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Brazzil - Generations - September 2004

Kids from Brazil. How Cool Are They?

Life in Brazil and in Rio, in particular, tends to be more focused
on the family than in the United States. The child is made to feel
an important part of a larger unit. Brazilian parents find less
occasion to discipline, and the families tend to be less authoritarian.
Teenagers rarely rebel against their parents like they do in the US.

Jennifer Grant

Picture Why do Carioca (Rio de Janeiro resident) parents give their children such long names?

The identity of most Brazilian young people consists of a first name, a middle name, the last name of their mother, followed by the last name of their father.

Thus, a minor's full name might look something like this: Eduardo Jazon Borgerth da Silva. However, the child or teen usually goes only by his first name and one of the last names. No rule determines if the surname of the mother or that of the father is used.

However, since Rio is a male dominated society, the father's is more common. When a boy's name is the same as his grandfather's, the word Neto (grandson) appears after his last name. When a boy has been christened after his father, the word Filho (son) or Júnior (junior) follows.

What about nicknames?

Almost every young person has a nickname. They are usually a play on, or shortened version, of their first name. For example, Ronaldo is known as Naldo.

Zinho or inho, signifying 'little', may also be added to the first name. Paulinho would mean 'little Paulo'.

Who raises the children?

In wealthy families, children are raised by nannies who are usually distinguished from the other household employees who cook or clean. Mothers are in charge of the household, which includes childcare. While fathers love their children, they usually maintain a distance in the children's actual upbringing.

Up until 1979 divorce was illegal in Brazil. Since then, more single mothers are raising their children, with or without the help of a nanny. In cases where the mother is both working and without a nanny, the extended family often pitches in.

In the favelas (shantytowns), it is common to see children watched over by their siblings, other relatives, or neighbors. In other cases, they may be forced out into the streets due to the lack of money necessary to support them.

Are parents very strict?

In general, life in Rio tends to be more focused on the family than in the United States. The child is made to feel an important part of a larger unit. Because of this, parents find less occasion to discipline, and the families tend to be less authoritarian in nature. Teenagers rarely rebel against their parents in the manner in which they do in the United States.

What's all the noise about?

Carioca children and adults are very open and enthusiastic in their expressions of life. The behavior of these children is less restricted. Young people play in the streets, dance at evangelical church services, are lively participants at the dinner table, etc.

Running up and down in restaurants or airplane aisles is viewed as an expression of childhood. However, scenes in public places are often short lived due to manners training. Spanking is reserved for true naughtiness.

While the culture seems somewhat indulgent, it is understood that the young person is to respect his elders and act in a manner which speaks well of the family.

In general, Rio's families spend more time and attention in training children on how to behave in various types of public situations than do those in the United States.

To have to be removed from a social gathering, due to poor conduct, is a great source of embarrassment and disgrace in the mind of the young person. Thus, he strives to behave accordingly

How close is the relationship between family members?

Families remain close throughout life and several generations may find themselves all living together under one roof. This gives young people the opportunity to know grandparents and other relatives on a closer basis.

Retirement homes are almost unknown in Rio. If a grandparent is not living in the home of one of their children, they often reside near by so the family can keep an eye on them.

Are the beliefs of family members formed from the Catholic religion?

In a country which claims to be 70% Catholic, it is surprising to learn that currently only about 15% of Rio's Catholic families take their religion seriously.

However, even if they are not observant , many parents still continue to celebrate religious holidays and practice the traditions

How are Catholic Carioca children raised?

Carioca children are brought up with a reverence for the church. Baptism is a major event. At this time parents ask a friend, relative, or even an employer to become a godparent.

The obligation of being a godparent does not end with the ceremony, but remains ongoing. The godparent presents the child with gifts at birthdays, and has a continual role in their godchild's education and upbringing.

The Catholic rites of First Communion and Confirmation become benchmarks in the child's life.

What is it like to grow up Catholic in Rio?

Until recently, when Catholicism underwent a evangelical movement, many families did not own a Bible. The emphasis instead was on sacrament and superstition This was partly due to Christianity having been forced upon the slaves when they arrived from Africa.

Rather than give up their original gods, the new arrivals combined the worship of the Catholic saints and those of the orixás from their home country. The Orixás, African spirits who possess personality characteristics analogous to Greek mythological gods and goddesses, were soon accepted by the priests and allowed to be part of the religion. African demonic spirits, Exus, fit in well with the concept of the devil and Christian demons.

Modern Brazilian Catholics still consider ritual and superstition a part of their religion There are religious shops throughout the city which carry statues of Catholic saints and Orixás , votive candles, and African herbal potions. From early on, children are taught the significance of the prayers and rituals which accompany these objects.

Are Carioca children ever raised in other religions?

Rio has an open attitude towards other Christian denominations. The Pentecostal branch of protestant Christianity has become extremely popular as evidenced by their huge worship halls and fiery preachers on television.

Many young people seem to like the Pentecostal services where hymns are played on electric guitars to which the older children and teens dance freely.

There are also families who raise their children solely in the traditions of African Spiritualism in which they must appease the Orixás. Early on, the children are taught which potions are used during Candomblé and Umbanda rituals.

Candomblé entails having a medium call forth the spirits of the dead to perform acts of mercy or vengeance. Umbanda combines the African beliefs with practices which came from part of a French spiritual movement active during the 1800's. The festive rites are designed to heal the body and free up the soul.

Others adhere to a religious philosophy, called Kardecism, which approaches spirituality from a metaphysical point of view.

Though clearly in the minority, members of Jewish and other faiths are accepted. All religions are allowed places to worship.

How do Carioca young people dress?

Cotton T-shirts, jeans, sleeveless shirts, open toed or tennis shoes, and other casual wear are the norms in a climate where it is warm year round. Cariocas are very hygiene conscious and often take between two and four showers a day. Though they dress casually, clothes are always clean and ironed. Shoes are polished. Those, whose circumstances allow, wear the latest styles which are often imported from Europe.

Favela youngsters may wear clothing which has been distributed by nonprofit organizations. Their wardrobe may also include attire handed down to their parents by a wealthy patron who employs the parent as a domestic helper..

What books do Carioca young people like to read?

Books are not as widely published in Brazil as they are in the United States. This means that there is a smaller selection to choose from. Many favela young people have only basic reading skills. This makes it easier for them to watch TV or listen to music.

For the children who do read, there are many juvenile favorites by Brazilian authors such as Rio native, Millôr Fernandes, whose estórias infantis (short fables) teach many valuable moral and practical life lessons.

Many publishers offer books which contain contos (short stories), which deal with the realities of daily life in a way that causes children to reflect on and examine their own circumstances. There are also books on virtues and manners.

Teens like other contos which delve into romance and emotion. Others are currently popular in outside countries and have been translated into Portuguese. Examples include the Harry Potter series, as well as timeless stories loved the world over such as The Little Prince and The Velveteen Rabbit. Disney tales and comic books are additional favorites.

Do children in Rio like fairy tales?

Rio's children grow up hearing fairy tales which come from old legends told by the Tupi-Guarani, native Indians from Brazil's northern Amazon region. Sometimes, rather than being read, fairy tales are told from generation to generation.

Many involve animals, nature and mythical figures. Two examples are Curupira, the forest spirit who protects the forest and its animals as he lures hunters into its depths until they are lost, and Boiuna (Cobra Grande _ Big Snake) who lurks in the depths of rivers to scare and kill fishermen.

Some of the characters are similar to those found in European fairy tales, but take different forms. For example, the River Dolphin is comparable to that of the Mermaid except he tempts women instead of men.

There are mischievous characters like Saci Pererê, who slips through the hole in door locks at night in order to play pranks such as blowing out the fire in stoves and the light in lanterns.

Others are tragic like the maiden who lives on the moon and causes her reflection to fall upon the water of the river so that young men throw themselves into its depths to catch her.

What is the favorite team sport in which Carioca young people like to compete?

Rio's children and teens love to play futebol ( soccer) no matter which economic class they are from. Many favela youth imagine becoming a great soccer star, like Pelé, in order to escape the drudgery of their lives, but lack of knowledgeable coaches and organized play impede their dream.

Fortunately, some of the nonprofit organizations are attempting to address this need through charitable soccer programs. Wealthier youngsters also have hopes of becoming futebol stars. The difference is that they have access to the organized clubs and their coaches.

Which is the national martial art form practiced by many children and teenagers?

The martial art of capoeira, which takes form as an acrobatic dance, is fashionable among both youth and adults who aspire to become graceful and adept at the maneuvers. Teenage boys often see the sport as a means to assert their masculinity.

Where did capoeira originate from?

Capoeira was introduced by slaves who had developed the moves back in Africa in an effort to evade capture by traders. Upon arrival in Brazil, it allowed them to defend themselves at times in which their hands were tied behind their backs. It also served to disguise fights from plantation owners who were sure to punish them at any sign of dissension.

Once outlawed in Rio, due to the fighting among favela criminal gangs, capoeira has now become legalized and adopted as Brazil's national sport.

How is Capoeira performed?

In modern times, players form a ring with the two combatants in the middle. Some on the circle play percussion and other instruments of African origin. At the same time, others chant and clap as the two fighters handstand, cartwheel and somersault using movements which attempt to out maneuver each other.

After a few minutes of displaying their skill, the two fighters rejoin the outer ring. Two new combatants step from the circle to replace them. Like many other martial arts, capoeira is about movements, rather than fighting. Thus, there's no actual physical contact in these 'fights'.

What about beach activities?

Being a year-round beach city, water sports are extremely prevalent in Rio and many young people practically grow up at the beach. Swimming clubs encourage competition.

Surfers can be found contending for crowded waves. Diving, fishing and sailing are other common pastimes. Of course, sailing is a group activity which includes adults, many of which belong to the Rio Yacht club.

Volleyball is another noted beach activity for all ages. The traditional game, played with the hands, has gained Cariocas international recognition.

Futvôlei (volley soccer), where use of the hands is not allowed to get the ball over the net, has been increasing in popularity. Though having first made its debut on Rio's beaches, this new volleyball version has made some inroads in the United States. Americans know it as footvolley.

What are some of the other outdoor games Carioca children enjoy?

Jump rope, hide and seek, and capture the flag are as well known in Rio as they are in the United States. What differentiates them from one country to the other are the jingles which accompany them.

Brazilians love music and song, making the chants as an important part of the game as the play. This is especially true in various brincadeiras de roda, where the games are played in a circle.

Among young girls, patty cake is a standard. Two players face each other and bat their palms against each other's in various patterns.

Truth or consequences is played by spinning a bottle to designate which adolescent victim must either tell the truth or accept a dare.

Elástico presents a combination of jump rope and cat's cradle as competitors form geometric patterns with their hands and waist while jumping into and out of a circular stretch band held by two others in a manner similar to jump rope.

Somewhat violent, jogo do garrafão seeks to reenact the sufferings of Christ as a gang of boys prey upon a victim, beating on him with twigs while jeering at him.

What about indoor games?

Dominos, checkers, and card games, such as relancinho, help pass time inside the home. Billiards and table tennis are played by older children and teens while attending some of the clubs their parents belong to. Electronic games are fewer in Rio, but equally as popular.

Do the children toss pennies or pick straws when trying to make a decision?

Instead of tossing pennies or picking straws, the game of par ou ímpar (even or odd) is played. Both participants place one hand behind their back. A player calls out either par or ímpar. Then both of them simultaneously bring forth their hand with however many fingers they chose extended.

The number of fingers from the two hands is totaled to reveal an odd or even number. Based on the outcome, a winner is declared and his or her decision is followed.

What types of toys do Carioca children like to play with?

Timeless international favorites such as tops, kites, balls and jump ropes head the list. Girls play with plastic or rubber dolls. Boys love battery operated motorized cars. Getting a first bike is a milestone event.

It is important to remember that there is not near the selection of toys in Rio that there is in the United States. Children are very creative in their play using fewer playthings. Favela youngsters are often satisfied to receive something as basic as drawing paper and pencils.

Do young people from Rio want to get to know their peers from America?

The majority of Carioca young people are sociable, curious, and friendly. They mix well with others and are interested in meeting and getting to know someone who is different.

Americans have become less popular in Brazil in recent years, but Brazilians are still interested in befriending them. This is partly due to the fact that many artists and creative works from the United States in music, television and movies are well-known in Rio. As a result, young people are eager to talk to Americans about their culture.

The text above was excerpted from Rio de Janeiro: The City, the Life, and the Kids, a work aimed at grades 5 through high school level. The author, Jennifer Grant, is currently seeking a publisher for this book. Comments and contacts in English and Portuguese are welcome at Please reference the book title or Brazzil in subject line.
Grant wishes to thank Jazon da Silva Santos for his comments and editing work on some of the chapters contained in the book. She has authored previous articles in Brazzil magazine, as well as an article on the children in the favelas for Faces Magazine, which is used in United States schools.
Her interests include promoting awareness of the needs of the favelados and the organizations and individuals which are willing to help them through both the written word and by making presentations at churches and schools.

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