Introduction‎ > ‎

What Makes brazil, Brazil?

This is a classic book by social anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, unfortunately not available in English.  The full text of What makes brazil, Brazil?” is available on line in Portuguese.    Here, with the help of google.translate, we have a very rough translation and abridgement of an essay called “Summary: What makes brazil, Brazil?: This and Other Truths of the Brazilian Way (Jeitinho)” by Alianna Caroline Sousa Cardoso.  It is available online in Portuguese.  The English here is awkward, but I haven’t take the time to smooth it out since I think it is understandable. There are books by DaMatta available in English: Carnivals, Rogues, and Heroes: An Interpretation of the Brazilian Dilemma, and The Brazilian Puzzle : Culture on the Borderlands of the Western World .


Summary: What makes brazil, Brazil?: This and Other Truths of the Brazilian Way (Jeitinho)” by Alianna Caroline Sousa Cardoso.  (roughly translated from the Portuguese)

This essay addresses the lines written in the book by Roberto Da Matta What Makes Brazil , Brazil ? , After all , what makes you Brazilian ? What makes this country Brazil ? In fact , it is a question of identity , or rather , a construction of identity permeated by history since the discovery of Brazil until the present day , with our unique characteristics and peculiarities .

In a survey of national identity , Da Matta reveals Brazil , Brazilians and their culture through folk festivals , religious events , literature and art , carnival parades and military parades , laws and rules (when respected and when disobeyed ) , customs and sports .

According to Roberto Da Matta , "Brazil" uppercase means much more than just the name of the country , behind this meaning, is the expression of the country , culture, geographic location , and the border of the territory recognized internationally , and the home , piece of land treaded on with the heat of our bodies , home , memory, and awareness of a place with which it has a special, unique , totally sacred bond. It's also a particular time that can be recalled in nostalgic memory.. Society where people follow certain values ​​and judge human actions by criteria which are theirs alone.

After all , in fact , what makes Brazil a nation goes far beyond the political and legal records that fall within the borders of the country. Brazil is more than that, is the construction of culture of miscegenation , it is the mix of cultures and religions , is the color of the mixed skin. It's the way of never having money for anything, but always having a beer for a Sunday soccer game .

On the other hand , Da Matta speaks of a dead brazil , small letters. He explains that the title shows a distinction between the " Brazil " with " b " tiny , which is actually a reference to a type of hardwood , something without which life cannot reproduce itself as a system ( factories , colonies ) and " Brazil " with a capital B, which designates a people , a nation , a set of values ​​.


For this perspective, of the cuality of the nation, Brazil should be sought in the noble rituals of courthouses , forums , chambers , where the clear letter of the law defines its most important institutions , but should also be found in the jeitinho malandro, the scoundrel’s way of finding a way around formalities, which is also valued in Brazilian culture.  What we want to know is how these two realities, formal and informal, combine to form a single reality that we call “home”.

Brazil is the country of joy and people who pretends not to notice . It is rich people traveling abroad and poor people who have never left the favela (shantytown). In this "Brazil"  we use accurate data , demographic and economic statistics , facts and figures of per capita income and inflation . We also speak of the political and educational system of the country , only to find that Brazil is not one country that we would like. This classification allows to build a modern social identity , according to the criteria established by the European West from the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution . Here we refer to Brazil as we would like it to be.

On the other hand , we have the Brazil as it really is, what matters here is not the shame of scheme or runaway inflation and " shameless " , but the delicious food, engaging music , the longing that humanizes time and death and friends that allow resist everything .

Here we have a paradoxical contrast . We are an emerging country , full of social , economic and political problems , but exerts its carnival joy in day-to-day , winning all the possibilities with the way " rogue " carioca (person from Rio de Janeiro), or " cocky " Southerner , " lazy "  Bahian , finally , the Brazilian way.

Still in the same direction as Da Matta , we discuss the concepts of house, home , street, and work. In the house the most intimate family relationships are present . No matter how the family is : rich or poor . It is within it that is the real "I " of each. Our home is our home . When we go to work , we move away from the " safety " of our home , and at the end of the journey is anxious to get it and into it and take that shower and get comfortable , " because this is my home ." Thinking through this point of view , the house and the street are more than mere geographical spaces are ways of reading , explaining and talking about the world, because there we find stories and constructions of life.

To Da Matta the idea of ​​home is a totalizing social fact , in the house there is tranquility , calmness , harmony . On the street there is struggle , battle , danger . At work there is competition , complaint , boss, stop . However , these three ideas are correlated , because they are part of one's life . On the street you see the people . At home, the "friend " . At work , the " colleague " .

All this leads to discussions about the society that we find on the street, where there are prejudices and rules can not be broken . Where being "yourself " can be dangerous . On the street is that they are social truths , the scourges of society . On the street we came across the " Brazilian racism " and our famous racial triangle. Here we talk about a small brazil , with small b, which is not yet seen as highly hierarchical system in which the position of blacks , Indians and whites is still , tragically , according to the hierarchy of races . The idea is still imbued with the " Eurocentric " of our colonization . Why Brazil in a black majority , we have not even a black hero? In a society where there is equality among people , the veiled prejudice is a very efficient way to discriminate against people " of color" , provided that they are in place and " know " what it is . Finally , we have a "racial triangle " that prevents a historical and social overview of our formation as a society . The blunt fact of our history is that we are a country made ​​by white Portuguese and aristocratic , a hierarchical society was formed and within a rigid framework of discriminatory values ​​.

Thus , based on the discriminatory tax values ​​since the colonization of the country , it is easier to say that Brazil was formed by a triangle of races , which leads us to the myth of racial democracy, we have to assume that a hierarchical society , which operates through gradations and, therefore, can admit between higher and lower poor white and black , a series of classification criteria .

Of course we can have a racial democracy in Brazil . But it , as we know , will have to be established first, a legal positivity to ensure all Brazilians the basic right of all equality: the right to be equal before the law . In our national ideology , we have a myth forming three races . One can not deny the myth . But what is it may indicate that the myth is just that : a subtle way to hide a society that is not yet known hierarchical and divided among multiple possibilities for classification .

Da Matta , pursues the idea of ​​Sérgio Buarque de Holanda , for whom race mixing was a way to hide the social injustices against black , Indian and mulatto , and the idea of ​​racial democracy was nothing but a myth.

Still in the " discovery" of Brazil , Da Matta indicates that society is manifested through the many mirrors and multiple languages ​​. One of the most important in the case of Brazil is undoubtedly the source of food in its moral consequences that end up helping to also locate the woman and the feminine in its meaning , perhaps more traditional. Food and women , thus theoretically express the society as much as politics, economy , family , space and time in their concerns , and certainly in its contradictions .

About Women and Food Da Matta distinguishes what is "raw and cooked " (the title of a book by anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss). While the cooked mixture and allows the relation of things in the world who were separated , raw is the opposite of the house world , is like a cruel and harsh area of ​​the social world . Continuing to discern food from cuisine (comida de alimento) , it is valid to say that the first ( food ) is all that can be taken to keep a person alive , something universal and general . Cuisine is all that all that is valued and chosen among the foods.

The French anthropologist Levi- Strauss was the one who drew attention to the two natural processes - the raw and the cooked - not only as two states through which they pass all the food , but as ways in which we can speak of very important social transformations . On a more philosophical and universal plan , we know that raw binds to a state of savagery ( state of nature ) , while the baked relates to the universe socially elaborated that all human society defines as being to their culture and ideology. But is basic to continue emphasizing that cuisine is an  important mediator between head and belly, between body and soul, allowing operate simultaneously with a series of cultural codes that are normally separate , such as taste, odor code , visual code, yet, a digestive code, since in Brazil also classify foods by their ability to allow or not allow an easy and enjoyable digestion.


For us , the raw and the cooked can mean much more easily a complex universe , an area of our system where we can see ourselves as formidable and finally take us very seriously . In this sense , the crude would be all that is outside of the house where we are seen and treated with love, care and consideration , may - consequently - choose the food . Ie : raw is all that is beyond the control of the house . Have something is cooked by definition social . It is not only the name of a physical process - cooking by the fire of things - but above all , the name of a sacred dish within our cuisine.

For us Brazilians , not everything is always good dining or socially acceptable. Similarly , not everything that is food is cuisine. In other words , food is like a big frame, but the cuisine is the picture of what was valued and chosen among the food , that which must be seen and savored with the eyes and then the mouth, nose , good company and finally the stomach.

Da Matta for food defines people : " tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are" ! [2] . The fact is that food for the little brazil is associated with sexuality , such that the sexual act can be translated as an act of " eating " , embrace , embrace , ingest or fully circumscribe what is (or was ) eaten . The food , like the woman disappears into the " eater " - or " glutton " . So sexual relationships , in the Brazilian conception, leads to social heterogenization, a division between “eater” and “eaten”ce , and the radical heterogeneity , to then hierarchically engulfing it in an " eater " and " eaten " . And if you are what you eat, be careful what or with whom you eat.

Also in the perspective of the book, Da Matta seeks to understand how  carnival serves theater and entertainment for the world , stating that in the case of Brazil , the largest and most important , freer and more creative , more irreverent and most popular of all parties is , without doubt , the carnival . In fact , all societies alternate between their lives and routines myths , work and party , body and soul , matter and things men gods , regular periods - where life goes smoothly - and the festivals, rituals, celebrations , miracles and extraordinary occasions , where everything can be illuminated and viewed new light , position , perspective and angle. Ie , the carnival creates certain situations where several things are possible , and many others should be avoided . It is defined as "freedom" and as the possibility of living a utopian and unrealistic absence of misery, work, obligations , and duties sin . It is the theoretical distribution of sensual pleasure for everyone. We exchanged the night the day , not talking about masks , but fantasies , and this allows you to pass up anyone to anyone . People change their social position . It is an occasion where daily life is no longer operative , and because of this, an extraordinary moment is invented . In a word , it is a moment where you can stop living life as a burden and punishment. Carnival is perceived as something that comes from outside , with an irresistible wave that dominates us , controls and better yet , seduces hopelessly . You also discover that all are equal or can be equal before the carnival . Carnival is basically a reversal of the world.

The parties allow you to discover oscillations between a joyous vision and a grim life reading . All parties recreate and recover the time, space and social relations . So , is the party that we realize rewarding and painful things . We can not attend because we are not of the same social class , or even because they 're not good dancers , etc. . In Brazil, all ceremonies allow you to call home , the street and the other world . The league carnival house, street and other world wanting and proposing to open all doors and walls and all walls . Civic and religious rites are the same but with different purposes .

Run by religious rituals sacred sites , intending to rule the world according to the values ​​that are articulated here as the most basic . In the rites of order in general , and religious rituals in particular , the behavior is marked by contrition and the solemnity , which result in bodily and verbal contentions . All this is outlined accurately in all the rites of the order where the idea of ​​sacrificing the body for the fatherland , by God or by a political party ends up expressing the notion of duty , devotion and order. This contrasts with the carnival rituals.

Between the carnivalesque disorder, which allows and encourages excess , and order , which requires continence and discipline by strict obedience to the laws , how we Brazilians stayed ? In the middle of the two , trickery, " way" and the famous and unsympathetic " know who you're talking to? " modes would be to face these contradictions and paradoxes typical Brazilian way .

The " Brazilian way " is a peaceful and even legitimate way of solving such problems causing this series entirely junction law to the person who is using it . This way it is configured in " - you know who you're talking to? " . The cunning part of this knack , is a decinismo wave and taste for rough and dishonest by the agent, which can only be seen when we realize the difficulty of joining the law with everyday social reality.

The trickery is thus not simply an inconsequential uniqueness of us all Brazilians. In fact , this is also a profoundly original Brazilian way of life , and sometimes survive in a system where the house does not always speak with the street and the formal laws of public life have nothing to do with the rules of good customary morality that govern our honor , respect , and loyalty we owe to friends , relatives and cronies . Before an accident or a mere aspect of Brazilian social life , something without consequence , trickery is a possible way of being . Something very serious , containing its rules , spaces and paradoxes .

We Brazilians , we mark certain areas as special references of our society . The house where we live , eat and sleep , the street where we work and we won the struggle for life . To each of these we can add another space : the church and the ways to reach God.

Religion, according to Da Matta " ... is a way of ordering the world , our understanding providing for very complex things , such as the idea of time , the idea and the idea of ​​eternal loss and disappearance , relatives of those mysteries of the human experience .. . " [3] . Thus religion brand and helps establish important moments in the lives of us all . Thus , births , baptisms, confirmations , communions , weddings and funerals are marked by the presence of religion that legitimizes the divine or supernatural approval a passage that you wish necessary . We Brazilians have intimacy with certain saints who are our protectors and patrons , our holy patrons , just as we as guides certain deities or spirits from beyond , who are our protectors .

Anyway , all this complexity existing , sometimes paradoxically so many guys in Brazil , demonstrates the peculiarity of the construction of Brazilian identity, a failed policy of Brazil , and Carnival all year . A Brazil home , street , and work. A Brazil so many colors and so much racism. A Brazil where to eat can mean much more than food ... A fervent Catholics of Brazil and latent Candomblé . Brazil One of God , the gods , the world . A Brazil of  Brazilians .