The Animal Game

December 17, 2009

One of the key characters on my street is the man who sells tickets for the “animal game”.  He is one of thousands of men and women who sit each day along the sidewalks of Rio de Janeiro at pontos (points of sale) selling tickets for the oldest lottery in Brazil, the jogo do bicho (or animal game).  This is an illegal, but widely respected, lottery that the authorities (usually) choose not to bother.  Rio, like all Brazilian cities, has many legal lotteries that are very popular.  The jogo do bicho, however, has a longer history than most of the legal lotteries.

My local lottery guy

It began in the late nineteenth century, as a way for the Baron João Batista Viana Drummond to raise funds and publicity for the zoo he had created.  To make the lottery more easily understood, he used animals (ostrich, dog, alligator . . . .) instead of numbers.  Over the years, the lottery became widely played by the locals, and by the late twentieth century, it was in the hands of the so called bicheiros, or numbers bankers.  There are twenty-five different animals each assigned a set of four numbers between 1 and 100.  A bettor can place money on combinations of numbers of two, three, or four digits and one of the animals (the last two digits have to be associated with that animal).

Animals & Numbers

Today, the jogo do bicho is played by tens of thousands of cariocas (natives of Rio) on a daily basis.  (The game is played elsewhere in the country as well.)  The man in the pictures at the beginning and end of this blog entry is a vendedor (dealer) who sits in a broken chair in front of my building most days with a set of note pads and a shoebox. At times, he has someone else with him, and at other times, someone substitutes for him.  People come up, buy an animal ticket and number, and then wait for the results to be announced in the afternoon.  (The drawing is usually at 2 p.m.)  You find out the winning numbers/animals at particular locations in each neighborhood where you can redeem your ticket and receive you winnings.  I have seen these numbers posted at different locations up and down my street.  In the age of the internet, the jogo do bicho now has its own webpage, if you want to check it out, go to:

Printing up the winners

Over the last 120 years, the government has sometimes tried to suppress the game, in particular, because it is a convenient way to launder money, and because it has often attracted high powered criminals to run it.  There has been an ongoing discussion about legalizing the game.  In the 1980s and 1990s some of the richest bicheiros began to put their money into some of the famous samba schools in Rio.  In recent years, a number of the directors of the samba schools have been murdered in what were apparently struggles over control of the game.  Reputedly, about a dozen powerful “bankers” control the operation.  When one local judge in the mid-1990s cracked down on the bicheiros and finally managed to jail some of them, her life was threatened.  None of them served much time.  The recent president of the samba schools association is reputedly the most powerful of all the bankers.

In a survey I saw in the 1990s, this “illegal” lottery had the highest confidence rating of nearly any institution in Brazil.  It easily beat out the police, the courts, and the utilities companies.  I would imagine the Baron Drummond had no idea that he was creating what has become one of the quintessential Rio institutions!

Penny capitalism at work


The Multiplier Effect

December 12, 2009

Before I go on with my description of the cast of characters in my neighborhood I want to pause and write about an incredible community service project a friend of mine, Chris “Sparky” Sparks, has been working on for the past two years.

Chris is an amazing guy.  A Marine pilot with experience flying missions in the Middle East, he was an ROTC instructor at Vanderbilt, and a student in the Owen Graduate School of Management.  He decided he wanted eventually to pursue a career in international business.  He studied Portuguese at Vanderbilt and decided the best way to gain true fluency was to move to Brazil.  When he went into the Reserves last year, he came down to Rio and, on his own savings, began to build a non-profit (NGO, non-governmental organization) in the largest slum (favela) in Rio–Rocinha.  With some 350,000 inhabitants, Rocinha is a small city that has grown up on the western slopes of the Dois Irmãos mountains that separate Ipanema/Leblon from Barra da Tijuca, the highest priced neighborhoods in the city.

Rocinha with peaks of Dois Irmãos to the upper right, and Ipanema and Leblon in the distance

After encountering a series of frustrations trying to work with some existing NGOs in Rio, Chris eventually moved into Rocinha to live with a family and started Crossfit, a “strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists.”  The idea is simple:  teach people how to get into shape, do with some martial arts, and then teach them how to teach others.  The multiplier effect.  Through his own extraordinary efforts, he has raised donations (cash and equipment), rented a location in Rochinha, and trained locals to run the operation.  With some luck, and all his hard work, he may be able to secure the sponsorship of some athletic companies, especially with the World Cup and Olympic Games coming to Rio in the next few years.  If you would like to see something about Crossfit, check out the website at To see his blog go to

Crossfit loction in Rocinha

Recently, Chris took a job in Brasília and this will make his work here in Rio more dependent on those he has trained to run the operation in Rocinha.  If you would like to help Chris out, he is in always in need of volunteers to help with fundraising, doing the paperwork to register Crossfit as a U.S. non-profit, or to secure donations of equipment.  Chris has done an incredible amount of work to get this project off the ground, and it is on the verge of sustainability.  I hope some of you reading this will help him out with this amazing project.

The Gatekeepers

December 8, 2009

Now, where was I when I left off . . . .

Oh, yes, the cast of characters in my neighborhood.  This will take a few segments in the coming weeks so I can talk about the porteiro, the newsman, the bicheiro, and the trumpeter—for starters.

One of the most important people in my life in Rio is the guy who sits at a desk in the lobby at the entrance to the building, the porteiro (loosely, doorman, or what is often called the super or supervisor in New York apartment buildings).  Every apartment building in Rio has its porteiros.  In the really expensive real estate around me, these men sit in glass booths, at the entrances to their buildings, normally with some sort of gated courtyard in front of them.   They are, quite literally, the gatekeepers to life in the building.  No one goes in or out without passing by them.  Underneath most of the tall buildings around here are subterranean parking garages so the porteiros are also the gatekeepers for cars coming in and going out.  (Not the case for my building.)

Entrance to my building to left of the graffiti filled wall; apartments are on the floors above

The porteiros also serve a vital security function that has become increasingly important in Rio with its increasing crime problem.  The experienced porteiro comes to know all the inhabitants of a building, as well as their daily habits.  Anyone who is not recognizable has to identify him/herself to gain access—first to the gated courtyard or entrance, then to the building itself, usually via the elevators.  The job must be incredibly complicated socially for the porteiro in the high-rent district.  They cannot afford to offend the friends and relatives of the wealthy tenants, but they also cannot err and let someone in the building who might cause problems.  In the last decade, increasingly bolder thieves have sometimes talked their way into the porteiros and then seized them to gain access to apartments to shake down the tenants before heading off with jewels, cash, and valuables.

My building is clearly of the more modest variety with an undistinguished entrance and no gates.  One walks directly into the lobby and up to the porteiro who sits next to the elevators and stairs.  The job here must be more complicated than normal with the constant changeover of tenants.  Probably half the apartments in my eight-story building have temporary tenants, largely tourists, who come for a few days to a few months and then move on.  In short, it must be next to impossible to know with any real certainty who belongs and in the building and who does not.

After observing them for close to three months now, I have realized there are four porteiros who rotate through shifts.  One of them is a young fellow, probably in his early twenties who will barely speak to me.  Two are men probably in their forties who are friendly enough to acknowledge my coming and going with the polite “bom dia” and “boa noite”.  I have been unable to engage either of them in more than the most minimal conversation.  The fourth porteiro, Fernando, is another matter.  He is clearly the senior member of the crew and puts in the most hours.  He is also the friendliest.  More so than the others, he chats with what appear to be the long-term residents (generally an older crowd), and the tourists.

Fernando is a nordestino, that is, from the Northeastern states, the poorest region of Brazil (roughly the equivalent of our Appalachia).  He is from the tiny state of Paraíba on the Northeastern coast.  Like hundreds of thousands of others from the region, he migrated to Rio with his family forty years ago.  I am guessing he is probably in his mid-fifties.  He is very friendly and it took him a while to convince him that I was American and not English.  Go figure.

Fernando on duty

A good relationship with the porteiro is crucial to living in Brazil.  Not only does he know everything going on in the building, he knows who to talk with or where to go to fix any problems you might have.  Where can I find a good store for this or that?  How do I fix my clogged up sink?  What do I do with my plastic bottles and newspapers?  What was all that screaming and shouting in the apartment above mine last night?  Fernando is the man with all the answers.  I have probably been here longer than most of the transient tenants, but not that long yet.  I will keep working on getting to know him in the coming months.  After all, he is the gateway to so much of daily life in the neighborhood and Rio.

On the Street Where I Live

November 18, 2009

After two months in Ipanema I have begun to get to know the neighborhood so I thought I would give you a brief tour.

Map of Ipanema and Leblon

I live on the Rua Visconde de Pirajá, the main commercial street that runs the length of Ipanema (about 1.5 miles).  The street runs in an east-west direction–parallel to the beach–which is two blocks to the south.  Ipanema and the neighboring Leblon (beginning about three blocks west of my apartment) are some of the most affluent neighborhoods (bairros) in Rio.  To the east (around the point—Arpoador) is Copacabana, to the west the Two Brothers (Dois Irmãos) mountains rise up with the Vidigal favela on one side and Rocinha favela on the other.  Behind Ipanema (to the north) is a large lagoon/lake, and rising up above the lake is Corcovado mountain and Rio’s most iconic landmark—the Christ statue.

Leblon and Ipanema looking from west to east with the Lagoa to the left and Copacabana beach around the point

Looking west from Ipanema Beach to Dois Irmãos (18Nov09)

As a rule, real estate values and the “chic quotient” rise as one moves into Leblon and to its west side.  My street continues westward into Leblon as Ataúlfo de Paiva.  This long avenue from east to west is home to many upscale stores and boutiques.  Once you get into Leblon, think M Street in Georgetown (DC) or Westwood in Los Angeles.  The streets on either side of me, especially to the north, are largely residential areas dominated by high-rise apartment buildings, although the occasional old home (built before the 1950s) survives.

My block is primarily high-rise apartment buildings with stores and retail outlets on the street level.  Just across the street I have a small supermarket—Zona Sul.

Zona Sul supermarket

One block to the west is my favorite local bookstore, Livraria da Travessa, which has a very nice café on the second level.  Both stay open until midnight allowing me to come over and browse books, read, and have sandwich or a cappuchino later in the evening.

My favorite bookstore - Livraria da Travessa

One of my favorite spots is a block and half down the street to the east, Polis Sucos (Juice City).  This is a very typical “juice bar” a la Rio.  These places are everywhere and they mix up an astonishing variety of fresh juices and smoothies in minutes.  I am addicted to a thick smoothie made with açaí, a berry from a variety of palm tree.  Brazilians love this fruit.  It is reputed to have health benefits, but I just love the grapelike flavor.  I have to pace myself when I eat this purple concoction with a spoon to avoid “brain freeze”!

My favorite juice bar

Polis Sucos is on a very busy intersection.  I like to sit on the edge of the planter box that surrounds a tree in front of the store.  If I look to the south I can see the beach two blocks away.  If I look to the north, I am staring up at Corcovado Mountain and the Christ statue.  Not a bad seat.  I spend most of my on that spot sipping my juice and watching the people go by.  In my next post I will introduce you to some of the cast of characters in my neighborhood.

Corcovado Mountain & Christ Statue

The Night the Lights Went Out in Brazil

November 15, 2009

At approximately 10:20 p.m. last Tuesday night, the power suddenly went out in my apartment.  Thinking it was something local, I looked out my back window only to discover a city of ten million inhabitants in nearly complete darkness.  Within a few minutes, I could see flashlights and candles appearing in a few of the windows of the high-rise apartment building surrounding me.  When the power did not come back on within a few minutes I could hear rowdy and playful shouts coming from the bars on the street below.  I don’t think the lack of light slowed down the drinking or the singing. . . .

Copacabana in the dark2

Copacabana in the Dark

As it turns out, this was an enormous power blackout (apagão in Portuguese) that spread across most of Brazil—affecting 18 of country’s 26 states and some 90 million people for about three hours.  (In comparison, the blackout on the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada in August 2003 affected about 55 million people and lasted for several days in some areas.)  Brazilian government officials were quick to blame bad weather as the culprit although few Brazilians seem to accept this explanation.  I have to say, that the government explanations have not been very convincing and the Minister of Energy just seems to want to act as if nothing happened.  Officially, several transmission lines short-circuited in the state of São Paulo causing a cascading effect that rippled across the country, in particular, shutting down the massive Itaipú Dam complex on the Brazilian-Paraguayan border.  At the moment, Itaipú generates more electrical power than any dam in the world, and nearly all of Paraguay’s power.  More than 80% of Brazil’s electrical power is hydroelectric.

Brazil Blackouts

São Paulo in the Dark

Despite the massive power failure, the country seems to have survived fairly well.  There was no surge in crime, no looting, and hospitals seem to have managed to take care of the most vulnerable patients.  In the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-Canadian blackout—apparently caused by overgrown trees around transmission lines in Ohio—former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, supposedly said that the U.S. was “a superpower with a third-world electricity grid.”  Given Brazil’s experience last Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, maybe we should say that Brazil is a “third-world country with a first-world electricity grid!”

On Madonna and Penguins

November 9, 2009

I am back in Rio after my travels through the southern fringes of the earth.  Under a hot, sunny sky, I walked down the beach this afternoon to stretch my legs and take a break from work.  (Yes, I am working most of the time!)  Near the end of Ipanema Beach (near the point known as Arpoador, or Harpooner) I came across a restless crowd of photographers, cameramen, and curious tourists ready with cameras.  Turns out that Madonna is in town and she was inside one of the most exclusive hotels in Rio, just across the street.  I sat and watched the crowd for a few minutes and then headed back up the beach toward my apartment.

Strange as it might seem, the gaggle of photographers reminded me of the herd of tourists on my cruise through the Straits of Magellan.  In particular, on the last day of our cruise, we visited a small island across from the main port—Punta Arenas—near the Atlantic entrance to the Straits.  Besides a lighthouse, the island is inhabited by thousands of Magellanic penguins.  They are in the nesting season and the ground is riddled with shallow nests dug into the side of the hill rising up to the lighthouse.

Penguins & lighthouse

Penguins & Lighthouse

When we came ashore early in the morning (7 a.m.), many of the penguins were waddling down to the beach for a dip in the water–and breakfast.  Others were sitting on eggs (usually two) in the nests, and still others wandered around, beaks pointed straight up to the heavens, honking loudly.  (Just in case you wanted to know, they sound a lot like donkeys braying.)

Penguin nesting

Penguin nesting

Much like the paparazzi chasing Madonna in Ipanema, the hundred or so tourists from our boat (Americans, Latin Americans, Europeans, Australians) staked out the penguins and snapped photos with abandon.  Tourists have to stay on a roped off path that leads from the dock to the lighthouse.  At times, the cluster of tourists must have been amusing for the penguins.  (We were told not to use a flash because it damages the penguins’ eyes.)  Occasionally, we were tripping over each other to get out of the way of groups of penguins crossing our path on their way down to the beach, or back.

Penguins & papparazzi

Penguins & Paparazzi

I am not sure why humans find penguins so appealing, but we do.  They are curious little critters with their waddle and tuxedo coating.  The Magellanic penguins are not quite as striking as the Emperor penguins who became media stars after the March of the Penguins movie, but they are incredibly fun to watch.  Fortunately, their population is also expanding.   According to our guide, there are now more than 500,000 Magellanic penguins in Tierra del Fuego alone, and the community is slowly growing.  In a couple of months, they will all hit the water and migrate up the South American coast as far as southern Brazil, before returning next August.  They will come back to the exact same spot in the Straits of Magellan guided by some sort of internal genetic code.

Penguins & beach

Penguins on the Beach

I have to say that I gave Madonna about five minutes, before giving up on a sighting.  Fortunately, the penguins did not make us wait, were easier to photograph, and a whole lot more interesting than Madonna!

Penguin pair

Penguins waiting on Madonna to exit Ipanema hotel


Madonna finally makes an appearance to the delight of penguins and paparazzi in the Southern Hemisphere

Chasing Guanacos

November 6, 2009

I spent most of today chasing guanacos, the camelid cousins of llamas and alpacas.  They look very similar, but the guanacos are not quite as large and they produce less wool.  The guanacos number in the thousands here, up from a few hundred in the 1960s.  They travel in herds of about 60-70.  One alpha male dominates a herd of females and juveniles.  When the young males come of age they set out in search of their own herd either separating off some of their father’s or seizing females from other herds.


View from my hotel room

The herds move freely around the eastern side of the park, on the grassy steppes.  They seem very comfortable with the tourist buses and vans, but keep a distance of about 10-15 meters.  The trick is to ease up as close as possible before they get nervous and move away over the hills.  I was lucky enough to get some good photos, including one with a spectacular mountain backdrop.

Guanaco & Peak

Alpha male

The weather today was fickle, as always.  We woke up to a small snowstorm that covered the ground and blocked all view of the mountains.  By 9 a.m., the clouds had lifted and the view from my hotel room was stunning.  As we moved through the park in search of guanacos and a coveted photo of the towers (torres del paine) we went through patches of sun, snow, freezing rain, and (always) tremendous wind gusts.


The Torres obscured by clouds today

At lunch time we came to a beautiful lake with the view of the torres behind the lake.  Unfortunately, the torres were obscured by clouds.  When I was here four years ago, the weather was spectacularly good, so I had a previous image to compare with today’s.  Despite the obscured view, the scenery here—both the fauna and the landscape—are endlessly fascinating.  I have never been anywhere (except the Grand Canyon) where the scenery is as beautiful and inspiring.  Ansel Adams would have been very happy here.

Horses and towers

The Torres on my last visit in 2005

Stark Beauty

November 4, 2009

Sometimes, nature’s beauty is not lush and colorful,  sometimes it is stark and austere.  Here in the southernmost reaches of Patagonia I have seen some of the most beautiful natural scenes imaginable.  On the five-hour drive up from Punta Arenas, Chile to Torres del Paine National Park, the landscape is very much like sections of Montana or Wyoming—long stretches of rolling prairie with sparse vegetation, snow-capped peaks rising up from the plains, and enormous skies shifting constantly from clouds to rain to snow to sun.

Grey Glacier

Facing Grey Glacier

The Andes Mountain range stretches from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego thrust upwards over millions of years from the infinitely slow and continuing collision of tectonic plates from the Pacific sliding under the tectonic plates of the South American continent.  Down here on the southern fringes of Chile and Argentina, these spectacular mountains were carved up for tens of thousands of years with the advance and retreat of glaciers.  Since the end of the last ice age some 20,000 years ago, the glaciers have been receding, leaving behind deep and beautiful channels among the mountains.  Some of these channels filled with water from the oceans forming the Straits of Magellan and the Beagle Channel.  Others created the seemingly endless fjords that stretch from Tierra del Fuego up the Chilean coast for a thousand miles.

Glacier chunks

Glacier fragments

Unlike the heavily forested Rocky Mountains, the peaks in Torres del Paine are stark, bare rock carved by glaciers, snow, ice, and water.  Today, as we moved around this vast national park the weather was constantly shifting.  As we approached the long, flat gravelly terrain that spread like a beach for about a mile I realized that it was the bed (moraine) of what had once been an enormous glacier.  What was left of the glacier was ahead of us across an icy lake containing icebergs—large chunks of ice that had broke off from the face of the Grey Glacier and were now floating across a vast body of water in front of the glacier.  Rising up on either side are rugged mountains covered with snow.  By the time we reached the shore of the lake the clouds had begun to roll in.  As we made our way up the path rising above the right side of the lake the sun still shone down on the glacier and surrounding mountains.  By the time we reached the lookout point and started taking pictures, a small blizzard completely obscured the glacier and a dry snow began to cover everything—the trees, mountainsides, and our clothes.

Grey Glacie2

Grey Glacier from lakefront

As we made our way back down the slippery path and across the expanse of the gravel field, a layer of snow covered the entire area.  Yet, as we drove out of this valley, the snow subsided, and we began to move across an open valley washed in bright sunlight.  Our elevation had not changed more than a few meters.  What they say about Patagonia is true—wind, rain, snow, and cold come and go with great and unpredictable speed.  The weather shifts constantly.  This fierce and fickle weather, however, produces a constantly morphing landscape that is striking and spectacular.  I am fortunate to witness this stark beauty at the end of the earth.


The End of the World

October 31, 2009

I arrived this afternoon at the “end of the world”, or it at least that is what it says on the signs in the Ushuaia airport.  Ushuaia (oo-schwhy-ya), Argentina, is on the southern shore of Tierra del Fuego, and claims to be the southernmost city in the Southern Hemisphere.  The jumping off point for expeditions to Antarctica (for those going south) and to Patagonia (for those going north), Ushuaia is a boom town that has grown from 7,000 to 70,000 inhabitants in just thirty years.  Tourism has fueled this growth.  Constructed in the style of a lodge, the new airport has one runway and two gates.

I have come here as the faculty “lecturer” on a Vanderbilt Alumni tour.  Tomorrow evening we board the Via Australis to spend three days cruising through the Straits of Magellan and the Beagle Channel.  We will then dock in Puntarenas, Chile and head overland to the north to Torres del Paine National Park, a spectacularly beautiful terrain with mountains, glaciers, and herds of guanacos (cousins of the llama).  I was here in Patagonia once before on an earlier Vanderbilt tour and we also visited Torres del Paine.  Next Friday, we will fly to Santiago, Chile, and on Sunday I will fly back to Rio.

Ushuaia mtns3


Patagonia is rugged and the weather is always challenging—normally cold, windy, and rainy.  We were lucky today.  The sun was out, and although it was snowing, the temperature was in the mid-thirties.  The surrounding mountains are covered with snow, but the city itself is dry and snow free.  The surrounding mountains form a spectacular setting with their snow capped peaks rising up alongside the Beagle Channel.  The lower slopes of the mountains are covered with hardy beech trees, lots of lichens and mosses, and peat bogs.  Incredibly, the Yamana people who occupied this territory before the arrival of the Europeans, lived in the climate with no clothes!  They built simple teepees out of trees and brush.  Much of their life revolved around hunting sea lions and gathering mussels.  When Anglican missionaries arrived in the mid-nineteenth century, they clothed the Yamana and congregated them.  Within two generations they had all died from European diseases and abuse from settlers.

Yamana Family

Yamana Family 1880s

When Fernando Magalhães (Magellan) passed along what today are the southern shores of Argentina in 1520, the native peoples were so tall and impressive they seemed to be giants.  His on board chronicler, the Italian Antonio Pigafetta, called them Patagones, a reference to a monster in a Spanish novel (hence, Patagonia, land of the Patagones).   Supposedly, the fires of the Yamana lit up the night sky as Magellan passed through the Strait now named for him, and he gave the area the name Tierra del Fuego.

On board the ship over the next three days I will be retracing the voyage of Magellan and of the Beagle, the ship that carried the young Charles Darwin around the world in the 1830s.  The channel running in front of Ushuaia is now named after that ship which on an earlier voyage had successfully established the route as an alternate passage to the Straits of Magellan from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  In my next blog, I will tell you what this voyage was like.  Although I grew up fifty miles from the Gulf of Mexico, I have never spent much time on the open sea, and certainly not in a body of water with such notoriously difficult weather.  Although summer is beginning here, we will face ice, snow, and rain, sometimes within a few hours.  Time to head for the ship and to disengage from the global electronic village . . . .Beagle Channel


October 24, 2009

For the past three days I have been in Salvador da Bahia, the old colonial capital of Brazil, and the birthplace of the slave and sugar plantation complex that spread across tropical and subtropical America from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.  It was here in Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos (The Savior of the Bay of All Saints) that the Portuguese transplanted cane sugar from their tiny island possessions off the African coast (Madeira in particular) in the late sixteenth century and began to transport black Africans to work on the expanding plantations on the Brazilian coast.  From the 1570s to the 1660s, the northeastern coast of Brazil became the first great sugar plantation of the world driving the rise of the modern transatlantic slave trade, and making sugar a standard part of the diet of the European world.  After 1650, the Dutch, then the British and the French, all anxious to profit from this lucrative enterprise, constructed their own plantations in the islands of the Caribbean accelerating the Atlantic slave trade.  Even after the rise of a gold boom in southeastern Brazil in the eighteen century shifted the flow of enslaved Africans to the previously tiny port village of Rio de Janeiro, hundreds of thousands of Africans continued to flow into the sugar plantations of the region around Salvador.Brazil map

As best we can estimate, about 12 million Africans arrived in chains in the Americas from the early 1500s to the 1870s.  Africans and their descendents eventually could be found working in all the European colonies in the Americas in nearly every sector of the labor force, although the vast majority toiled in the countryside in agriculture.  About one-third of these Africans (3.5-4 million) came to Brazil, about 40 percent to the Caribbean basin (5 million), and only 6-7 percent into what became the states of the U.S. South (about 750,000).  All of these societies were built on the sweat and blood of enslaved Africans and their descendents.  In the cases of Brazil and most of the islands in the Caribbean, the societies had slave majorities, and after emancipation in the nineteenth century, non-white majorities.  (In what is now the United States, only South Carolina had a black/slave majority for a brief period in the eighteenth century.)  Nowhere else in Brazil is the imprint of Africa as pronounced and enduring as Salvador.  According to one traditional Brazilian saying, “If Brazil’s land is American, its façade is European, and its soul is African.”

Slave Routes

Slave Routes

In Salvador, more than 80 percent of the population has African ancestry.  Whether in the faces of the people, the music, food, or religion, the influence of Africa pervades all of Bahian society and culture.  Black women wearing the traditional flowing white dresses and turbans sell traditional sweets and fritters (acarajé) on the streets of the old city center.  Hundreds of terreiros (houses of worship) carry on the centuries of religious rituals and beliefs that are a fusion of African religions and Catholicism known as candomblé.  The vibrant music scene has produced some of the greatest artists in modern Brazil from the popular music of Caetano Veloso and his sister Maria Bethânia to the samba-reggae of Daniela Mercury and Carlitos Brown.  Capoeira, a sort of combination of martial arts and dance moves, has developed over centuries in Salvador supposedly from its origins as staged fights between slaves.  Today, capoeira is practiced nearly everywhere on the globe (including Nashville).



Each time I come to Salvador I am reminded of the incredible diversity of Brazil.  Moving down the coast to Southeastern Brazil, a large part of the population has African heritage, but Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais and São Paulo form a sort of transition zone from the largely black Northeast to the almost entirely white South.  The three southernmost Brazilian states (Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Paraná) were settled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by European immigrants and their inhabitants today are more than 80 percent white.  Northern Brazil and the Center-West region are made up primarily of whites or peoples of mixed European and Indian descent.  This enormous country is continuum of colors and peoples spread out across an area larger than Europe.  All across this vast terrain one can find Brazilians of African descent, but it is in Salvador that they are most concentrated and most visible.  Today, the influence of this epicenter of Afro-Brazil continues to exert enormous influence on music, dance, on all of Brazilian culture.  Salvador remains the soul of