Brazil History

Geography and Climate

Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion

Fauna and Flora

Brazil Links
Lesson Plans
Brazil Maps

Check out the Route Maps

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Origin of the name, Brazil Brazil wood (Portuguese: pau-brasil) was a major export in early colonial times.


Click on each link below to learn more about the symbols.
  • Capital - Brasilia
  • National Bird - Sabiá-laranjeira, Thrush
  • National Flag - The Brazilian Flag has a large yellow shape diamond on a green background. The colour green stands for the lush fields and forests of Brazil. The colour yellow represents its wealth in gold, which is found in many areas of the country. In the center of the yellow diamond there is a blue sphere that symbolizes the usual navy blue sky that one finds in the tropical areas of the Earth. In that sky there are the stars which represent the capital of the country and its federal states. Actually there are 26 states and the capital (27 stars). In the middle of the sphere there is a white banner with a legend: "Ordem e Progresso", that means "Order and Progress".
  • National Anthem
  • Coat of Arms  
  • National Flower -  The Ipê-amarelo - (Tecoma chrysostricha)
  • Independence Day, 7 September


Brazil consists of 26 States and a Federal District :

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Brazil is divided into 26 States and one Federal District:

Espirito Santo,
Mato Grosso,
Mato Grosso do Sul,
Minas Gerais,
Rio de Janeiro,
Rio Grande do Norte,
Rio Grande do Sul,
Santa Catarina,
Sao Paulo,

for detailed statistics, see States of Brazil


Portuguese is the official language. 
Brazil History HISTORY

Little remains of Brazil’s prehistoric inhabitants with few clues for archaeologist to follow. Brazilian history begins in 1500 when the Portuguese Pedro Alvares Cabral landed after having his ships blown off course. In 1531 the first settlers arrived. It is estimated that when the colonists arrived there were over 3 million Indians in over 1,000 tribes. Currently there are approximately 200 tribes with less than 250,000 Indians.

African slaves were brought to work on the sugarcane plantations. By the time slavery was abolished in 1888, nearly 3.6 million Africans had been brought to Brazil.

In Minas Gerais gold was discovered late in the 17th century. For part of the 18th century Brazil became the world’s largest gold producer. By 1750 the gold boom was in decline.

When Napoleon's forces invaded Portugal in 1807, the king of Portugal, John VI, fled to Brazil, and on his arrival, Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the Portuguese Empire. In 1821 the king returned to Portugal, leaving his son Pedro behind as Viceroy Regent of Brazil. On Sept. 7, 1822, he proclaimed the independence of Brazil, and he became Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil.

In 1889, one year after slavery was abolished, a military coup ended the monarchy and the republic was born. As the demand for rubber increased in 1890, a rubber boom began bringing great wealth to the Amazonian cities of Belem and Manaus. When rubber plantations in Southeast Asia started to yield rubber from seeds smuggled out of the Amazon, the price of latex crashed and the bottom fell out of the Brazilian rubber boom.

In 1930 the old republic was overthrown by a movement headed by Getúlio Vargas with the intent to reform the electoral and political system. Varas remained President for the next 15 years when he resigned, only to be re-elected in 1951. However, in 1954 he was implicated in an attempt to assassinate a journalist and killed himself.

In March 1964 the military overthrew the President leading to 21 years of military rule. In 1985 after nationwide demonstrations, direct presidential elections were held. Unfortunately, the winner suffered from heart failure and died before he could assume the presidency. His vice-president assumed power.

In October 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former metal worker and trade unionist, was elected president of Brazil.



Brazil’s economy is among the ten biggest in the world. It is smaller than the six major industrialized economies – the US, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy. It is the second largest economy in the Americas after the United States, with Canada, Mexico and Argentina occupying third, fourth and fifth place respectively. It is the second largest economy in the developing world after China. Its 170 million people have a per capita income of around US$ 4,000 per year. Vast disparities remain, however, in the country's distribution of land and wealth. Roughly one third of the workforce is involved in agriculture.

Until the beginning of the 20th century the Brazilian economy was characterized by a succession of cycles, each based on the exploitation of a single export commodity: timber, sugarcane, precious metals and gems, and coffee. Slave labor was used until the last quarter of the l9th century.

The major commercial crops are coffee, citrus fruit, especially orange juice concentrate, soybeans, sugarcane, rice, corn, cocoa, cotton, tobacco, and bananas. Cattle, pigs, and sheep are the most numerous livestock. Timber is also important, although much of it is illegally harvested.

Brazil has vast mineral wealth, including iron ore, quartz, chrome ore, manganese, industrial diamonds, gem stones, gold, nickel, tin, bauxite, uranium, and platinum. The leading manufacturing industries produce textiles, chemicals, shoes, food products, steel, motor vehicles, ships, and machinery. Most of Brazil's electricity comes from hydroelectric power.

Geography and Climate


Brazil is the largest Latin American country, occupying an area of 3,286,470 sq. miles (8,511,965 sq. km) and covering nearly half (47.3 percent) the South American landmass. It is the fifth largest country in the world after the Russian Federation, Canada, China and the United States.

The equator passes through the north of the country near Macapá; the Tropic of Capricorn passes through the south near São Paulo. Brazil's maximum width, 2,684 miles (4,319.4 km), is almost the same as its maximum distance from north to south, 2,731 miles (4,394.7 km). The Atlantic Ocean extends along the entire eastern side of the country, which has 4,578 miles (7,367 km) of coastline.

Brazil can be divided into four topographical zones: (1) The densely forested northern lowlands which cover around 50% of the interior and contains the Amazon River Basin, (2) The semiarid scrub lands of the northeast, (3) The rugged hills and mountains mixed with rolling plains, to the central west and south, (4) The narrow coastal belt which contains 30% of the country's population.

Approximately 50% of the land area is covered by forests with the largest forest in the world located in the Amazon River Basin. The country has eight river systems which carry around 20% of the world's running water, of which the most important are the Amazon, Sao Francisco, Paraguay, Parana and Uruguay.

Geographic Regions

Brazil has a diversity of environments. There are thousands of endemic species of fish in the Amazon basin which contribute to the reproduction of riverside plants. The Amazonian endemism is known worldwide, being rich in primates, birds, butterflies, fish, reptiles and other animals. The Amazon constitutes around 40% of the Brazilian territory.

The cerrados or woodland savannas once occupied 25% of the land in the western portion of central Brazil, and in parts of the states of São Paulo, Paraná, Maranhão and Piauí. The cerrados appear in areas of deep soil, little stratified, leached and poor in organic matter. A dry season of three to seven months marks the region. One of the cerrado trees, the Ipê, (Tabebuia ochracea) is the national tree of Brazil.

Between the cerrados and the Bolivian eastern lowlands is the Pantanal swamplands, formed by the flooding of the rivers of the Paraguay basin. It is the largest flooded area in the world. It occupies 140,000 sq. km (50,000 sq. mi) and is larger than Greece. It covers areas in Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. In Brazil it is mainly in the state of South Mato Grosso.

The caatinga or sertão (bush) is a semi-arid region including parts of the states of Bahia, Alagoas, Sergipe, Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceará, Piauí and Maranhão, and occupying an area of around 700 hundred thousand square km (270,000sq mi). The annual rainfall is unpredictable. This region has undergone great devastation in the past, in part, due to the use of wood as fuel and the lack of replanting.

The Atlantic Forest region is under the biggest threat next to the Amazon Basin. Occupying today around five percent of its original area, estimated at 1.5 million sq km, it follows the Brazilian coastline from Rio Grande do Norte to the start of Rio Grande do Sul. The name of the country, Brazil, comes from the pau-brasil tree (brazil-wood), exploited for the extraction of red pigment.

The Brazilian coast from the Orange Cape in Amapá, to Laguna in Santa Catarina is home to one of the world’s largest Manguezal or mangrove swamp.


Although 90 percent of the country is within the tropical zone, Brazil has five climatic regions. They are referred to in different manners, but generally fall into the following categories: Amazonia, Atlantic Rain Forest, Caatinga, Cerrado and the Pantanal.

Most of Brazil has moderate rainfall with most of the rain falling in the summer (between December and April) south of the Equator. The Amazon region is notoriously humid, with high rainfall. The Amazon basin also has a three- to five-month dry season. Between 130 and 250 rainy days a year depending on where in the basin you may be.

The semiarid Northeast is the driest part of the country, and there have been severe droughts in cycles averaging seven years. The region also constitutes the hottest part of Brazil during the dry season between May and November.

The Center-West has significant rainfall during the year, with a pronounced dry season in the middle of the year, while the South and most of the Atlantic coast as far north as Salvador, Bahia, in the Northeast, have similar amounts of rainfall without a distinct dry season.


What is the weather like in the Region today?  Follow this link to The Weather Underground for the forecast for the cities visited by our explorers.  Or check out this satellite map from  

Try converting the temperature in your town from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  

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All of South America is in the same time zone. What time is it in different cities in the region as compared to the time in your home town?  Check this!

Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion


Brazil is the sixth most populous country in the world after China, India, the United States, Indonesia and the Russian Federation. Its population is approximately 182 million, and is predominantly young: 62% of Brazilians are under 29 years of age.

Brazil's average population density is low compared to that of many other countries. Most people live on or near the Atlantic coast of the southeastern and northeastern states. Since about 1970 there has been intense migration from the northeast to the southeast, as well as from rural to urban areas. Recently the population flow has also turned towards the less inhabited central-western and northern regions.


The ethnic grouping of the population is broken down as 55% white; 38% mulatto or mixed; 6% Afro-Brazilian; 1% other. However, many light skinned people of mixed origin are considered as white.

Brazil is a racially mixed country in which the majority of people have ancestors in more than one of the three main groups: white Europeans (mostly Portuguese); black Africans (mainly from the west of the continent); and the original indigenous Indian population. In the first half of the 20th century, as a consequence of war and economic pressures, sizeable contingents of immigrants came to Brazil from various parts of western, central and eastern Europe. The first 500 or so immigrants from Japan arrived in Brazil in 1908, to be followed by another quarter of a million over the next sixty years. Brazil contains the largest number of people of Japanese ancestry outside Japan.

It is estimated that there are approximately 200 Indian tribes with less than 250,000 Indians.

About three-quarters of the population live in cities. While the wealthier city dwellers enjoy modern conveniences and a fair standard of living, many of the poor Brazilians live in crowded city slums called favelas.


Brazil's culture identity can be most accurately described as multiculturalism.   There is the Portuguese who brought their language and religion, Africans, native Indians and the more recent immigrants.  The Indians provided many of the indigenous foods and drinks, while the Africans brought their religions, music and style of cooking.  Immigrants have brought their cultures from such diverse areas such as Europe, Russian and Japan.

The Brazilians are stereotyped as outgoing and fun loving, mostly due to their celebration of Carnival.  Although just as with all other cultures, there are academics, workaholics, and just about any other type you can think of.


Brazil is predominantly a Catholic country, likely due to the fact that until 1889 Catholicism was the only legally permitted religion. About 80% of the present parishes of Brazil were created in the twentieth century. The parishes cover very extensive areas (about 1000 sq km) and serve large populations (average 14,036 people).

The priest would journey through the vast area for which he was responsible, "dispensing" their obligations: he baptized, performed marriages and preached before moving on to the next village. It was a Catholicism which was characterized by few priests, few masses and a lot of festivals.

In Brazil, the cult of the saints has become the predominate form of religious expression. In Amazonia, where indigenous traditions are stronger, Catholic saints form a counterpoint with spirits who inhabit the forests and rivers. Pajelança, practiced by lay priests, guides the Catholic faithful in the use of sacred herbs and in the rituals involving "enchanted" beings who live in the depths of the waters.

African influences combine traditional saints with spirits venerated by the slaves. Brazilian society weaved an intricate web of religious practices. In Brazil, religion does not imply an exclusive cultural identity. Blacks and whites share rituals, and the beliefs handed down by the slaves are widely held today among the middle classes. Even today, every Monday is devoted to the souls of the dead, and candles are lit throughout the country, illuminating the prayers for the dead.

Brazilians display a readiness to assimilate new beliefs. Immigrants have brought Oriental meditation, Buddhism, Sufism, and esoteric mysticism along with Liberation Theology and the evangelical and pentecostal movements.

Fauna and Flora


Brazil is a country of enormous and astonishing biodiversity, its ecosystems containing more than 10% of the plant and animal species known to science. In Amazônia alone there are 55,000 species of plants, 516 different kinds of amphibians, 1,622 birds, 467 reptiles and 428 mammals. In a world ranking for biodiversity, Brazil would be in first place for amphibian species, third for birds, and fourth for both mammals and reptiles.

In the Amazon you can find floodplain, dry land and a layered rain forest. The layering is the canopy, the understory and the ground covering.

The Atlantic Rain Forest once extended along the country’s southeast facing coastline. Today no more than 7% of the forest remains. Although some areas may still contain the highest biodiversity levels on earth, many of the species are endangered. More than half of the flora in this region is endemic, growing nowhere else in the world.

The caatinga is a semiarid land with hardy vegetation like cactus and thorny shrubs. Much of this land has been transformed, through irrigation, to rangeland for cattle and farmland for large-scale farming.

The cerrado is generally open savanna grasslands. There are an estimated 10,000 plant species, of which nearly half are found nowhere else. However, this area is also subjected to intensive farming and cattle ranching leading to environmental changes.

The Pantanal is a vast swampy wetland, the largest on earth. During the rainy season, water can cover as much as two thirds of its area. The flooding has made ranching difficult and the area is still one of the wildest and least explored in Brazil. Here you can find about 650 species of birds, 50 species of reptiles and 80 species of mammals.

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Source:  Government of Brazil

Kim and Don Greene, Contributors; publication date June 24, 2005