Brazil: From Samba Dance to Congada Rituals

Florianópolis, Brazil - February 23, 2020: Image of a beautiful Brazilian woman performing at the Carnaval parade
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Brazil, the largest nation in South America, is known for its beaches, rainforests, and vibrant city life. It is home to people of Portuguese, Indigenous, and African ancestry and is a culturally rich society in Latin America. Popular features include Samba dance and Congada rituals.

How the Brazilian Culture Is Portrayed in the Social Arena

Think of any global event within and outside Brazil. Brazilians have a way of bringing their vibes and leaving a mark on the world. We sampled a few below:

Active Involvement in Congada

It is the second Sunday of October, and local residents dressed in colorful garb fill the streets of Brazil. Vibrant drum beasts echo through the streets as thousands march, dance, and wave brightly colored ribbons while heading toward Our Lady of the Rosary Church. That’s Congada for you! African slaves in the late-1600s were the first people to participate in Congada, a folk dance with Portuguese, African, and Spanish roots.

Today, the dance merges African and Roman Catholic rituals and is a symbol of the coexistence of religions, cultures, and races in the biggest nation in Latin America. After mass, people go back to the streets to visit others in their homes. The home visits represent a fulfillment of their vows to Our Lady of the Rosary. During nightfall, the participants head back to church for another mass, marking the end of the Congada.

Love for Football and Allegiance to a Soccer Team

Brazil’s unofficial country motto is: o Pais do Futebol, which means country of football. Known as soccer in the United States, football is the most popular sport in Brazil. In fact, the game plays a crucial role in daily living and culture. Employers even give personnel time off to go watch FIFA World Cup games. In neighborhood restaurants and bars. you will hear adults discussing matches while enjoying a meal.  On the streets,  you will see children playing football. Did you know that children in Brazil are taught football almost as soon as they begin to walk? Whether the training occurs in a professional field, on the Ipanema beach, in rural areas, or in a shanty town in Rio de Janeiro, it’s all the same. The game goes past competition as children also learn to be responsible, persistent, fair, and determined — both on and off the field.

Ecstatic brazilian fan watching a football game, World Cup

An event like the Copa do Brasil, or the Brazilian Cup, which is held annually, perpetuates the football culture and maintains enthusiasm for the game. Locals have a national team they passionately support, no matter their gender or age. In fact, selecting a team to cheer for is a vital milestone in a young Brazilian’s life. Children, in most cases, join one of their parents’ fan clubs. Regardless of the prevalent support for the local teams, the magnificence of Brazilian football culture is depicted in international events like the FIFA World Cup. The whole country unites to support the Brazilian football team.

Giving Offerings to Lemanja

Every New Year, Brazilians from different religions celebrate the goddess of the sea, Lemanja. The celebrations are spectacular and attract huge crowds, especially in Salvador. The worshippers honor this deity by giving her offerings. Traditionally, the locals raise shrines in the sand and offer presents like cigarettes, fruit, perfume, and candles. They also make tiny replica boats with statues of Lemanja and send the small vessels to sea with coconut puddings, sweet rice, and other treats. In case a gift is washed up on the shore, it is believed that the goddess has refused it. If the present remains in the waters, then that’s a sign that she has accepted the offerings and will release blessings.

Eating Feijoada on Wednesdays

Wednesday is the day on which Brazilians enjoy Feijoada, a black bean stew prepared with smoked meat cuts. On Wednesdays, most restaurants include that dish on their lunch menu. This customary meal draws everybody around the table to share food, chat, and laugh. Historically, the Feijoada, a Portuguese stew that originated from Ancient Rome, has been Brazil’s main dish. Nevertheless, it has become a complete food after being modified and adapted in each region.

You may ask: Why is the cuisine mainly eaten on Wednesday? Well, the day falls right at the center of the week. However, unknown to many, the real basis for choosing Wednesday can be attributed to the Portuguese heritage. The settlers used to eat particular dishes on certain days of the week. It’s amazing how Brazilians have taken up this Portuguese habit and now follow it religiously.

Performance of the Samba Dance

Samba is normally called the dance of the Brazilians, and UNESCO terms it an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” The rhythm and movement of Samba date back to African slave dances performed on the Brazilian sugarcane plantations. Although Samba in its original form was initially frowned upon by non-slaves, it proved to be irresistible in the long run. The dance’s popularity soon spread across classes and even borders. Currently, Samba is the most popular dance in Brazil and reaches its peak significance during the Carnaval festival.

Meant to celebrate the start of Catholic Lent, the festival is a marvelous spectacle of Samba dancing, a performance characterized by energetic, rocking step combinations and hip action. Accompanied by Samba music with strong percussive rhythms, the dance portrays pleasurable, teasing, and sometimes flirtatious conduct by dancers across a range of styles. At the moment, multiple variations of the Samba are a basis of pre-Lenten carnival in Rio De Janeiro and Latin ballrooms all over the world. The dance has evolved into a partner dance, solo dance, a street performance, and a hybrid that incorporates rock, acrobatics, and even reggae.

Multiculturalism-A Unique Aspect of the Brazilian Culture

Although Brazilian culture is predominantly Western, due to Portuguese colonialism, influences from the indigenous peoples and Africans are apparent. As such, the country prides itself on being a multicultural society, reflecting a range of traditions. For instance, the Brazilians obtained their official language (Portuguese) from the colonialists. However, the way people speak this language in Brazil is not the same as those in Portugal. This is because nearly 20,000 words from native Indians living in Brazil have been integrated into the language.

When it comes to religion, it’s also clear that there’s a blend of cultures. Two-thirds of the population practices Roman Catholicism, a religion that was introduced and spread widely by the Portuguese Jesuits. Interestingly, many of the Catholic saints in the Latin country are said to have African heritage. The patron saint of Brazil, Our Lady of Aparecida, is a good example. According to history, the virgin was found by runaway slaves as they headed to Quilombo, a community of runaway slaves. Another example is St. Benedict, who is honored in Our Lady of the Rosary Church and was a slave from North Africa. He supposedly made a vow to commit himself to Catholicism if he was freed. It’s even common for Brazilians to practice Christianity side by side with traditional spiritual rituals like voodoo, Macumba, Congada, Xango, from African culture.

Brazilian cuisine varies greatly by region, reflecting the nation’s history and mix of native and immigrant cultures. This has led to the creation of a nationwide cooking style characterized by the conservation of regional variations.  There are also common dishes marked by an African presence, and they include, Vatapa (spicy cassava flour mix) and Bahia (ground bean donut). Another well-known dish is the Para dish, native to Para Brazil and mainly draws influence from the African, Indian, and Portuguese cultures.

What Places Brazilian Culture Ahead of Others?

In a highly globalized world, many countries have abandoned significant parts of their cultures due to external influence. Yet, Brazil is one of those few societies that have managed to keep their way of life intact with minimal interruption from modern civilizations. This has, in turn, put the nation’s culture on the world map. A detailed analysis of the Brazilian lifestyle reveals a number of factors that make the culture stand out and remain ahead of others. Let’s look at them below:

Passion

As seen earlier, Brazilians do not shy away from expressing their customs publicly and are fervent about every aspect of their culture. They always have an excuse to sing, dance, play football, perform at a festival, and more. It’s not unusual to find locals performing music and dances on street corners, bars, and street markets, all day long. Football is also not restricted to official sports venues. The community plays the sport in multiple locations, including beaches, parks, streets, and school playgrounds.

Festive Mood

Locals residents are often in a celebratory mood, thanks to a variety of festivals, with at least one cultural event a month. Brazilians celebrate the Festa Junina event throughout June and even into the first days of July. Festa Junina honors three saints—St. John, St. Anthony, and St. Peter— to thank them for an abundant harvest. These events enable Brazilians to showcase unique perspectives on local customs, culture, and beliefs. They also attract millions of tourists yearly, giving them a chance to create special memories full of excitement, color, and joy.

Values

Last but not least, the values of Brazilian culture are beyond admirable. Respect, honesty, patience, and trust are emphasized in families and other close relationships. Local residents are also kind and compassionate, features that may have driven Forbes to rank Brazil among some of the top friendliest nations worldwide. If you are visiting the country, there’s a guarantee that you will receive a number of invitations to dinners or parties whether you know people or not. It takes less time to become someone’s buddy because there are fewer obstacles to overcome. This can be attributable to a philosophy the locals share: “a stranger is just a friend you have not met yet.” Nearly everywhere you visit, you are welcomed with a genuine smile. Instead of being Xenophobic, the people are even more interested to know you after discovering you’re a foreigner.

If anything, the Brazilian way of life teaches us to love and appreciate our own customs. Brazilians celebrate their heritage from anywhere. They have integrated their culture into daily life and use every opportunity to celebrate it. From dancing to the sound of Samba music to eating Feijoada on Wednesdays, pledging loyalty to a soccer team, and participating in street parades, Brazilians show us that we can delight in our uniqueness. What’s more, we can learn a thing or two from the country’s multiculturalism. As such, it’s essential to tolerate diversity and even share customs. This will not only promote unity but also inculcate a culture of respect among different communities.

 

Edited by Sharon Rosenberg

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