Brazil national bird, flower, holiday, anthem…

Sabiá-laranjeira photographed by the great Bart van Dorp/Flickr
Sabiá-laranjeira photographed by the great Bart van Dorp/Flickr

Ever wonder what’s Brazil national…


You might think it is the blue macaw or the toucan. In fact, sabiá-laranjeira (Turdus rufiventris or, in English, rufous-bellied thrush) became the official national bird in 2002 thanks to a presidential decree.

It was probably chosen because of a famous 19th century chauvinist poem by Gonçalves Dias, Canção do Exílio (The Exile Song), that says: “Minha terra tem palmeiras/Onde canta o sabiá/As aves que aqui gorgeiam/Não gorgeiam como lá” (My homeland has palm trees/ Where the thrush sings/ The birds that sing in here/ Do not sing as they do there). It was written when Dias was in Law school in Portugal.

Pay attention to his music – it may have different “accents” depending on the region where they live. In fact, sabiás can also imitate the voice of other bird species.

Pau-brasil in a photo by Mauro Guanandi/ Flickr
Pau-brasil in a photo by Mauro Guanandi/ Flickr

Pau-brasil (Caesalpinia echinata or Brazilwood), the tree that (probably) gave the country its name, was extremely abundant in 1500, when the Portuguese caravelas landed in Brazil, but became quite rare. Its red wood was, for a long time, the main source of red dye for the luxury fabrics produced for the European courts. It is also used to produce prime quality bows for violins. It became the national tree in 1961, thanks to a decree by president Jânio Quadros.

Ipê amarelo - clicked, once again, by Mauro Guanandi/ Flickr
Ipê amarelo – clicked, once again, by Mauro Guanandi/ Flickr

The very yellow ipê-amarelo (Tabebuia vellosoi), found in most of the country, is the national Brazilian flower, once again thanks to Jânio.


The three main Brazilian civic holidays are Tiradentes Day (April 21), Independence Day (September 7) and the Republic Declaration Day (November 15). The two latter are self-explainable – they refer to the day of the rupture with the Portuguese colonizers, in 1822, and to the day the country substituted the Monarchy by the Republican system, in 1889. Tiradentes Day celebrates national hero Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, a lieutenant known as Tiradentes because he also worked as a tooth-extractor. He was martyred together with other conspirators  that tried to overthrow the Portuguese colonizers, in 1792.

Wikipedia has a good list of state and national holidays (civic, social and religious).

…coat of arms?




Adopted just a few days after the Republic Declaration, in 1889, it mixes elements of the colonial flags and the inspiration of the French positivists, that was big in Brazil at the time. As any Brazilian elementary school kid will tell you, the green represents our forests, the yellow the abundant gold (taken to Portugal in droves during the first centuries of colonization), the blue the sky and white peace. Just like in the American flag, each state is represented by a star – meaning, every time a new state is created, the Brazilian flag changes a little. Inspired by French philosopher/proto-sociologist/spiritual leader August Comte, the Positivist motto – Order, Progress and Love – had to be adapted to fit the banner inside the flag.

It has its own anthem, Hino à Bandeira, with lyrics composed by Parnassian poet Olavo Bilac and music by Francisco Braga.


and, finally, the national anthem?

It is long, it is strange, with an unnatural word order, conceived to favor the metrics and the rhyme. A verbal Rubik cube.

In High School Portuguese class , teachers normally ask their students what is the subject of the opening phrase:

Ouviram do Ipiranga as margens plácidas

De um povo heróico o brado retumbante,

E o sol da liberdade, em raios fúlgidos,

Brilhou no céu da pátria nesse instante.

It could be translated this way:

Heard of Ipiranga (river) the placid banks
of a heroic people the resounding cry
and brilliant beams from the sun of liberty
shone in our homeland’s skies at that very moment.

Alas, very few are sophisticated enough to realize the subject is “margens plácidas do Ipiranga” – the placid banks of Ipiranga (river). In the conventional order, this phrase would read:

As margens plácidas do Ipiranga ouviram o brado retumbante de um povo heróico…(the rest could remain the same)

The national anthem has an extra problem: it uses lots old school epic words that mean little to modern crowds: plácidas? fúlgidos? garrida? florão?

All this explains why few Brazilians sing the anthem correctly. Every time you watch an international soccer game played by the Brazilian team, when the cameras focus on the players in the opening of the match, when the anthem is played, their lip sync is pretty bad.  A couple of years ago, in an episode that became huge on Youtube, singer Vanusa, very famous in the seventies, sang it in a public event out of tune and with wrong lyrics.

From time to time somebody proposes adopting a new anthem, but the version with melody created in 1822 by  Francisco Manuel da Silva and lyrics written by Joaquim Osório Duque Estrada a century later remains strong.

This version has bilingual subtitles (Portuguese and English).

You can read more about the Brazilian national symbols in this brochure published (in Portuguese) by the Congress. It gives, for instance, all the parameters to draw the flag and the other symbols correctly.

2 thoughts on “Brazil national bird, flower, holiday, anthem…”

  1. The Ipe is currently beginning to bloom in yellow and I am simmply amazed. We will be adventuring south on a road trip soon and now I will be in search of another bird besides the Toucan. Thanks – the blog is great!

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