Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

6.3: Brazil

  • Page ID
  • Learning Objectives

    1. Summarize the ethnic composition of Brazil and learn why the population is so diverse.
    2. Explain how the core-periphery spatial relationship applies to the country. Be able to clarify how the dynamics of the country shape the core and the periphery.
    3. Describe the main activities that are involved in the development and exploitation of the Amazon Basin. Learn how deforestation affects the tropical rain forest and environmental conditions.
    4. Outline the main characteristics and economic activities of the main regions of Brazil.

    A Portuguese Colony

    Brazil, the largest country in South America, is similar in physical area to the continental United States (i.e., the United States without Alaska or Hawaii). Catholicism is the dominant religion and Portuguese is the primary language. Once a Portuguese colony, the country’s culture was built on European immigration and African slave labor, making for a rich mixture of ethnic backgrounds.

    In colonial times, Brazil was a part of the Atlantic Trade Triangle, which functioned as a transportation conveyor, moving goods and people around the regions bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Colonial merchant ships financed by Europe’s wealthy elite brought goods and trinkets to the African coast to trade for slaves, who were shipped to the Americas and the Caribbean to diminish the labor shortage for the colonies. The last leg of the Atlantic Trade Triangle moved food crops, sugar, tobacco, and rum from the colonies back to the European ports. The merchant ships never sailed with an empty hold, and their successful voyages provided enormous profits to the European financiers.

    Figure 6.24 Atlantic Trade Triangle


    Manufactured trinkets were sent to Africa from Europe, slaves were sent to the Americas, and plantation products and rum were sent to Europe. The Atlantic slave trade was responsible for bringing more than ten million African slaves to the Americas. Brazil received the largest number of slaves.

    The total number of individuals taken as slaves from Africa is unclear and often debated. It is estimated that more than ten million African slaves survived the Middle Passage from Africa to the Western Hemisphere, which is more than the current population of Bolivia. Slavery supplied cheap labor for the plantations and agricultural operations in the New World. Brazil took in more African slaves than any other single country—at least three million. Colonial Brazil thrived on early plantation agriculture. When slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, the freed slaves found themselves on the lower end of the socioeconomic hierarchy. People of mixed African descent now make up more than one-third of Brazil’s population. The Afro-Brazilian heritage remains strong and dominates the country’s east coast. The African influence is evident in everything from the samba schools of the Brazilian carnival to the music and traditions of the people. In spite of Brazil being a culturally diverse country, Africans still have not found themselves on an even playing field in terms of economic or political opportunities in positions of power in the country.

    Figure 6.25 Population of the Various Regions of Brazil Indicating the Core Region around the Cities of the Southeast


    The peripheral region includes the large Amazon Basin of the north. Notice the many small states in the Northeast from Fortaleza to Salvador; these states are densely populated.

    Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 3.0.