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10 evidences that Portugal is still influential in Brazil

March 6, 2013 3 Comments

Portugal, which ruled over Brazil till the early 19th century, has a huge influence, to this day, over Brazilian culture – which is often overlooked by  distracted observers. These are just a few evidences that the Iberian spirit still lives deep  in the Brazilian soul:


history culture  10 evidences that Portugal is still influential in Brazil

Portuguese dancer photographed by Evan Bench/Flickr

1 – Population

Some 277,000 Portuguese citizens live in Brazil – they represent the main foreign community in the country. But several dozen million Brazilians descend from Portuguese immigrants and keep some of their ancestors´ traditions. The practice of Catholicism, so strong in Portugal, is still dominant in Brazil, despite the growth of other Christian faiths and African religions.

2 – Language

Very few countries with Brazil’s dimensions have one overwhelming language that is spoken full time by nearly all the population. In contrast, for example, with India, that has 22 languages spoken by over 1 million people. The main official language, Hindi, is spoken by only 41% of Indians. The United States is also way less homogeneous than Brazil, when you think English is the mother tongue of only 82% of its population. Portuguese is probably the mother tongue of over 95% of Brazilians.

Naturally, there are several differences between the European and the Brazilian Portuguese, both in vocabulary and grammar. But it is still the same language. Several Portuguese authors are studied in Brazilian schools, such as poets Luis de Camões and Fernando Pessoa, or Realist novelist Eça de Queirós. Also, the most popular names in Brazil - Maria, José, Antônio, João and Francisco – are also dominant in Portugal, although sometimes in different combinations. For instance, Maria José (for girls) and José Maria (for boys) are way more common among Portuguese.

3 – Rio’s accent

In 1808, when Napoleon’s troops reached Lisbon, the Portuguese royals had to escape to Rio, where they established their court. They brought with them lots of noble families and servants that transformed the way local population spoke, generating the so-called carioca accent, popularized by Globo TV soap operas and newscast. The main characteristic of the carioca accent is the way the letter S is pronounced at the end of words, hissing like a snake’s SHHH. While most Brazilians would say praias (beaches), someone from Rio might say praiashhh – just like somebody from Lisbon.

4 – Sweets

Traditional Portuguese sweet pastries and other deserts have a very strong presence in Brazilian bakeries. They have huge amounts of sugar, dozens of egg yolks and a delicious taste that makes you forget the risk of a cardiac arrest. Pastéis de Santa Clara and pingo de tocha are sold as pastries, while the golden threads of fios de ovos are used to decorate cakes.

history culture  10 evidences that Portugal is still influential in Brazil

Fios de ovos photographed by Lipe Fontoura/ Wikipedia

5 – Tiles

Azulejos, the very typical Portuguese painted tile work of Moor origin, can be seen in historical, colonial building in several parts of Brazil. You can read more about them and see a selection of azulejos found in different Brazilian cities in a previous post.

history culture  10 evidences that Portugal is still influential in Brazil

Azulejo from São Luis photographed by Ju Zara/ Flickr

6 – Colonial architecture

Check a previous post to see a few samples of Colonial architecture and also to compare Brazilian examples to similar constructions in two other former Portuguese colonies, Goa, in India, and Macau, in China. Their characteristics – many tall windows, the walls mostly white, the minuscule sidewalks, the beautiful clay roof tiles, elaborate roofs (in wealthier residences) – are not common in modern Brazilian architecture, but can be seen in many historic, touristic cities.


history culture  10 evidences that Portugal is still influential in Brazil

Colonial houses in Ouro Preto, historic town in Minas Gerais state. Photo by Leandro Ciuffo/Flickr. 


7 – Bakeries

A huge percentage of padarias, the Brazilian bakeries, frequently placed in street corners, belong to Portuguese immigrants and their descendents. They introduced in the country the so-called pão francês, little warm breads produced several times a day, that most Brazilians consume in a daily basis.

history culture  10 evidences that Portugal is still influential in Brazil

A very typical corner padaria. Image by Wikimapa/Flickr

8 - Lace from the Azores

The amazing bilro lace seen in several parts of the Brazilian coast, mainly in the Southern and the Northeastern regions, derives from the lace produced in the Azores Islands, that belong to Portugal.

history culture  10 evidences that Portugal is still influential in Brazil

Bilro lace in a Wikipedia photo

9 – Farra do Boi

This controversial, bloody festival, was introduced by immigrants from the Azores Islands in the Southern state of Santa Catarina. “The Ox Festival” involves the killing of oxen in a few dozen beach communities that drag animals that have been starved for days to the coast, where they are tortured and slaughtered. It used to happen during Easter, but was outlawed in 1997, after a huge media campaign. But there are reports that it is still practiced by fishermen communities.

10 – Roberto Leal

Singer Roberto Leal taught Brazilians how to dance vira, a Portuguese folk dance, and became (a probably inaccurate, adapted) synonym of the pop culture originated in Portugal. Here you  have two samples of his work – note his infamous look in the 70s.



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  • Tiago says:


    The practice of Catholicism is not strong in Portugal. Most people will tell you they are Catholics, but they don’t really adhere to the church’s policies or go to church. ;)

    • Regina says:

      I am under the impression that this is a new phenomenon – or maybe an urban trend, Tiago. Catholics are adopting other religions or they are simply becoming Agnostic?

      • Tiago says:

        It is a new phenomenon and mostly urban, true.

        I can’t really tell from my personal experience, as my family is not religious, but maybe you’re close when you say they are becoming agnostic. From what I understand, most people still believe in something, but they don’t align with the church in most issues and don’t go to Mass.

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