Characterizing the racial breakdown of Brazil is even more complex than characterizing that of America. For more than 500 years, the intermarriage of indigenous Indians, Europeans, and Africans has produced a Brazilian culture of uniquely blended ethnicities, where almost 40 percent of the population is mulatto (mixed white and black). Despite a wide range of complexions, religions, and histories, and some racial discrimination and tensions throughout history, Brazilian society remains for the most part unified. However, recent bills proposing job-preferment quotas for people of African ancestry, akin to Affirmative Action policies in the U.S., may introduce new racial dividing lines. WIDE ANGLE presents a photo essay of the faces, the identities, and the shades of modern Brazil.
- Brazilians of mixed Portuguese descent
The Portuguese colonized Brazil at the start of the 16th Century when Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal. The first European ethnic stock in Brazil, they created the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas where the current population is about 74 percent Roman Catholic. The intermarriage between the Portuguese and indigenous people or African slaves was common, producing today's multi-hued society. Here, children in Guaribas City in northeastern Brazil pose for the camera.
Credit: REUTERS/Bruno Domingos
- Brazil's Indigenous Indians
It is estimated that when the Portuguese colonized Brazil in 1500, there were between 2 and 5 million indigenous Indians in the country. The Portuguese brought with them diseases, for which the Indians had no immunity; by 1950, the population had dropped to about 100,000. Today the Brazilian government offers some official protection to Indians in the form of reservations, and their population has tripled in the last fifty years. Most indigenous Brazilians (including the Tupí and Guaraní Indians) reside in the border regions in the north and in the Amazon River Basin, home to the world's largest rainforest. Today, the full-blooded Indians make up less than one percent of the population. Here, Brazilian Indian women from the Kayapo nation sing and dance during the Indigenous Nations' Games in the coastal Brazilian state of Bahia.
Credit: REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
- Brazilians of African descent
Brazil has the largest African-descended population in the world, outside of Africa. It is estimated that during the slave trade -- from the late 1500s until the late 1800s -- about three and a half million Africans were transported to Brazil. Most came from present-day Guinea, as well as from the Congo and Angola. African slaves worked mainly on sugar and coffee plantations, as well as in gold mines until 1888, when Brazil become the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery. Here, a young descendent of Brazilian slaves lives in the remote all-black community of Sao Jose. The community is located 200 kilometers northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
- Brazilians of Middle Eastern descent
Approximately 10 million Brazilians are of Middle Eastern descent, primarily from Lebanon and Syria. In his book "The Brazilian People," Darcy Ribeiro explains, "The Arabs have been the most successful immigrants, quickly becoming integrated into Brazilian life and attaining positions in the government." Several of today's important Brazilian politicians emigrated from the Middle East, including Sao Paulo's former mayor Paulo Maluf. Another popular trade for Arab immigrants is in textiles and clothing. Here, a Brazilian woman of Lebanese descent takes part in a July 26, 2006 protest rally in Rio de Janeiro against Israel's air strikes on Lebanon.
Credit: REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
- Brazilians of Japanese descent
The largest Japanese community outside Japan is in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with a total population of about a million and a half. The Japanese began emigrating to Brazil at the turn of the century, lured by jobs on coffee plantations, which were plentiful since the abolition of slavery in 1888. Unlike other immigrants who've assimilated into Brazilian society, Darcy Ribeiro explains in his book THE BRAZILIAN PEOPLE, "they never cease to be Japanese Brazilians, because they carry it on their faces." Here, voters in a Japanese neighborhood of Sao Paulo wait on line during the 2002 presidential elections.
Credit: REUTERS/Sergio Moraes