opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics is being held today at the Maracanã
Stadium, and promises to be a spectacular occasion. To mark the opening of the first Olympic Games in Brazil, here’s an introduction into the regions and history of this
fascinating and diverse nation.
Brazilian coastline stretches for almost 8,000 kilometres, lining the Atlantic
Ocean with expanses of white dunes and beaches in the far north and Atlantic
forest along the south-eastern coast. Gateways
for the arrival of European settlers, colonial ports such as Rio de Janeiro and
the original capital city of Salvador were built in the 16th century and allowed for the exportation of oil, beef,
rubber, and many other desirable sub-tropical commodities, while also receiving
African slaves, brought over to work on the plantations.
is a model of a ‘jangada’, a traditional Brazilian fishing boat which is still
in use along some sections of the coast today. Indigenous peoples did not use
the sail before the arrival of Europeans but instead made elaborate canoes from
large hollowed out trees and boats from timbers lashed together.
its discovery by Pedro Álvares Cabral in AD 1500, Brazil was claimed for
Portugal. Large-scale colonisation of the
country began in the 1530s with towns and cities appearing along the coastline. The earliest settlers were more interested in
agriculture than imperial expansion, so little effort was made to progress into
Brazil’s interior until after 1600. São Paulo, established by Jesuit priests in
1554, was the only non-coastal settlement at this time.
From the 1600s, São Paulo began to expand as the infamous bandeirantes
set out on expeditions from the settlement, first to capture slaves, then to
find gold, which was discovered in Minas Gerais in the 1690s, bringing new
settlers to the area.
belief in the importance of spreading the Christian faith was a central part of
the perceived justification for European colonisation. A sympathetic
understanding of indigenous culture and language led to success for the
missionaries in Brazil, who at times fought against other colonists to prevent
the enslavement of the native people.
the Portuguese, other nations were also involved in the colonisation of Brazil.
The French made unsuccessful attempts to establish coastal colonies and the
Dutch controlled a large area in the north-east of the country between 1581 and
1654. These clogs, similar to Dutch clogs but collected in Brazil, show how
European influence and fashion permeated the colonial cities.
interior states of Goiás, Tocantins, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso and the Federal
District of Brasilia are covered by an extraordinary range of ecosystems. Like the neighbouring Amazon region, the Cerrado
savannah is another area whose extraordinary biodiversity is threatened by
widespread deforestation. Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, lies at the area’s heart.
Built in the late 1950s, the concept of a new capital had been discussed since
the country became independent in 1822. Moving the capital city from Rio de
Janeiro, on the coast, to the centre of the country symbolised the shift from
colonial settlement to independent state.
whistle was created for ceremonies by the Krahô indigenous group who have lived
for centuries in the interior regions of Brazil. The whistle is made from the
claw of a giant armadillo, a species which inhabits the Cerrado savannah area
Amazon rainforest has long been considered a natural and untouched relic of
biodiversity but recent research shows that much of this forest landscape has
been shaped by past societies. Indigenous
peoples have managed the land for millennia using the slash-and-burn technique
to clear areas of forest and plant rotating food crops.
About 60% of the 5.5 million square kilometres of Amazon rainforest
falls within the borders of Brazil.
headdress, made of feathers mounted onto a fibre cap, comes from the Munduruku
people who live in the Amazon basin near the Tapajos river. Indigenous groups
today still make featherwork items like this headdress, known as a ‘coiffe’,
continuing traditions that have existed for centuries.
peoples’ knowledge of the Amazon environment is evident from their ability to
manipulate the forest’s natural materials. The enormous range of basketry
techniques that exist within the region are used to make mats, clothing,
hammocks, and containers like this one from Tocantins.