colonial period, is a popular touristic area due to its wide variety of parks, historic landmarks, resorts, and other many places of interest. Apart from the capital city of Fortaleza, with its lively cultural life and its famous beachside restaurants, Ceará comprises unique locations such as the Canoa Quebrada beach, the Jericoacoara National Park, and the village of Cumbuco, a world-famous site for kitesurfing.

Bahia

Named after Bahia de Todos os Santos, or “Bay of all Saints”, the state of Bahia is one of the most active touristic areas of Brazil. With its cities, nature, cultural landmarks, beaches, and recreational areas, Bahia has a bit of everything, really. The capital city of Salvador, is famous for its history, its unmistakable colonial architecture, and its widely celebrated Carnaval festivities. Bahia also has natural wonders, such as the Diamantina Tableland (Chapada Diamantina) and the Abrolhos Marine National Park.

São Paulo

The Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo, the largest Portuguese-speaking city on Earth, is the economic center of Brazil, but also a place of rich culture and gastronomy. Home to many different diasporas, such as Arab and Italian, São Paulo gives true meaning to the word “cosmopolitan.” Additionally, the São Paulo State offers a coastline with special locations (like Ubatuba and São Sebastião), rural / ecotourism in countryside cities, and a winter festival in the city of Campos do Jordão (the highest city in Brazil, 1,628 meters above sea level).

Manaus

The capital of the State of Amazonas, the city was named after the Manaós indigenous peoples. It is a truly special place, located in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest. Manaus has many things to offer: its landmarks (such as the Amazonas Opera House), its cultural festivals, its important institutions such as the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA), and the opportunity to see something truly incredible: the Meeting of Waters. This is when the dark waters of the Negro River join the sand-colored Solimões river, which in turn feed into the mighty Amazon River.

And there you have it! We hope we’ve been able to provide a small glimpse into this beautiful country, its culture, food, and places to visit.

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About the author

Arthur Guzzo

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