Jorge Amado; Where People and Cultures Have Mingled

UNESCO Courier, July 1989 | Go to article overview

Jorge Amado; Where People and Cultures Have Mingled


In many respects Brazil is a microcosm, a mixture of peoples and sensibilities drawn from all over the world-all humanity in a nutshell. It is also one country, with one government and a set of national institutions. Which of these two aspects do you consider the most important in your country-diversity or unity? Is it possible to speak of a Brazilian people and a Brazilian culture? In my opinion, one can speak of a single people, with its own culture, born of the intermingling of all the races who have passed that way.

Which are these races? - First of all, of course, there were the Indians. Then came the Europeans, mostly the Portuguese. But gradually the groups from Europe became more diversified. By the fifteenth century Portugal itself already had a very mixed population. Among the people were those who were known as the Moors. There were also the "new Christians" as they were called, jews fleeing from the Inquisition who, although they had been converted, were still being persecuted. In addition, there was a large Dutch colony.

Then there were the Africans, brought in as slaves. With them, racial intermixture began to accelerate. Anxious to split up the original tribes, the slave-owners would buy groups of slaves of different tribal origins-a Yoruba, a Bantu, a Congolese.

So the slaves interbred among themselves; but did they also interbreed with their white masters? Yes. The Portuguese interbred very readily and this mixing was so widespread that today there are no pure blacks.

If you look into the ancestry of any black-skinned Brazilian, his or her mother or father, grandparents or greatgrandparents, you will always end up by finding a white ancestor somewhere.

Are there any pure whites? - Among the immigrants of long standing, there are perhaps some in the south, but they are very few and far between and difficult to find. There are some pure whites among the recent arrivals, first-generation immigrants and their children. But the next generation begins to mix with the others, to become integrated.

Finally, we should not forget the Arabs, above all the Christian Arabs who came from Lebanon and Syria. They were often referred to as Turks, because their countries were then provinces of the Ottoman empire.

Surely all these different peoples cannot just have fused peaceably into one? There must have been inequalities, power struggles... - Of course. There were political, economic and social struggles which were aggravated by ethnic and cultural differences. The black peoples, for example, soon revolted against their conditions and there were large-scale conflicts. Several black republics, settlements known as quilombos, were even set up in the mountains by rebellious slaves. One of them lasted nearly forty years and repulsed the attacks of four successive government armies.

After the abolition of slavery, successive new waves of immigrants-Italians, Germans-arrived to work in the coffee plantations. Finally on this point I would like to say that, although the history of Brazil has included its share of inequalities and conflicts, there has never been a break in the process of ethnic and cultural intermingling. That is what is typical of Brazil. And from it all a Brazillan culture was born, based on the Portuguese language which was spoken by all.

What are the main components of this new culture?

The European, African and Indian elements all play an irreplaceable part, but I am inclined to feel that the source of its vitality is Africa. The Brazilian soul emerged from the confrontation between Portuguese melancholy and African jole de vivre. The Portuguese are pessimists, full of doubts and preoccupied with death. Africans exude life, are at ease with themselves physically and with nature and know how to laugh, celebrate and enjoy themselves. They brought a rhythm and a vital energy to the new culture which are immediately recognizable. …

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