Days of National Festivity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1823-1889

By Hendrik Kraay | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The days of national festivity whose commemoration we have traced from Brazil’s independence to the early 1890s served many purposes and had multiple meanings. As countless students of rituals and commemorations have observed, no festival has the same significance to all those involved in it. Year after year, imperial Brazil’s civic rituals were an occasion for debate about the political institutions established in 1822–24, a time when those in power sought to impose their vision on the nation, an opportunity for some to claim status and membership in the nation, and a chance for many to celebrate and to enjoy spectacular sights and sounds. That Brazilians failed to agree on many things even as they joined in the commemorations of independence, the constitution, and the emperor may underscore what David Kertzer sees as one of political ritual’s major purposes—to express and to demonstrate unity despite disagreement—but it also highlights that civic rituals provide an occasion to pursue political conflicts.1 An analysis of imperial civic ritual reveals the very quick establishment of “Brazil” as the “nation” within which “Brazilians” would conduct their affairs, but nation building in this sense was not the issue on days of national festivity. Rather, the key questions concerned the institutions that governed Brazilians.

The imperial Brazilian civic rituals analyzed in this book raise numerous additional issues, among them the evolution of Brazilian civic rituals in the twentieth century and the changing attitudes toward the empire, the nature of civic rituals in the provinces, and the distinctiveness of Brazil in Latin American history. In the twentieth century, critics of the republic looked back favorably on the empire, while authoritarian regimes like the Estado Novo (New State, 1937–45) and the military dictatorship (1964–85) invested heavily in civic rituals to claim legitimacy and to foster loyalty. Largely abandoned by republican governments in the 1890s, 7 September regained prominence after 1900 and remains the country’s principal civic holiday, a consequence of its firm establishment as the date of Brazil’s independence during the empire.

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