Culture Brazilian culture has been shaped not only by the Portuguese, who gave the country its most common religion and language, but also by the country's native Indians, the considerable African population, and other settlers from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Brazilian music has always been characterized by great diversity and, shaped by musical influences from three continents, is still developing new and original forms. The samba, which reached the height of popularity in the 1930s, is a mixture of Spanish bolero with the cadences and rhythms of African music. Its most famous exponent was probably Carmen Miranda, known for her fiery temperament and fruity headdresses. The more subdued bossa nova, popular in the 1950s and characterized by songs such as 'The Girl from Ipanema', was influenced by North American jazz. Tropicalismo is a mix of musical influences that arrived in Brazil in the 1960s and led a more electric samba. More recently, the lambada, influenced by Caribbean rhythms, became internationally popular in the 1980s.
Among Brazil's writers of fiction, Machado de Assis stands out with his terse, ironic style. The son of a freed slave, Assis worked as a typesetter and journalist in 19th-century Rio. Brazil's most famous 20th-century writer is the regionalist Jorge Amado, whose tales are colorful romances of Bahia's people and places.
Brazil is officially a Catholic country, but in practice the country's religious life incorporates Indian animism, African cults, Afro-Catholic syncretism and Kardecism, a spiritualist religion embracing Eastern mysticism, which is gaining popularity with Brazilian Whites. Portuguese, infused with many words from Indian and African languages, is spoken by all Brazilians. Accents, dialects and slang vary regionally.
The staples of the Brazilian diet are arroz (white rice), feijÃ£o (black beans) and farinha (manioc flour), usually combined with steak, chicken or fish. Brazilian specialties include moqueca, a seafood stew flavored with dendÃª oil and coconut milk; caruru, okra and other vegetables mixed with shrimp, onions and peppers; and feijoada, a bean and meat stew. On many street corners in Bahia, women wearing flowing white dresses sell acarajÃ©, beans mashed in salt and onions, fried in dendÃª oil and then filled with seafood, manioc paste, dried shrimp, pepper and tomato sauce.
Copyright 2003 Lonely Planet Publications , all rights reserved, used with permission