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Its name derives from the brazilwood tree from which a deep red dye was produced; these trees were once plentiful along the coast.
Area: 8,515,770 sq. km.
Population: 205,823,665 -- 6th in World
Flag: The green represents the forests of the country and the yellow its mineral wealth (the diamond shape roughly mirrors that of the country). The blue circle and stars depict the sky over Rio de Janeiro on the morning of November 15, 1889 -- the day the Republic of Brazil was declared. The number of stars has changed with the creation of new states and has risen from an original 21 to the current 27 (one for each state and the Federal District).
Brazil has been an independent country for so long (since 1822) that some people don’t even realize it was once a Portuguese colony–except that Portuguese is the language of its 206 million people. Brazil is the sixth largest country in the world, the largest in South America, and noted for its dense Amazon rain forest and its coastal beaches. It is a sports power and a land of great economic contrast.
After Vasco da Gama successfully sailed around South Africa, Portuguese King Manuel wanted a repeat voyage and chose Pedro Alvares Cabral to lead a fleet of 13 ships setting off in 1500. They intended to follow the west coast of Africa but somehow they veered westward to the coast of what is now Brazil. They knew they were east of the line established by the Treaty of Tordesillas, so the new land definitely would belong to Portugal.
While the Portuguese had originally named the area Santa Cruz, it soon took its present name from the trees that produced a deep red dye that was highly valued by the European cloth industry. Brazilwood was the first commercial product from the area.
To govern the new land, the Portuguese king decided on a land grant system where huge areas were bestowed on trusted persons who were responsible for bringing in colonists, developing agricultural resources, establishing tax and governmental systems, and in turn having certain financial and legal obligations to Portugal.
Cane sugar, much in demand worldwide, became Brazil’s most important export. The plantation workers needed to produce the sugar became the most important import -- slaves from Africa. Slaves were brought by the millions from both coasts of Africa beginning in the 1560s. As sugar production declined and mining dominated, slaves were shifted to mining. Two-thirds of Brazil’s population in 1800 were African-born or descendants of slaves.
The Gold Rush that followed the 1690 discovery of gold attracted new settlers. The original boundaries (the Treaty of Tordesillas line) gradually moved westward as settlers wanted more space.
In 1807, French and Spanish forces were threatening the Portuguese, so Prince Regent João moved the royal court and government from Lisbon to Brazil. It was highly unusual for the royalty and government to be in a colony of the mother country, so the crown established the “United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves,” essentially making Brazil part of Portugal, not a colony. But in 1821, João went back to Portugal as European governments demanded the return of the government to the continent. He left his son Pedro in charge in Brazil.
Brazilians were demanding independence and Prince Pedro took their side, declaring independence on September 7, 1822, then becoming the first emperor of Brazil. Brazil’s independent beginnings were marked by administrative turmoil, political dissension, localized rebellions, and social tension. Slavery was a central issue. The Atlantic slave trade had ended in 1859, but only in 1888 were slaves freed in Brazil. In 1889, the monarchy was overthrown by a military coup that established a dictatorship. In a 1930 revolution, Getúlio Vargas took over as dictator, and in 1945 he was removed by yet another military coup. In 1956, Juscelino Kubitschek became president. He was noted for the construction of Brasilia, the new capitol city (1960) and remarkable economic and industrial growth. His second successor was deposed by another military coup (1964) that became a dictatorship. Civilians regained power in 1985.
Brazil has a growing and diversified economy. Agricultural products include coffee, oranges, sugarcane, and soybeans. Manufactured goods include cars, steel and petrochemicals, computers, aircraft, and consumer goods. Oil production is important as is tourism. There are free public health services and education for everyone. The literacy rate is over 90%. Racial and ethnic mixing is an important aspect of Brazil where Europeans, Africans, and native Americans have intermarried for centuries. In describing themselves, 48% identify as white, 44% as brown (mixed), 7% as black, 1% as Asian. (The largest Japanese population outside of Japan is in São Paulo.)
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