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A thing I wrote about Brazilian culture, it might explain how I handle this character in some ways.


Brazilian culture is like a soup. There are several elements that come from different places, but they each add their flavors to the whole, and in turn absorb flavors from others. There are thousands of regional variations on the same few myths, and it’s almost impossible to determine which is the most “correct” or “authentic”. When I discuss a Brazilian myth, it will be influenced by my point of view, that is to say, my family which comes from Curitiba, Joinville, and Minas Gerais. I can’t speak for any other region of Brazil because I do not have the experience. Here is a map, to give you an idea:

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Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese starting from the 1500s. However, they did not know how to survive and adapt in the tropical environment. Eventually, the solution was to intermarry with the natives, becoming part of their nations and using this to their advantage, they would let the natives guide them in their way of life. Many words in Brazilian Portuguese are derived from Tupi, Guarani, and other native languages; In fact, for almost two centuries, the people here did not speak Portuguese, but rather a mix of Tupi-Guarani languages with Portuguese and Spanish, dubbed “General Language”, because it could be more or less understood by natives from north to south. They also contributed concepts such as bathing daily, sleeping in hammocks, and hair-petting, all of which are important aspects of Brazilian daily life nowadays. They are kind of thing a Brazilian will barely notice because it’s so common, but it becomes apparent and defining when moving to another country, for example:

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There is seriously nothing better than good “cafuné”. But after I moved to the US, I’d pet people’s hair without even thinking, and they’d think it was really weird!

After the initial colonization process, there came the African slaves. The Portuguese brought over so many, by the time of Brazil’s independence in 1822, black and mixed-raced people made up 2/3 of the population. Thus, African religions and cultures became firmly entrenched in Brazilian cultures as well. This is where samba music, Candomblé and Umbanda religions, and Capoeira martial arts come from. They spread out to the point that their influences can’t be confined to any single ethnic group, although we are aware of the African origins. For example, I grew up Catholic, but I was still taught to respect the goddess of the sea, Iemanjá.

Later, with the end of slavery, immigration became heavily encouraged. A great number of immigrants from Italy settled in southeastern and southern Brazil, as well as Germans, Polish, Ukrainian immigrants. German and Polish immigration primarily affected the states of Parana and Santa Catarina, which if you look at the map, are where my family is from. In fact, I am half German; nearly my entire family on my dad’s side is made up of German immigrants. Therefore, I am specifically aware of German influence on Brazilian culture, and this may affect how I see some aspects of our society. Keep that in mind.

From this complicated mix of various ethnic groups, the Brazilian cultural identity emerged. In school, sometimes I heard social studies teachers say, “Brazil is unified as a country because we share the same language”, implying we are too diverse to coexist without a single defining trait such as speaking Portuguese. I don’t think that’s true. I think Brazil is an open society where we borrow and share our cultural experiences, therefore enriching our culture as a whole. The Brazilian government encourages cultural and folkloric promotion, and encourages Brazilians to be proud of who they are and how they contribute to society as a whole. This is different from the United States, in that the US tends to adopt either the “melting pot” mentality that absorbs other cultures into their own, or the idea that cultures should remain separate, untouchable; if you take aspects from another culture you will be chastised for “appropriating” someone else’s culture, whereas in Brazil this kind of negative attitude is nearly unheard of. This isn’t to say that I haven’t heard protesting, but they are a tiny minority.

I’m relating this because I think it’s important to understand the different thought process in order to understand why certain myths, festivals, and other folkloric aspects developed in Brazil the way they did. As I said before, it’s hard to determine what is “correct” or “accurate” when you have such a diverse mix from all over the world, each contributing their little pieces to our collective story. I also don’t claim that any particular point of view is any more “right” or “wrong” because I know if I start this debate it might rage on forever. That said I will try my best to portray things in a way that explains who we are as a people without distorting our basic foundations.

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January 2012

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