What the books can tell you:

When the Portuguese nobleman Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived at a stunning tropical beach on April 22, 1500, he had no way of knowing that this would be the birth of is the biggest country in Latin America: Brazil. Covering 47,3% of the South American continent, Brazil (or, as we natives call it, Brasil) is also the fifth largest country in the world. A quick look on a world map can tell you that Brazil has borders with 10 countries and 7367 kilometers of coast on the Atlantic Ocean.

In 500 years of history, this relatively new country has known as many troubles and woes as there are beauties in it. Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation of Latin America, and was a Portuguese colony from 1500 until September 7, 1822. Brazil had several names before the current one, from native names to catholic references. The modern name is derived from a local tree, Pau-Brasil, found close to the shores and vastly used in Europe to give it's red-ish and purple-ish coulour to sophisticated fabrics.

Brazil's names:

Pindorama (native name)
Vera Cruz's Island (1500)
New Land (1501)
Parrot's Land (1501)
Vera Cruz's Land (1503)
Holy Cross' Land (1503)
Holy Cross of Brazil's Land (1505)
Brasil Land (1505)
Brasil (since 1527)

Portugal came to own Brazil after the famous Tordesilhas Treaty with Spain, when both countries - the then equivalents of superpowers - drew an imaginary line on the atlas and divided the lands of the world. This was signed on 1494, when people had no clue as to what was yet to be found on the west side of the Atlantic.

The first colonial period was very much unregulated, with pirates and rogues of all nations coming to Brazil's shores to collect natural treasures or simply to hide and reload their ships. The French even begun to settle on the southeastern shores (the place where you can find Rio de Janeiro nowadays), but were soon driven away by the Portuguese, who began to realize just how lucrative Brazil would become. Pau-Brasil, sugarcane, gold, silver, diamonds and other precious stones were found during the next centuries, when the colonizators began to venture father away from the shores. At first, the Portuguese tried to enslave the natives (also called "Indians", as the first sailors believed to be in the West Indies, an understandable mistake). This did not work, for the natives died too easily with the work-load and white-men-diseases. A common cold could kill hundreds natives, who did not have the proper body defenses against such illnesses.

To solve the labour problem, Portugal brought black slaves from the African colonies and joined the world-wide slave market, to increase the sugar production on the sugarcane plantations and processing factories located on the eastern part of the country - the only known territory at the time. Some slaves managed to runaway, but most lived and died on the most dreadful conditions. It was not uncommon either to find mixed-blood slaves, sons and daughters of the white owners who took black mistresses, very often by force. The mixture would increase with the centuries and also incorporate native elements, creating the "mulatos", with light or dark brown skin and mixed facial features.

Colonial Brazil suffered many attempts of invasions, but the longest and most succesful was the Dutch one. They settled in the northeast shores, specifically on the cities of Recife and Natal, and stayed from 1633 to 1654, after several exploration expeditions on the area. The Dutch were led by Maurice of Nassau, who made alliances with the natives against the Portuguese. The Dutch distinguished themselves by treating the local people (either pure natives or mixed-bloods) with a respect lacking in all the people's dealings with the Portuguese, thus conquering their hearts. The Dutch rule was also completly different from the Portuguese Monarchy and tried to establish local associations of tradesmen and workers. The Dutch were expelled by the Portuguese in 1564, after several battles between the two European representatives and their local allies.

In 1808, Brazil's history took an important turn with the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family. The nobles were fleeing Napoleon's troops. Portugal was invaded because it was an important ally of England, having much business (and debts) with the british. It was so that Brazil stopped being simply a colony and became part of the Realm, thus having permission to receive foreign goods, have direct interaction with the world and having stimulation to develop it's cities and people. The Royal court was set up in Rio de Janeiro, the new (and second) capital of the country. The Portuguese had a nice time in Rio while Europe suffered with widespread war and the white brazilians took the opportunity to become more polished and "civilised". Politics was no longer a topic that resulted in a death sentence and new ideas, like abolitionism, became popular with the young fashionable elite.

The fall of Napoleon and a coup-d'etat on the Portuguese government would force Dom João VI – then king of Portugal and Brazil and very unwilling to return home – to go back to Europe and secure his place. He left, however, his eldest son and heir, Dom Pedro I, in Rio. It was the seed to Independence, as Dom Pedro was loved by the Brazilians and was soon persuaded to forsake Portugal and declare himself Emperor of Brazil, on September 7, 1822. This proved to be a smart move on his side, as he reign in Brazil for several years, married a Hapsburg princess, have hundreds of love affairs and left his infant son to reign when the Portuguese throne was vacant. Thus, even though Brazil was officially independent, Portugal's interests were very much secure and looked after.

Dom Pedro II reigned for several decades and was a very aloof and conservative emperor. He declared his love for the country several times, but worked hard to supress industrial development in Brazil, as well as contracting several large debts with England on behalf of the country. His rule ended with the Republic, on November 15, 1899. Originally a military coup, the Proclamation of the Republic initiated Brazil's most turbulent chapters of history, with manipulated elections, the coffee years, military dictators, billion-dollar debts to the IMF and a new capital: Brasilia.

What the books can't tell you:

Brazil is one of the most beautiful and potentially rich corners of the world. We do not have earthquakes, nor other natural disasters (apart from a localized draught on the notheastern region and occasional floods in large cities). Brazil is the home of the biggest chunk of the Amazon forest and used to be the home of other forests just as interesting, rich and beautiful, like the Atlantic forests, now almost extinct.

The country is famous for it's parties, food and beaches, being a favorite holiday spot for european and american tourists. You can find descendants of Japanese, German, Italian, Arab, African, Portuguese, Spanish and Native people, thus creating a population with a wide range of looks, hair and skin colours. Religion is also very diversified and even mixed by the inhabitants, but Catholic Roman Church is still the strongest. Some African religions were disguised as Catholic belief during the slavery centuries, as slaves were forced to adopt the European religion. They manage to keep their beliefs alive by giving saints' names for the African gods. Brazil is also famous for it's lack of organization and seriousness, at once reason for shame and pride to it's inhabitants. It's also very hot around here.

Living in Brazil, however, is not an easy task. Most part of the 170 million brazilians are living in extreme poverty or crowded around the big southern cities. It's hard to find a job, nearly impossible to find one that pays well, hard to find a nice place to live and hard to avoid being mugged on the streets. Violence and drug traffic are open wounds. The list of problems is endless and sometimes it seems there's just to reason to hope. Even so, we live on, enjoying what we can, making mistakes, and believing everything will be alright in the end. Some think we're lazy, some think we're smart.

For hard numbers, go to the CIA World Factbook - Brazil.
For more info, go to:
Brazilian Portuguese
Rio de Janeiro
Getúlio Vargas
The Everything People Registry: Brazil
MAIA, G. (1998). A invasão holandesa no Rio Grande (resumo). História do RN n@ WEB On-line. Available from World Wide Web: