Brazil is a unique country in South America. It is the largest country on the continent and the fifth largest in the world. Its population of 200 million demonstrates a diverse mix of race, religion, country of origin, and cultural heritage. The striking contrast between the north and the south is easily noticeable, but there are many interesting nuances of life and culture in Brazil that every visitor should be aware of.
A Diverse Population
Brazil prides itself on having a diverse population due in part to its largest proportion of people who come from mixed race families. In 2008, 48% identified themselves as white, 44% as mixed race, and 7% as black.
A Country of Immigrants
Brazil has received a large number of immigrants in the past 150 years. Immigrants came to work as farmers and in the coffee plantations where they provided labor for the coffee industry. The bulk of these coffee workers were from Italy. Beginning in the 1930s, a large number of immigrants from Japan came, resulting in São Paulo being home to the largest number of Japanese people outside of Japan. Immigrants from Germany, Eastern Europe, Syria, and Lebanon also settled in Brazil, mostly in the south, and recent immigration waves have included immigrants from China and Korea.
As a result of such large immigration to Brazil, Brazilian culture contains many aspects of immigrants' cultures, especially in the cuisine.
Brazil is a Catholic country, with about 64% of the population identifying themselves as Roman Catholic. In fact, Brazil has the largest Roman Catholic population of any one country in the world. However, religion in Brazil is more complex than it may first appear because the country has a spiritual society that results from both Catholicism and religious traditions from African slaves and indigenous groups.
The number of people who do not practice Catholicism is notable, and this number has increased in recent years. According to the 2010 census, Almost one-quarter of the population are Protestant, and Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants. Another roughly eight percent identify no religion, while about two percent of the population identify themselves as followers of Spiritism.
One unique aspect of religion in Brazil is the practice of religions from Africa. Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda were brought to Brazil by slaves or were inspired by religious traditions from Africa. These religions are mostly concentrated in the northeast of Brazil, in places like Salvador and Recife, although adherents can be found anywhere in Brazil. Some Brazilians even practice both Catholicism and an Afro-Brazilian religion.
Brazil was a colony of Portugal until the early 19th century and today is the world's largest Portuguese-speaking country. Portuguese is the official language. Portuguese is a Romance language with close ties to Spanish, but visitors should know that Portuguese and Spanish sound quite different, thanks in part to a fairly complicated system of pronunciation patterns in Brazilian Portuguese.
Other languages spoken in Brazil include LIBRAS (Brazilian Portuguese Sign Language) and indigenous languages such as Nheengatu and Tucano.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Brazil has 19 places on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Twelve of these are cultural sites, such as the historic town of Ouro Preto and the architecture of Brasilia, Brazil's capital city. Seven sites on the list are natural sites. These include the famous island of Fernando de Noronha and the Pantanal Conservation Area.
One of the World's Largest Cities
São Paulo, with an urban population of over 11 million (over 20 million in the metro area), is by far the most populous city in Brazil. It is also the most populous city in South America, the most populous city in the western hemisphere, and the twelfth most populous city in the world.
Because of São Paulo's size, there is much to do there. It is the economic and cultural hub of the country, an important center for businesses, banks, restaurants, museums, markets, and cultural activities.