Covering nearly half of the South American continent, Brazil is both the world’s fifth largest and fifth most populous country. It is a true giant in the Latin American region, and is widely recognized as an emerging world power. Its largest city is São Paulo, and the modern capital, Brasília, was founded in 1960.
It is difficult to describe Brazil without using the word “diverse”. Brazilians trace their ancestry to a wide variety of sources: Portuguese, Africans, Native Americans, and, more recently, immigrants from around the world. The result is a country characterized by local flavor and a mixing of traditions. Over 40% of Brazilians identify themselves as pardo, or of mixed ethnicity. However, there are also many distinct ethnic groups; Brazil is home to the largest population of ethnic Italians outside Italy, the largest group of ethnic Japanese outside Japan, and approximately 200 distinct indigenous groups. At least 67 of these maintain little to no contact with the outside world, making Brazil home to the largest number of so-called uncontacted peoples.
Diversity is a hallmark of the Brazilian economy as well. Services constitute the largest sector, followed by industry and agriculture. Exports of manufactured goods ranging from aircraft to footwear, and agricultural products including coffee and soybeans, have contributed to an ongoing investment boom. Economic growth is facilitated by advanced technological research and abundant resources, including minerals and timber. Massive oil reserves have recently been discovered, and Brazil is expected to become a major producer within the next few years. However, exploitation of natural resources has led to increased concerns over the welfare of the environment. Brazil encompasses the Atlantic Forest, the Cerrado region of tropical savanna, and most of the Amazon Rainforest, making it home to the greatest variety of plant and animal life in the world. Increasing knowledge of the role these fragile ecosystems play in supporting life on our planet has led to growing awareness of the need for responsible environmental stewardship in Brazil.
Despite so many differences, Brazilians agree on many points. Soccer has a fanatical following throughout the country, and with good reason; the National Team holds the record for most World Cup victories, and Brazil has produced some of the greatest legends the sport has ever known, including the world-renowned Pelé. Rio de Janeiro’s enormous statue of Christ the Redeemer, recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, stands as a monument to Brazil’s history as a Roman Catholic country. Nearly three quarters of the population identify as Catholic; other religions present include Protestant Christianity and traditional African and indigenous belief systems. However, people of all faiths enjoy Carnival, the festival marking the beginning of Lent, and raucous celebrations are held in every major city. Martial artists are familiar with Brazilian innovations such as Capoeira, Vale Tudo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, all of which are popular local sports, and music and dance enthusiasts throughout the country appreciate the jazzy rhythms of the native samba and bossa nova.
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, and is, for the most part, the only language used in business, media, and government. Brazil is the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world and the only one in the Americas, which has contributed to the Brazilians’ sense of national identity in the midst of their Spanish-speaking neighbors. Brazilian Portuguese and its European counterpart are by and large mutually comprehensible, as are the many regional dialects within Brazil. Many minority languages are also present, especially within immigrant and indigenous communities.