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A brief history

A brief history


Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil in 1500. From then on, various export cycles dominated Brazil's economic development. The first of these cycles was based on the exportation of brazilwood, used to make dyes and paints. During the 17th century, Brazil became the world's largest producer of sugar. In this period, a large number of African slaves were brought to Brazil to work in the sugar cane plantations. Gold and diamonds eventually replaced sugar as the country's major export product. By the second half of the 19th century, Brazil was deep in a new cycle with coffee as the major export. Today, coffee is still one of Brazil's major sources of income. The late 19th-century rubber boom also brought prosperity and development to the north of Brazil, previously ignored by the international economy. When Napoleon invaded Portugal in the early 1800's, Dom Joćo VI King of Portugal, fled to Brazil where the Portuguese court continued to run the empire. Ports were opened to international (mostly British) commerce, and the colony grew substantially. In 1789, one of Brazil's first movements for independence from Portugal was crushed. Its hero, Tiradentes, became a national symbol of liberty. Independence was finally proclaimed by Dom Pedro I (Dom Joćo's son) in 1822. He became Brazil's first Emperor. 

His son, Dom Pedro II. reigned for 49 years until 1889 when the country became a Republic. In 1888, slavery was abolished. In 1940 Brazil began a new phase characterized by industrial development.

At the same time, agricultural technology advanced giving further impetus to the industrial surge and accelerating financial expansion. In spite of a large and ever growing internal domestic market. Brazil continues to be a major exporter of agricultural products as well as manufactured items such as heavy machinery, shoes and steel products.



Brazil's inhabitants are descendants of a mixture of people. Portuguese colonizers mixed with the native Indians and African slaves (mostly of Yoruba and Quimbundu origin, corresponding to modern-day Nigeria Benin and Angola). Dutch and French colonization also took place in the Northeast. In the 19th century, waves of German, Italian, Polish and Japanese immigrants added new elements to the mixture. Brazilians are perhaps one of the most racially mixed peoples in the world.

Portuguese is the national language, but Brazilian Portuguese is very different in accent and intonation from the language spoken in Portugal or in other former Portuguese colonies. Some people suggest that Brazilians actually speak ''Brazilian" much in the same way that Americans might be said to speak ''American" rather than English.

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Write to:
Setor Cultural
att: Rosana de Sa
Consulate General of Brazil
300 Montgomery St. Suite 900
San Francisco, CA 94104



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Last updated: 03/29/10.