The many colors of Brazil

Brazil is one of the most racially diverse countries in the world. Taking a quick glance at it’s history, it’s easy to see why…

A land of immigrants

When Brazil was first discovered by the Portuguese in 1500, there were Amerindians already living there, who had been occupying the land for the last 15,000 to 20,000 years. By 1550, the Portuguese colonists started to bring African slaves to Brazil. In all, 10.7 million African slaves were brought to Brazil.

African slaves in colonial Brazil

In the 19th and early 20th century, during the Great Immigration, many more groups arrived, including more Portuguese, many Italians, Spanish, Germans and Eastern Europeans, as well as Japanese and Middle Eastern. Between 1870 and 1953, almost five million immigrants came to Brazil.

Portuguese, Italians and Spaniards composed more than 80% of the immigrants during this high point of European immigration, but there were a large number of Germans that immigrated to Brazil as well.  German-Brazilians were also highly reproductive, and on average, popped out many more kids than other nationalities.  Which is why today, at least 7 million Brazilians are believed to have direct German ancestry. Most German-Brazilians settled in the South Region of Brazil (see map below: yellow portion), in places like Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.


This is why that area is known for having a lot of blondes! It is also predominantly white; as of 2007, there were found to be 87% whites in the city of Santa Catarina.

Gisele Bundchen is a 6th generation German-Brazilian, from Rio Grande do Sul

Gisele Bundchen is a 6th generation German-Brazilian, from Rio Grande do Sul

While the South of Brazil has a large white majority, the Northern and Northeastern regions have a majority of pardos (mixed-race).  Northern Brazil (see map above: green region) is composed of mostly Amerindian descendants; for instance, 72% of the population in the Amazonias is made up of pardos.  Think of all the indigenous tribes that live in the Amazon!

Meanwhile, Northeastern Brazil (see map above: blue area) has mostly African roots.  In Bahia, located in Northeastern Brazil, whites make up only 20% of the population. Salvador, Bahia has more pretos (blacks) than any other city, outside of Africa.

The Southeastern part of Brazil (Rio and Sao Paulo, for instance; see map above: red part) has a relatively equal amount of European, African and Amerindian blood.  As the Japanese constitute a large portion of the immigrants that came to Brazil, they make up a large segment of the Southeastern population as well.  Sao Paulo itself has the largest population of Japanese descendants outside of Japan. In fact, because nearly all of the Asians that immigrated to Brazil were Japanese, nowadays, the Portuguese word for Asian is japa. 

Look at the chart below to get an idea of the immigration that took place (I’m sorry it’s so small! Click on the image to enlarge it.):


Because of its rich migration history, Brazil is now a country made up of many different races.  Furthermore, many Brazilians do not fall into just one ethnic category; instead, many consider themselves to be mixed race.


Brazil is not only a blend of colors; it is a mix of cultures as well.  And traditions and ties amongst those cultures remain strong. This video portrays that well:

While Brazil is a cultural mélange of many different races, there is still a very apparent racial divide that defines the country, leaving most of the pardos and pretos poor, and the white population wealthier. Read more about it here.


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