Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, Brazil had been inhabited by nomadic tribal communities for at least 6,000 years.
Unlike the Inca and Maya, Brazilian Indians did not develop an organized civilization. Aided by jungles and climate, they left very little evidence for archaeologists to study—just some pottery, shell mounds, and skeletons. But recent excavations at Pedra Furada, a rock shelter in the Serra da Capivara National Park in northeastern Brazil, have revealed what may be the oldest human site in the Americas. Using reliable radiocarbon dates from charcoal found in hearths at different levels of the shelter, a comprehensive chronology of human habitation has been developed. The lowest layer provided definite evidence of non-Clovis Paleoindian occupations, including human remains, as early as 48,000–30,000 years B.C.E. A unique rock painting tradition associated with a 17,000-year-old carbon14-dated hearth has also been discovered. Human teeth found at a limestone site at Garrincho have been dated at 12,210 plus or minus 40 and are equivalent in their structure to similar teeth found in Europe and the Near East and dated at the end of the Late Pleistocene. They are clearly fossils of modern Homo sapiens.
It is estimated that when the Portuguese arrived, there were between two and six million Amerindians living in various types of communities in what is called Brazil. Because of unknown epidemic diseases, slavery, and slaughter, there are fewer than 200,000, most of them hiding away in the dense jungles of Brazil’s interior.
In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral of Portugal (1467/ 68–1520) attempted to go to India but reached Brazil instead.
In 1531 the Portuguese king sent over the first settlers. Legend has it that the locals ate the first governor and the first bishop of this new territory not long after they arrived. The Portuguese, however, persisted, and by 1534 Brazil was well on the way to becoming colonized. In that year the king divided the region into 15 provinces or “captaincies,” each of which he gave to a friend.
Before long the settlers began to prosper by growing sugarcane. They also enslaved much of the indigenous population for this purpose, and the slave trade soon became commercially significant.
The bandeirantes (city-dwellers born of mixed parentage) led the slave-capturing industry and brutally expanded Brazilian territory into the interior of South America. During the 1600s African slaves began to replace indigenous ones. In 1690 the discovery of gold deposits led to a further influx of settlers and African slaves brought in to work the mines.
The story of Brazil’s independence is possibly unique in the history of the colonized world. In 1807 Napoleon (1769–1821) invaded Portugal. Queen Maria I of Portugal (1734–1816) fled to Brazil with the entire royal family aboard British ships and made Rio de Janeiro the capital of Portugal and Portuguese territories. When peace was restored, the queen returned to Portugal, leaving behind her son Dom Pedro I (1798–1834). In 1822 Pedro rebelled and declared independence from Portugal and was named emperor of Brazil. Portugal was by then too weak to fight; so Brazil gained its independence without a fight.
During the 19th century coffee became Brazil’s leading crop. Slavery was abolished in 1888. Coffee planters then recruited thousands of immigrants, mostly Italians, as plantation workers. In 1889, the king was deposed by a military coup financed and backed by coffee growers. The country became a republic in name, but the vested interests retained control of the government and economy. For the next 40 years, Brazil saw a number of civil and military regimes, all effectively controlled by the military.
The coffee growers lost economic clout with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. The opposition Liberal Alliance, supported by the military, took over but lost the 1930 election. The military took over once again and installed the Liberal Alliance leader Getúlio Vargas (1883–1954) as president; he ruled until 1954. His method of ruling was inspired by the Fascism of Mussolini (1883–1945) in Italy and Salazar (1889–1970) in Portugal. Vargas ruled Brazil until he was driven out in 1954.
His replacement Juscelino Kubitschek (1902–76) was the first of Brazil’s big spenders; he built Brasília, the new capital, which was supposed to catalyze the development of the interior. By the early 1960s the economy was battered by inflation, partly because of the expense of building the new capital, and fears of encroaching Communism were fuelled by Castro’s (b. 1926) victory in Cuba. Again Brazil’s fragile democracy was squashed by a military coup in 1964. The military rulers then set about creating large-scale projects that benefited a wealthy few at the expense of the rest of the population.
In 1989 Fernando Collor de Mello (b. 1949) became the first democratic ruler in nearly 30 years but was removed in 1992 on charges of corruption.
Itamar Franco (b. 1930), the vice president, took over and stabilized the economy. Fernando Cardoso (b. 1931) was elected president in 1994. He improved the economy but had to contend with long-standing problems relating to deficit and inequalities.
A left-wing government led by Luíz Inácio da Silva (b. 1946 ) came to power after the 2002 elections, capturing 61 percent of the vote. He introduced far-reaching measures intended to bridge the economic gap between rich and poor. But economic growth does not necessarily bring social justice in its wake. Gains in education, land reform, and welfare contrast tellingly with a sickly health system, urban overcrowding, rural landlessness, and environmental abuse. And in spite of the effort anticorruption measures have made little headway.

Brazil is divided into four major geographic regions: the Atlantic seaboard in the east, the Planalto Brasileiro in the southern interior, the Paraná- Paraguai basin to the south, and the Amazon Basin in the north. The Atlantic seaboard, which is long and narrow, has a few coastal ranges south of Bahia but is flatter in the north. The Planalto Brasileiro, or central plateau, covers most of Brazil’s interior south of the Amazon Basin. It contains several small mountain ranges and large rivers. The highest peaks are located in the Tumucumaque, Pacaraima, and Imeri Ranges, which cross the northern border with the Guyanas and Venezuela. Toward the south lies the Paraná-Paraguai basin with its open forests, low woods, and scrubland. Finally the huge, densely forested Amazon Basin is situated in the north. The Amazon is the world’s largest river, and the Amazon forest contains 30 percent of the world’s remaining forested area. The entire length of the Amazon, from Iquitos, Peru, to its mouth on the northeastern coast of Brazil, is navigable by ocean-going ships.
The most important navigable streams in the plateau region to the east and south are the São Francisco and Parnaíba.
The climate is mostly tropical but becomes temperate toward the south. The temperatures along the equator are high, averaging above 77°F, with little seasonal variation. In sharp contrast frosts are known to occur south of the Tropic of Capricorn during the winter (June–August), and in some years there is snow on the peaks in the mountainous areas.

Brazil’s economy is by far the largest in South America and is poised to become one of the world’s largest.
It has well-developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors. Coffee is one of its bestknown products, and sugarcane remains an important crop. Poverty for many, however, remains a constant.

Brazil’s population is concentrated primarily along the Atlantic coast and in the major cities. Two-thirds of the population now lives in cities, more than 19 million in greater São Paulo, and 10 million in greater Rio de Janeiro.
The immigrant Portuguese language has been greatly influenced by numerous Indian and African dialects, but it is still the dominant language in Brazil.
The Brazilian dialect has become the dominant influence in the development of the Portuguese language because Brazil has 15 times the population of Portugal and a much more dynamic linguistic environment.
According to the Brazilian modernist artist Oswald de Andrade (1890–1954), in his “Cannibal Manifesto” (1928), the culture of Brazil began in 1516 when a Jesuit bishop named Sardinha was shipwrecked along the coast of Brazil. When he encountered the local people the Tupis, he undertook to teach them the values set forth in the Bible.
They were so eager to absorb this new civilization that they promptly made a meal of him. This, de Andrade claimed, was the first event in Brazilian history because hereafter a Brazilian identity was shaped by avidly absorbing anything foreign and letting it all boil and steep together.
Brazilians, it seems, welcome not only the foreign, but also the paradoxical. Take, for example, the concept of time. Time, like anything else, can be shaped to one’s desire. A Brazilian might drop by for an unannounced visit and stay for hours, and the host is expected to cancel prior commitments that might interrupt this social call.
Most Brazilians, with the exception of people from Minas Gerais, schedule meetings provisionally.
The time is likely to be changed without warning, and no one will arrive “on time.” However a bit of folklore claims that the people of Minas Gerais are so punctual that they come to meetings a day early.
Because the ethnicity of Brazilians is some combination of Amerindian, African, and European, they tend to focus on social class rather than a racial hierarchy.
The very wealthy, wanting nothing to do with anyone they regard as inferior, naturally isolate themselves.
The middle class, for lack of something better to do, imitates the wealthy class they wish to belong to. The poor, always with us, concentrate on getting through each day.
Approximately 1 million native Amerindians lived in Brazil when the Portuguese found them. Starting in 1538 nearly 5 million Africans were brought in as slaves, before slavery was abolished. Following the Portuguese immigrants were Italians, Germans, Syrians, and Lebanese. During the 1930s Asians started arriving.
Brazilian food reflects the diverse roots of its population and culture, and the distinctive contribution of each culture remains apparent in dishes now thought of as Brazilian.
Brazil can be divided into five regions by cuisine: 1. North (Amazon Basin): The people in this region are of mixed Amerindian and Portuguese ancestry who live on fish, root vegetables (manioc, yams, and peanuts), and palm or tropical fruits.
Caruru do par, a one-pot meal of dried shrimp, okra, onion, tomato, cilantro, and dendí oil, is a favorite dish in the Amazon Basin.
2. Northeast (Bahia, Paraíba, and Pernambuco): This is a semi-arid area excellent for raising cattle, as well as sugarcane and cacao. In the state of Bahia, the cuisine is essentially Afro-Bahian, developed by cooks improvising on African, Amerindian, and Portuguese dishes using local ingredients.
Inland, in the arid cattle-growing region, typical foods include dried meat, rice, beans, goat, manioc, and cornmeal.
3. Central-West (includes Federal District of Brasilia, Golas, and Mato Grosso): This region is primarily open prairies with wooded areas in the north. Beef and pork from the ranches and fish from the rivers are featured in the cuisine, supplemented by local crops of soybeans, rice, corn, and manioc.
4. Southeast (Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo): This is the primary industrial region in Brazil, with several distinctive styles of cooking.
In Minas Gerais popular recipes call for corn, pork, beans, and local soft cheeses. In the large cities of Rio and São Paulo a favorite lunch dish is feiojada completa, made with beans and meat. Rice and beans is also popular, with black beans used in Rio, black or red beans in Minas Gerais, and red (or blonde) beans in São Paulo.
5. South (Paran, Rio Grande do Sul, and Santa Catarina): The cowboys of this region favor dishes made with sun- or salt-dried meats and churrasco, fresh meats grilled over a wood fire.
The staple foods of Brazil include arroz (white rice), feijão (black beans), dried salted codfish, coconut, dried shrimp, lemon, and farinha (manioc [cassava] flour). These starches are usually eaten with steak, chicken, or fish.
Coffee, one of Brazil’s cash crops, is the mainstay of each day. In fact, the word for “breakfast” in Portuguese, café da manhã, means “morning coffee.” Some historians have suggested that the popularity of coffee may be left over from the days of café com leite (coffee and milk) politics, when Brazil’s political scene was dominated by the “coffee oligarchs.”