Capoeira is such an important element of Brazilian culture and identity that we had, in the original idea, chosen to experience the country by immersing ourselves in this unique martial art. Way more than a combat sport, it was developed by African slaves and brings together music, acrobatics and dance in a sort of choreographed performance. As a result of this focus, the idea was to spend most of our time in the state of Bahia, where capoeira originated, and forego some of the country's top tourist attractions such as the Amazon, the colonial towns of Minas Gerais, the Mato Grosso or the beaches of the Northeast. After all, less is often more, particularly when trying to sample a nation so vast and so diverse.
We also thought that learning capoeira would be fun for the kids and teach them a combination of skills that few other things could provide together: musical awareness, flexibility, coordination, strength, discipline and respect. Not only the kids, in fact: it's been one of Leanne's unrealised dreams for years and we hope to continue to play the game for many years after this immersion.
People & Language
Not unlike South Africa, with whom it shares a colonial past, Brazil harbours a tremendous diversity of people. Portuguese settlers mixed with indigenous populations and brought scores of slaves from Africa. Later, migrants from all over Europe and from Asia made this unique cultural mosaic even richer. Brazilian identity is in itself born out of this melting pot. It is hard to pin down without understanding the deep and complex mixture of traditions that composes it.
Though many indigenous tribes still manage to keep their languages and cultures alive, threatened as they are by the advance of modern, globalised Brazilian civilisation, the only dominant language is Portuguese. As the only country in Latin America that does not use Spanish, Brazil weighs heavy in the lusophone community worldwide which is, in sheer numbers, greater than the hispanophone or francophone one largely thanks to it.
We look forward to being able to blog further about Brazil's peaople & languages when we reach its shores towards mid-October 2016, especially since we will spend most of our time in the state of Bahia, which is the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture.
Music & Literature
Guillaume is the music aficionado of the family. For years, he's been a devoted admirer of several genres of Brazilian music. In his eyes, samba, which Caetano Veloso fittingly described as being "the father of pleasure but the son of pain", epitomises the essence of Brazil, which is so skilled at exorcizing sadness and suffering through the spontaneous expression of exuberant joy. After all, it was slaves, who defiantly danced and sang their sorrows away once a year in a huge celebratory explosion, who are at the root of carnival. In most genres, the cultural diversity of the country is also reflected. Forro, which some call the "country music" of Brazil and is its most popular genre, borrows heavily from Portuguese instruments, just as samba borrows both from Portuguese fado and from African rythm and beats. When it then mixed with freer forms of jazz, mostly from the USA, samba was rechristened bossa nova. As elsewhere in Latin America, music also served as an important vehicle for social and generational protest during the turbulent military rule years of the sixties. Artists have therefore played key roles. Gilberto Gil famously suffered imprisonment and exile in his youth before being becoming Minister of Culture in Lula's government.
Admittedly, neither Leanne nor Guillaume have much knowledge of Brazilian literature - limited to a novel of Chico Buarque's (himself a famous bossa nova singer). On the other hand, we have consumed tons of brilliant Brazilian cinema. Some key films of recent years have provided amazing windows into the challenges and beauty of modern Brazilian society.
Surprise, surprise, Brazilians also claim to produce the best grilled meat in South America, if not the world. They're very likely to have endless and futile arguments with South Africans to settle which is superior: churrasco or braai. Watch out though, the Brazilians will show up armed with skewers the size of swords! The one dish that is truly national is the feijoada (pictured here), a black bean and pork stew hearty enough to fill an ogre's stomach (if in doubt, sprinkle a healthy dose of mandioca flour on top, for added measure).
Beyond churrasco and feijoada, specialties tend to be very regional and the state of Bahia definitely brings several jewels to the Brazilian food crown. Seafood - mostly fish and shrimp - and coconuts are at the heart of the diet and they blend in the delicious Bahian stew, the moqueca. You find shrimp again in vatapá, in acarajé (a street snack) and in carurú de camarão. Coconut is ever-present in sweets and desserts, the popular ones being cocadas and quindim. Of course, nothing prevents you from sampling seafood fresh or grilled and to drink coco water straight from the nut, popped open with a machete in true Brazilian style.
Did you know?
Brazil occupies nearly 50% of the total land mass of South America;
From being a Portuguese colony, it became the capital of the empire (Rio) and seat of the Portuguese monarchy in 1808;
Brazil is host to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan;
92% of all new cars sold in Brazil run on bioethanol, extracted from sugar cane;
UNESCO has granted capoeira a special protected status as an intangible cultural heritage;
Brasilia, the capital, was built entirely from scratch and took less than 4 years to build starting in 1956;
The statue of Christ Redeemer overlooking Rio is one of the new 7 wonders of the world and the Amazon rainforest one of the new 7 wonders of nature;
The Amazon represents half of the world's rainforests and hosts an estimated 70 uncontacted indigenous tribes;
The Amazon river discharges roughly 210,00 m3 of water per second into the ocean, which is more than the next 7 largest rivers combined and enough to fill lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, in less than 4 years;
Football is almost a religion in Brazil; they have won the world cup 5 times and export players to the value of USD 200 million each year.