Rio Articles

This where I publish my longer blog-articles about Rio de Janeiro.

Album cover of Claudinho e Bochecha from 1996. From a time when Bailefunk was different.

Album cover of Claudinho e Bochecha from 1996. From a time when Bailefunk was different from what it is today.

There are few topics that are hotter to debate in Brazil than the music style that is referred to as Bailefunk. In this short article I will try to explain a little about its history and why it is so debated.


“Take it up your ass, you whore! You’re not more woman than I, you aint got two pussies.” These lines are freely translated from the female artist Mc Marcelly and the song “Eu tou passando”. It’s not hard to see why people react strongly to lyrics like these, especially when you consider that young children both sing and dance to this around Brazil. If you ever have since girls dancing to it, it is not hard to see how it can create moral outrage. Texts are often about violence, sex and crime; the gender roles are archaic. Similar discussions have perhaps surrounded certain types of North American Hip-Hop music. One side see it as part of the forces of evil that are destroying society, while the other side just see it as an outlet for what is the reality for many Brazilian people. I will present a bit of the history of this form of music and also; some of my own views on the topic.

The Beginnings

Just like is the case with Hip-Hop, Bailefunk started out as something very different from what it later would become. During the 1980’s melodic tunes much inspired by the US American Miami Bass sound, started to emerge from the favela communities in Rio de Janeiro. The MB-sound is itself a sub-genre of Hip-Hop; electronic funk rhythms typically form the foundation for melodic rhymes; this is the origin of the term funk. In the beginning the songs were often quite comical or conveyed strong social messages. Over time the music gained more and more popularity, and so did the parties; the so called bailes (En: balls like in ballroom). Since these parties took place in drug-crime ridden favela-communities, the connection between the two occurrences developed; were there was Bailefunk there were drugs and bandits. Over time this connection helped to establish a strong aversion to the music, with its largest opponent-base in religious groups and members of the middle class and up. In the mid 1990’s the music went through a process where it eventually became a music style on its own, separated from its North American relative. More and more songs were made, the lyrics became more melodic and often incorporated elements of romance and love. Bailefunk grew in popularity and spread all over Brazil, popularized in shows on national television. By the end of the 1990’s the so called proibidão (En: super-forbidden) funk had been established, lyrics in this genre are often about crime and of very explicitly erotic nature; again it is hard not to see how inspiration has come from (or at least has similarities with) US Hip-Hop.

Commercialization and Proibidão

The 2000’s is when Bailefunk became commercialized on a bigger scale, most likely the music industry had by now realized the potential in the music form; young people just loved to dance to it. The rhythm had by now become harder, the lyrics often violent and not seldom very sexual; often dealing with the harsher parts of life in the communities like sex with prostitutes, drugs and shootouts. Although social life still was portrayed, few social messages were incorporated. Some documentaries were made about the phenomenon, and artists like DJ Marlboro got invites to perform in front of large audiences. Whilst the foreign hype of the music these days has cooled down, it has gotten more and more popular in Brazil. In 2015 the music is played as much in the clubs in chique Barra de Tijuca, like on the hills of Zona Norte. When funk parties are organized in the favela Rocinha, people come from all parts of Rio to have fun and dance. Both rich and poor often finish their barbecue with some type of Bailefunk. The connection to drugs and violence has perhaps lessened since the popularization, although the texts of the so called proibidão have had a tendency to get more and more explicit. This form can perhaps be seen as the Gangster-rap of the US. Ironically perhaps, at least from what I understand, the music is not particularly forbidden at all; even though they advocate many illegal activities and openly at times support crime-factions, few steps have been taken to criminalize the actual music-form. Some times sound equipment is apprehended, but it is a lot due to that they play so loud that they disturb people living closeby. The starchest official opponents are just like in the US often politicians with a religious voter-base, Evangelist churches have a strong base in Brazil. It is distributed through clandestine channels, but so is much other music in Brazil. You can hear it every day if you want to. I would even go out on a limb and say that the proibidão is the form of Bailefunk that is growing most in popularity, and definitely not only in the favelas. Perhaps it is just because it is the music that is most frowned upon by the adult-world, and that has a tendency to attract young people.

Still A Social Voice?

The notion that there is a connection with black culture with roots in Africa is most likely true, the favelas where it was created have this cultural foundation. In that way it the music can be seen as an expression of culturally stratified groups in the Brazilian society, however it s often described by academics and writers as a social voice with another content; this I want to challenge a bit. When the big majority of foreign journalists decide to write only about this music form, they tend to focus on how it is a forbidden music that the authorities are scarred of. I’d say that it is a perspective that is focusing more the part of the image that is most alluring to them, but not necessarily the most interesting. Just like in American Hip-Hop the political messages are hardly there anymore, it has often been replaced with sex and violence: in this manner it less of a political threat than it is a moral and social one. Life in the favela for most people is to avoid what is described, whilst perhaps the Bailefunk of old described a more general situation for everyone living in these communities. The part authorities are more worried about these days is probably more widespread drug abuse and teenage pregnancies. In reality (in my view at least) the popularity of the raw texts have a lot to do with that they challenge the norms of society. Frustrated youth all over Brazil join cause with young men with more or less serious gangster ambitions to form the same audiences there is for Gangster-rap in say Germany. The increase in coarseness has not got anything to do with that the artists are more frustrated with the situation in the favelas today than they were twenty years ago; yes there are heavier guns and crack today, but a lot less people are actually killed in drug-wars than they were in the late 1990’s. It has more to do with that they can make more money as artists, and that it attracts big crowds to lucrative parties. I suggest a big reason why the texts have gotten more dirty and more prohibited; it is because it sells and is more popular. The prohibited nature of the music is therefore often enhanced by the artists themselves. The many people that are worried about what this music is advocating (and many are), should perhaps worry more about just why young people want to listen to it in Brazilian society today? Is there not perhaps a general move in many parts of the world towards more hard violence and open sex?

Some Youtube Clips

Some Youtube links is perhaps in place. So as an example of the earlier style with a clear political message is Rap do Silva by Mc Bob Rum from 1995. Here is a song from 2000 with Funkeiro da Zona Sul called Escravos do Pó Cheiravam sem Parar, it is early proibidão. This song from 2008 is with McCruel called ADA do Chuck (ADA is a criminal faction of Rio) which is clearly proibidão. Here is Mc Marcelly and the song Eu tou passando which I mentioned earlier in the begiining of the text, it is from 2010.

Sources and for further reading:
Viana, H ” O Mundo Funk Carioca” (1988), book
Rosforth Johnsen, A “Mr Catra the faithful” (2005), documentary film


Romário playing for Brazil in 1988

In 2014 the former footballer Romário was elected senator of Rio de Janeiro, in this article I will present you with the story of this charismatic Carioca. With more official goals (772) scored than Pelé (767) he is not only one of Brazil’s all time greats, he is also one of the most loved footballers that ever played the game.

Grew up in Vila da Penha

Romário de Souza Faria was born in January 1966 in a Zona Norte favela called Jacarezinho, after a few years his family moved to Vila da Penha; the neighbourhood he is most associated with. His father Edevair was the person who made sure to get Romário’s career started, as an ex-player in Rio’s “5th team” America he had experience, the fact that he was the founder of his son’s first club Estrelinha perhaps also helped. As most players from Rio’s suburbs he played football on the street and on small concrete pitches, this laid the foundation for his great technique and cool in small areas. When he was thirteen he started to play for Olaria’s youth team, he also played for Vasco da Gama’s before making his debut in Senior professional football when he was 19; this was in 1985 for Vasco.

Vasco da Gama and to Europe

From the first season he started producing goals, a habit he would keep up all through his career. At this time the most success he had in the prestigious local Rio cups, 1987 and 1988 the club were Carioca champions. In 1987 he gets called to the Brazilian national team, in 1988 he produced 6 goals in the Olympic tournament in Seoul making him the top goal scorer. His performance in the tournament made the Dutch side PSV Eindhoven purchase him the same year for at the time a very large sum. In 1989 he becomes South American champion with Brazil. He remained in PSV until 1993 during which time the team won the Dutch league thrice, he was leading league goalscorer in his first three seasons. His next club would be Barcelona, the first season with his new club he won the league as the top goal scorer. In 1994 he had a successful World Cup where Brazil won their first gold in 24 years, the same year he was elected By FIFA the best footballer in the world. His popularity back home was huge and in 1995 he forced his way back to Brazil and the Rio-club Flamengo.

Back in Brazil and End of Career

Romário played 5 years in Flamengo, although he had several controversies with coaches and that he for two spells was loaned to Valencia in Spain he managed to score 204 goals in 240 games. His biggest title with the club was Copa Mercosul. After a nightclub scandal he was fired from the club in 1999, much to the discontent of the Flamengo fans. His next club would be the rival club Vasco da Gama again, he remained there until 2002 and scored a whopping 136 goals in 140 games. The year 2000 was his most successful this spell, the team won Copa Mercosul and the Brazilian Championship. He was the league top goalscorer in 2001 and 2002. He left Vasco for another Rio team after controversies with the fans, he entered Fluminense and scored two goals in a victorious first game that secured the league title for his new club. In 2003 he was lent for a short spell to a team in Qatar but gets sent back to Rio labeled as unprofessional. In 2005 his contract with the club was not renovated, he goes back to Vasco again where he remained until 2006. During 2006 he played for teams in Australia and the US, in 2007 he returned to Vasco where he partly coached until 2009 when he ended his career playing one game for America; the club that his recently deceased father had closest to his heart.

Controversial and Unprofessional

Romários career as a footballer was very much affected by conflicts with clubs, coaches, fans and other players. Some might argue Romários big mouth kept him out of the Brazilian national team for most of his career, after 1994 he never participated in a World Cup tournament again; his scoring record being a very decent 55 in 70 games many feel he had more to give. He has slighted powerful football greats like Zico and Pelé, something that for sure made his professional life more difficult. His womanizing and flamboyant lifestyle coupled with a tendency to be avoid team practices, are other factors that affected his performances.


By many regarded as the best box goal scorer of all time, you got the ball to Romário close to the goal and you could count on a cool and exact execution, Johan Cruyff once called him a “penalty box genius”. Although he was involved in so many conflicts in his career, he is still deeply loved, the fact that he played for both Flamengo and Vasco (fierce rivals in Rio) and is highly regarded by both team’s fans, stand as testament to that. His personal life may have upset coaches but many people saw beyond that. For journalists Romário was a goldmine, every time he gave an interview; he would say something funny and challenging. That he is a popular politician today, is partly because he is says what is on his mind, that he was the star in the team that won the gold in 1994 is of course also important.


As every good Brazilian footballer Romário has a few nicknames. The most famous are “Baixinho” which translates to the short one, and “O Rei do Gol” which means the King of the Goal.

Sources and for further reading:
Prolific Goal Scorers
Appearances for Brazil National Team
– Wikipedia


Zico Panini sticker from the World Cup 1982 in Spain.

There are some football players that have managed to rise above local rivalries and become loved by fans from all clubs, Zico is one of them. This a short text about one of the most loved football players from Rio de Janeiro, sometimes referred to as The White Pelé.

Humble Beginning

Arthur Antunes Coimbra was born 1953 in the suburb Quintino Bocaiuva in Rio’s Zona Norte, a very humble neighbourhood. Like so many other Brazilians he started out in a futsal team, when he was 14 his talent was noted and he started to play junior football for CR Flamengo, the biggest team in Rio de Janeiro; when he was 18 he made his debut for the senior team. The beginning of his career was not noteworthy, most likely due to his thin stature. After a few years of hard training and taking steroids (back then they were legal) he gained muscle, and soon he was a regular feature on the Flamengo midfield. In 1974 he gained the prestigious number 10 on his jersey and he was also elected the best player in Brazil by the prestigious Placar football magazine.

The Golden Years of Zico

Most experts agree that 1978 marked the beginning of Zico’s peak as a player, this is also when he picked the habit of regularly scoring from free kicks. He was in the side that went to the World Cup held in Argentina, Brazil ended up in third place. With him at the helm Flamengo managed most notably to win three national championships, one Copa Libertadores and one Intercontinental Cup during just 5 years. During the World Cup in Spain in 1982 Zico made part of arguable the most exciting national team of all time (yours truly can sign on that), together with players like Falcão and Sócrates they showed the world a football they had never seen before; it was the jogo bonito (the beautiful game) Brazilians covet so much. When Brazil lost against a young and counter attacking Italy and therefor was knocked out, it was a great upset since the team had looked invincible until then.

To Italy and Back

When he was sold to Italian Udinese in 1983 the Flamengo fans were devastated. The transfer fee was 4 million USD, at the time an enormous sum and it received a lot of international attention, the contract would make Zico a dollar millionaire. Falcão was already in Italy playing for Roma, from this moment Brazilians had to get used to see how their league was bled on their best players to wealthy clubs in Europe. His career in Italy was short, after two years he went back to Flamengo. He had scored 57 goals in just just 79 games; When considering he had been fighting leg injuries and his position as a midfielder, very impressive indeed. The reasons for leaving were several, he had been forced to play injured and had other disagreement with the owners of the club; alongside some quite severe tax problems. The fans of Udinese remember him with love until today.

Retirement and After

Although he won more Brazilian championship with Flamengo after his return, the next 4 years he spent in the club were dominated by dealing bad knee and ankle injuries; he had sustained them in a nasty challenge already in 1985. His participation in the 1986 World Cup would be tainted by a missed penalty against that could have taken Brazil to the quarter finals, many people would argue that his lack of match training prejudicated his performance in this tournament. In 1988 he stopped playing for Flamengo never to play a competitive game for a Brazilian professional team again, the injuries were too bad for the then 35-year old Zico to continue on this level. In 1991 he went to play for a couple of years in Japan for Kashima Antlers, he remained as a player until 1994 when he finally retired. He returned to The Antlers as a coach in 1999. In 2002 he was appointed National Coach of Japan, Zico would take the team to the World Cup in Germany 2006 where they failed to qualify from the group. He left the assignment shortly after, since then he has coached clubs in Turkey, Russia, Uzbekistan, Greece and Quatar. For a brief spell he was the head coach of Iraq.


With his 539 goals he is Flamengo’s top scoring player of all time, he is still a legend in the club from Rio de Janeiro who still celebrate the 1981 Intercontinental Cup win against Liverpool with great pride. He will always be remembered for his great play making skills and his sportsmanship. The fact he never won them a gold has never stopped Brazilians from loving him.


He has received various nicknames in his career. “Zico” was given as a loving diminutive of Arthur. “Galinho de Quintino” (means something like the Chicken from Quintino) was given him by a famous sports commentator called Waldir Amaral who though the young player was long haired and was running a lot (perhaps his two skinny legs also was a reason?). The name “O Pelé Branco”, The White Pelé, needs no explanation. As a coach he has been nick named “God of Football” in Japan and “King Arthur” in Turkey.

Sources and for further reading:
A torcida diz adeus ao craque maior – Article in Veja 1983
Biografia do Galinho – Article from the site Campos de futebol
Zico 60: o surgimento do Galinho de Quintino e a trajetória até o estrelato – Article in O Globo
– Ulbrich, P “Simplesmente Zico“ (2014)
– Wikipedia

manioc roots

Some small manioc roots, photo by Nathalie Dulex.

In Brazil there is one tuber that is capable of creating stronger reactions than any other, the root of the manioc. An important source of carbohydrates, processed and used in innumerable ways it has a clear connotation to Indians and traditional culture.

Many Names

In English manioc root can also be referred to as cassava or yuca. In Brazil common names are mandioca, aipim, maniva and macaxeira; there are several more. Most of the names are of Indian origins. The expression “dear child has many names” applies quite well, it has been and still is important for the sustenance in the country. In this article some of the aspects of its position and significance in Brazilian culture will be discussed.

Nutritious and Resistant

The greatest benefit is that it can grow practically anywhere since it is very drought resistant. The fact that it is poisonous (some cultivars more than others) and has to be prepared before consumption also makes it resistant to diseases and that parasites and most animals leave it alone. Its endemic origin is in Brazil, it would spread and be cultivated in most tropical parts of the Americas. After the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese the crop would spread all over the tropical world, especially in Africa it became an important staple.

How to Prepare Manioc

There are numerous ways this plant is prepared and utilized for culinary ends. The less poisonous varieties are often just boiled and fried. Numerous types of flours are obtained through different preparation methods, they are commonly referred to as farinhas de mandioca (farinha means flour). A starchy powder is called farinha de tapioca or polvilho, it is used to make the pancake like tapioca so typical for the Northeast of Brazil and the national addiction pão de queijo which is a kind of cheese ball. A yellow starchy juice obtained from pressing manioc root is called tucupi, it is used in tacacá which is a signature dish of the North. Maniçoba, is a stew made with dried manioc leaves, a dish typical in the northern state Pará. Cauim is a traditional alcoholic drink of Indians that can be based on chewed manioc meat.

An Indian Legend

One of the most famous legends of Brazil is about the origin of the manioc, there are several variations on the same theme: A young Indian girl gets pregnant out of marriage, her father who is the chief gets furious. The girl insists that she is a virgin, the chief did not believe her and wanted to sacrifice the daughter to calm the gods. In a dream of the chief a white man appears telling him that the girl is telling the truth, after then he changes his mind. She gives birth to a daughter who is white and already knows how walk and speak before she completed her first year. The girl named Mani from no obvious reason died after a few months, she was buried in her hut (Por: oca). The whole tribe mourned the popular daughter of the chief and started to visit her grave, after some time a new strange plant sprouted from the ground where she was buried. They decided to dig her up but only found this big edible tuber, it had brown peel and was white on the inside. The tribe was starving at the time so the new crop saved their lives. They named the tuber after the girl (Mani) and the place she was buried (oca). manioca which later became mandioca. There are several other legends, all of them describing how the manioc saves people from hunger.

Farofeiro – A Diminishing Term

Another interesting aspect it has in Brazilian culture is through the term farofeiro. Farofa is most often made with fried manioc flour and ingredients like bacon and onion. It is used as a side dish with many of the most common Brazilian dishes like rice and beans and fried chicken. The dish has a rural origin and an association with poorer people even if it today is popular in most levels of society. The term farofeiro is often used to describe someone who is uneducated and sometimes also as someone you cannot trust. In modern times the term has translated to describe lowly behaviour on the beach, poor families supposedly bring chicken and farofa which they eat on the beach while littering and playing loud music and drinking beer they brought in large styro foam boxes.

Sources and for further reading:
– da Camara Cascudo, L “Dicionario do Folclore Brasileiro, 12a ed.“ (2012)
– Vieira Couto de Magalhães, J “O Selvagem“ (1876)
– Wikipedia


Escadinha, photo by Robson de Freitas.

Here continues the article series about legendary outlaws of Brazil, the Robin Hoods and Dick Turpins of this country. In this text the turn has come to the Rio shanty town bandit known as Escadinha.

The Most Famous Favela Bandit

José Carlos dos Reis Encina, better known as Escadinha (Por: Little Stair), is probably the outlaw from the favela (Por: shanty town) morros surrounded by the most true and untrue stories. His time as leader of the drug traffic in the favela Juramento was followed by incredible escapes and a dramatic assassination. Here is his story.

King of the Hill

Young Zé Carlos would grow up in the Rio suburb Vaz Lobo. Born in 1956 he was the son of O Chileno, the leader of a community called Manoel Encina. His nickname he earned when the restless boy made the life so difficult for a haidresser he cut his hair so bad it came in steps, hereafter his friends called him Escadinha, the Little Stair. Already 16 years old he started to get involved in the drug traffic in the Juramento favela. Two years later he was arrested for the first time, the sentence of illegal weapon possession he escaped by paying bail. As his crime record grew over the years, his frequent visits to prison would make him meet other major players in the drug trade such as o Bagulhão (Big Needle), o Professor (The Teacher) and o Gordo (the Fat One), together they would form the first real organized criminal faction in Rio: O Comando Vermelho (En: The Red Command often abbreviated as CV). Contact with leftist political prisoners supposedly also created a small political agenda (hence the Red). By the 1980’s he became known as the most dangerous criminal in Rio, at the same time social involvement and refusal to allow children to enter his ranks he also became very popular and almost legendary in several communities.

Great Escapes

Ilha Grande today is a tropical paradise island and a major tourist attraction; Here you can experience almost untouched rainforests, clear water and white sands. During the major part of the 20th century it housed a high security prison called Dois Rios, when political prisoners started to be kept here during the 1960’s contact was made between drug traffickers and leftist political activists. After two years as prisoner on the island, in 1983 he risked a successful escape in a rowing boat. He was only caught in 1985 in the the favela Jacarezinho, his good reputation supposedly made it easy for him to find refuge. After being shot during another escape attempt the event took place that would make him a celebrity criminal, the helicopter escape. On December the 31st in 1985 after an incredible helicopter rescue, he was brought to freedom by member of his faction. In the helicopter were among others O Gordo. He ended up back in Juramento where he assumed his old lifestyle.

Capture and New Career

Only four years later he was caught, after sentence he was now kept in the Frei Caneca prison. After a failed rescue attempt, that included hi-jacking a power station, it seems like he conformed to prison and managed a semi-open regime after accepting voluntary working for the prison administration (a quite common practice in Brazil). He quite quickly became the vice president of a taxi cooperation in Zona Norte. After refusing the offer of leadership in Juramento hos old faction members became his enemies.


On September the 23rd in 2004 Escadinha was going to work from his current prison in Bangu, when his car was perfurated by bullets from an assault rifle he was killed. Two unidentified men on a motorbike blocked the car and fired 4 shots. The crime has never been solved, some theories suggest that the responsible were the CV, others that it was internal fighting in his taxi cooporation or a criminal vendetta not related to CV at all. So ended the life of perhaps the most famous favela criminal of them all, when Escadinha died he was 49 years old.

Escadinha and the Legend

No doubt is that José Carlos dos Reis Encina was a dangerous criminal and a public enemy, but the memory of Escadinha has been preserved in many people’s memory as something else. He is perhaps a symbol of resistance to the law and what it represents. His supposed care for the communities where he lived and operated makes him appear almost like a good bandit, a Robin Hood of some sort. In many Cariocas’ (person living in Rio call themselves Cariocas) memories he represents a distant past where bandits and a political leftist movement joined their causes. When he started out, it was in the midst of the fascist dictatorship that lasted between 1968 and 1985, the police was also a symbol of repression. How much of his altruistic nature is true can be discussed, one thing is for sure and that his life is stuff for legends.

Sources and for further reading:
Diário de um detento no Brasil – Escadinha
Folha de São Paulo – Dupla mata Escadinha no Rio de Janeiro
Extra – A vida e a morte de um dos maiores traficantes do estado

Morro da Urca

View of Morro da Urca from the cable car on the Sugarloaf, photo by Andreas Lönngren.

Here continues my article series about names of neighbourhoods and places in Rio. This time I will bring up Flamengo, Tijuca, Muda, Laranjeiras and Urca.

Flamengo – Several Theories

The theories of where the name of what was once perhaps Rio’s wealthiest neighbourhood are several. The first connection most people make is with the bird and actually it might be an accurate one. Flamingos are not endemic to Rio de Janeiro, they had supposedly been brought from the Mediterranean and procreated so much they were abundant during the 19th century. Other, more accepted theories have relation to the Netherlands since the word Flamengo was used to describe a Dutch person for a long time in Brazil. A influential Dutch man called Joost Vrisberger is supposed to have lived in today’s neighbourhood and eventually that gave the name to the neighbourhood. Other sources claim that Dutch prisoners brought from Pernambuco (that for a period during the 17th century was controlled by the Netherlands) ended up living in the area.

Tijuca – Bad Water

In the Indian Tupi language ty îuk means bad water and that’s where Tijuca is derived from. Before the neighbourhood was developed there were several small bogs and lakes in the area with still standing water.

Muda – The Place to Change

This neighbourhood located in Zona Norte got its name from either one or two reasons involving horses and change (Por: muda). The first is that horses had to change shoes leaving or entering the muddy Tijuca area. The second is that the pairs of horses pulling the trams up the hill to Alto da Boa Vista were changed in Muda.

Urca – Named After a Type of Ship

There are not many theories surrounding this name, I have only come across one. The name comes from what a type of transport ship was called. It was of Dutch origin and used to transport raw sugar cones. The hill was supposedly given that name both from the similarity between the Urca hill and a sugar cone and the fact that the ships were loaded and unloaded there. The name is very old.

Sources and for further reading:
Portuguese Wikipedia
Nossas rado Brasil – Morro da Urca
Rio de Janeiro Aqui – Bairro do Flamengo
– Gerson, B. “História das ruas do Rio de Janeiro” (1954)
– Rose, L. and Aguiar, N. “Tijuca de rua em rua” (2004)

Lampião and his band.

Lampião and his band.

All countries have them; outlaws and criminals that have reached almost legendary status. Names like Spartacus, Robin Hood and Jesse James have sparked the imagination of both writers and ordinary people since thousands of years. In this article series I intend to write about some of these that have had their base in Brazil. I will start out with the most iconic of them all.

O Lampião – The King of Cangaços

Virgulino Ferreira da Silva was born in 1897 in a town called Serra Telhada in the state of Pernambuco. He received a decent education, the interest for politics and literature he aquired he would maintain throughout his life. After his father had been killed by the army he, supposedly in wrath, joined a band of cangaceiros. The Cangaço were a semi-revolutionary formation roaming the Northeast interior robbing and looting for food, extremely poor conditions and abusive land-owners were the main reasons to the existance of this movement. By 1921 he had assumed leadership of the band, a position he would keep until his death. His group of skilled guerilla-style warriors, that at times included more than 100 men, would make a presence in 8 northeastern states. He was given the nickname O Lampião which is Portuguese for kerosene lamp.

To Steal From the Rich and Give To the Poor – At Least For a While

Under his leadership him and his band started to gain fame as they also distributed what they had adquired to poor people in the regions they operated, o Lampião became known as a modern Robin Hood. They soon abandoned their chivalrous ways and started working for the government of Getúlio Vargas, after a move to the states of Bahia and Sergipe they survived as arms dealers. His status as outlaw varied over the years and with who was in power at the time, at one point he and his band were actually given uniforms and federal authority, from this moment he was referred to as Capitão (Captain) by his supporters. The last few years the band was actively hunted by the police, an activity received a lot of press even internationally. When Lampião and his band was caught and killed in 1938 they decapitated heads went on tour around parts of the Northeast, probably as a display from the people in power to show what happens if you defy them.

The Fashion That Conquered the World

One of the most notable aspects of the band was the way they dressed, decorated their weapons and used perfume. The trademark glasses Lampião wore was supposedly to hide the fact that he was blind on one eye, perhaps glasses also was seen as a symbol for learning and intelligence. O Lampião was a very vain man, and extremely conscious of the image he produced of himself; though it was only when he joined with a woman it took a really strong expression, together with his wife Maria Bonita he created a fashion that is alive until today. Even if most of the time were on the road they always brought with them a Singer sewing machine. The base for their clothes was the typical wear to the Sertão were they were from, they added amulets and medallions, wore rings and silk scarfs from Paris. The hair was long and they used vast amounts of French perfume. According to legend they police chasing them tracked them easily since the reflections of their many trinkets were seen from miles away and the scent of their perfume was so strong it was no match for the dogs in the hunting party to follow. The fame of the band actually made the fashion become popular in Hollywood where it founds its way into both pirate and cowboy movies. If you compare the image in this article with what Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean series is wearing, it is hard not see the resemblance. I will further develop the fashion part in another article.

After His Death He Became a Symbol

The English historian Eric Hobsbawm once called Lampião a social bandit who worked as a symbol of revenge for the many mistreated and abused people that was living in the Northeast of Brazil. Recent researchers have often painted a picture of a man more bent on cruelty and personal gain than on political justice. It is very hard to know how much is true about him; the forces against him painted a picture of the leader of a band that raped and pillaged with no discretion, for others he was a rebel fighting for the poor. Until today he remains an important symbol, during festivals it is common to dress in the flamboyant ways of his band. He is the most famous of all outlaws of Brazil.

Sources and for further reading:
Lampião e Maria Bonita: Amor e morte no cangaço
Lampião: Herói ou bandido?
Infonet – Lampião
Portal São Francisco: Lampião
– Pernambucano de Mello, F. “Guerreiros do Sol: Violência e Banditismo no Nordeste Brasileiro” (2004)
– Chandler, B.J. “Lampião – O Rei dos Cangaceiros” (1981)

Leblon the year 1900

Leblon in 1900, before the area had been developed.

This is the second article in the series about names of neighbourhoods and places in Rio de Janeiro, from a historical and cultural perspective the origins of these are often of great value.

In the last article I explained the propable origins of the neighbourhoods Ipanema and Copacabana as well as Parque de Catacumbas and Largo de Machado. In this one I will continue with Arpoador, Leblon, Botafogo and Largo da Segunda Feira.

Arpoador – The Harpoonist

Just like in many other locations along the Brazilian coast the waters outside of Rio de Janeiro used to be frequented by large herds of migrating whales. With the establishment of Europeans in Brazil came a gradually escalating hunt for whales, which culminated in the 19th century when American whale processing ships made the local whale population almost extinct. From the rock on Arpoador you were supposedly able to catch whales during parts of the year. Today you can only at times see a few killer whales passing by.

Leblon – Named From a Frenchman

This neighbourhood, home of some of the richest people in Brazil, is supposedly named from a Frenchman. Charles Leblond (or Le Bron) that became rich and subsequently influential mostly from his whaling operations. The name he used in Brazil was Leblon. In the 19th century he built a whale oil processing plant on land had been using for cattle raising, this was what is now Leblon. His name was passed on to an Abolutionist quilombo (slave and maroon settlement) and later to the neighbourhood. Another place in Rio de Janeiro that has got a connection to the history of whaling.

Botafogo – Got Its Name From a Warship

The name means something like set-on-fire in portuguese, a name quite fitting since it was the nickname of the most powerful naval weapon of its time, a Portuguese super-galeon called São João Baptista. João Pereira de Sousa was an artillery officer on board this ship and he was nicknamed Botafogo. When he bought land and settled in Rio de Janeiro he had included it in his last name. His lands was in what is today’s neighbourhood.

Largo da Segunda Feira – With Roots In a Homocide

Many think that name comes from the farmer’s market that takes place every Monday since a long time, a more probably explanation is a bit more macabre. One Monday morning in the late 18th century a man was encountered murdered in what was then a sugarcane plantation, he was buried close to where he was found. Murder was something quite uncommon at the time so it became big news, the place was named from this incident.

Sources and for further reading:
Rio Curioso: Bairro do Leblon
RHBJ Historia: Rio de Janeiro Escepcial
Antigo Leblon: Histórico
Wikipedia: Galeão Botafogo
– Gerson, B. “História das ruas do Rio de Janeiro” (1954)
– Rose, L. and Aguiar, N. “Tijuca de rua em rua” (2004)

Copacabana - The church before they tore it down

The original Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, the church that gave the name to the neighbourhood.

Just like in almost every other city or town names of neighbourhoods and places in Rio often carry lots of history as well. Often they refer to important people, events in history and other interesting facts. In this article I will describe a few of these.

One of the peculiarities with Rio de Janeiro that is extra interesting are all the different names of places, the background for them are of various nature and are often and culturally interesting. I will start out by describing the one that is surrounded by most incorrect information, namely Ipanema.

Ipanema – Named After a Baron

A man from the called José Antônio Moreira Filho was the main entrepeneur for the development of the area. He was a major land owner that started to build roads and houses there more than one hundred years ago. He had inherited the title Baron of Ipanema from his father who owned large land areas in the state of São Paulo, through these lands flew a river the Indians had named ‘y panema which means something like “bad water for fishing”, these lands were named from the river. The neighbourhood got the name from him. His main engineer was Luís Raphael Vieira Souto who has given the name to the beach avenue in the same neighbourhood. The street Barão da Torre has no relationship to this man, it is named from Garcia d’Avila (there is also a street with this name) who was from a family of Bahian origin of great importance in Brazilian history and the fact that he built the first fortified building on Brazilian soil.

Copacabana – Named After a Bolivian Apparation of Mary

This story is quite famous. According to legend, an apparation of Lady Mary came to a fisherman close to a place called Copacabana on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Spanish sailors believed she brought safety at sea journeys so images of here were often brought on their voyages. It was when a group of Spanish sailors got stuck in Rio for a longer period they decided to build a church in honour of this apparation of Mary which the called Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. The areas closest to the church with time changed from its old Indian name Sacopenapã to Copacabana, a name it keeps until today.

Largo de Machado – The Axe Square

Many cities have places with names derived from a past as execution grounds, this is not the case with Largo de Machado. It is named after André Nogueira Machado who owned the land in the beginning of the 18th century, he was a very successful pottery manufacturer. It is common to hear that the square got its name from a large axe that used to hang in front of a butcher’s shop located on the square, the gimmick with the axe was most likely taken from the already existing name of the square. If you haven’t been there yet, it is one of the places in Rio I recommend for the historically curious to visit.

Parque de Catacumbas – Indian Burial Ground

This park is located on the eastern side of the lagoon Lagoa Rodrigo Freitas. Until 1970 the slopes housed a favela known as Catacumbas with over 10000 inhabitants. The name was most likely derived from the notion that the area was an old Indian burial ground, a fact that never has been confirmed. Parts of the old shantytown was used to erect exclusive apartment complexes while another part was turned into the park we can visit today.

If you have some good places to recommend and at least 20 words to share, please comment this article! If you have information about other places in Rio you can send it to me since I will continue to release articles on this topic.

Sources and for further reading:
WordPress Article: Catacumba: A Favela que Virou Parque
RHBJ Historia: Rio de Janeiro Escepcial
Casarão Ameno Resedá: O Machado que Deu Nome ao Largo
Marcillio: Ipanema
– Brasil, G. “História das ruas do Rio de Janeiro” (1954)

Bar Getúlio

Bar Getúlio is one of Rio’s most famous botecos. In 2010 it relocated from Catete (this is where the photo is taken) to a modern and perhaps less charming setting in Copacabana.

The botecos or botequins of Rio are traditional places Brazilians frequent to enjoy beer, snack food and good company. The history of the existence of these type of establishments can be traced back to the 19th century.

What is a boteco?

I first arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 2003, I was instantly charmed by the drinking establishments referred to as botecos and botequins. A place where friends and family could meet up for a drink and some delicious snack food. Conversations were loud and the laughs were many. As I spent more time in the country I came across the notion that boteco had been a place a bit frowned upon, a simple place for the people. That was very hard to understand since the people I saw in these places always seemed quite affluent. In this article I will discuss the history and development of these and explain why the botecos I visited were quite upscale.

In the beginning

The term boteco (also buteco) comes from the portuguese word botica which refers to a type of general store, during the 19th century these had become local meeting points around Rio de Janeiro. In the beginning of the 20th century these started to offer drinks to their clients which soon would prove to be an excellent idea, the first decades of the 1900’s saw a literal boom of these drinking establishments. The preferred drink was beer and often chopp which is draught beer cooled down in an iced serpentine, Bar Luiz on Rua da Carioca 39 in Centro boasts to be the first boteco to offer this to their clients. Over the decades this term would spread and become a description for a simple establishment offering drinks and snack food. This development mainly took place in Rio de Janeiro which then was the capital.


With time a separation of terms started to take place. The term botequim (also butequim) was used to refer to larger establishment with tables, a menu and waiters. The boteco would describe a smaller bar, often family owned and with a very local clientel. The boteco many times was the hangout for the local drunkards and thus evolved a quite bad reputation. The lowest form of boteco was probably the pé-sujo (means dirty feat) which I have discussed in another article. The term was so frowned upon it was rarely included in the name of the establishment (which sometimes botequim was), the more neutral name bar was often preferred.

Recent trends

A trend over the last decades is that the names boteco and botequim have been marketed as more traditional places, food and cold draught beer is served in a classic setting which cater for a more upscale clientele. These days more modern establishments that break the pattern also use these terms to define themselves, this is especially the case in Zona Sul; Boteco da Garrafa on Rua Prudente de Morais 1838 in Ipanema can serve as a good example ,a very chique place with a long menu, and high prices. The development can also be seen in other parts of the country, in Belo Horizonte, a visit to Buteco Chic on Avenida Raja Gabaglia 2985 in São Bento is a modern twist on a traditional concept. At some point boteco became interchangeable with botequim. The terms are fluid, there are yearly surveys made to name the botequim of the year where most establishments that serve beer and snack foods are included. The reason for my original confusion was that I visited these new more upscale places that market themselves as botecos and botequins, what I failed to grasp was that the corner bar also was a boteco.

A good place to experience Rio de Janeiro’s culture

Just like you have pubs in London, bistrôs in Paris the Cariocas (people from Rio de Janeiro) have embraced their heritage and continued their water-hole tradition. They are great places to meet up with friends, your wife or your brother. Just like all good waterholes they often can be extensions to your living room as well as an escape. On the televison you can follow your favourite soap opera or your football team. On your birthday the waiters will deliver the cake your friends brought and the hole place will sing for you. Politics, love and sports are discussed and argued. When picking the boteco to visit it is like choosing an ice cream flavour.

My real passion is with the pé-sujo variety, the simplest form of boteco where rich and poor always have met. For me the corner bars and hole-in-the-walls are the only true democratic bars in Rio. Psychologists rub shoulders with street vendors, lawyers and petty scoundrels. It is where the famous mix of Rio finally comes together. Read my article about pé-sujos by clicking this link.

If you have some good places to recommend and at least 20 words to share, please comment this article!

Sources and for further reading:
– Goldenberg, E. “Meu Lar É o Botequim” (2005)
Article by Dé Comber from 2011

Pé-sujo Carolice

Carolice located on the corner of Farme de Amoedo with Barão da Torre is a typical pé-sujo.

Some large cities have developed quite defined eating and drinking establishments, Rio de Janeiro is one of those. Perhaps the most interesting and special is a variety in the local vernacular referred to as pé-sujo which translates to “dirty feet” in English.

Rich and Poor

Rio de Janeiro has been part of my life for over 10 years and nowhere I feel that the myth of rich and poor living side by side becomes more true than in a pé-sujo. Countless evening I have spent with friends enjoying their good company and the unique atmosphere these places can offer, on a hot evening in the tropics what can be better than a cold beer and the drama of the street right in front of your feet.

The Boteco

The general term for drinking establishments in Rio is boteco, it is used quite loosely to describe anything from chique and modern bars to the simplest hole-in-the-walls. These type of places started to develop in the late 19th century and can these days be seen on most corners in the city. The pé-sujo is the colloquial term for the simplest form of these, the dirty feet you get from standing or sitting on the actual street.

Daytime in a Pé-sujo

Many of these open in the early morning and offer simple breakfast alternatives like filled pastries and coffee with milk. As the day goes on the place turns into a lunch place that cater for blue collar workers as well as retired doctors. The prato feito is the big seller which most often is rice, beans and french fries served with sausages, chicken or beef. At times a few fresh vegetables gets lost and end up on the plates as well.


In the afternoon a transformation takes place, people have a beer after work and talk about favourite topics like football players and corrupt politicians. At night food is still served but it is more common to order a plate of sausages with onions or a steak sandwich to go down with that beer. On the obligatory tv-set people gather around football games and soap operas, for many people it becomes the living room extended. As the night goes on it becomes a more pure waterhole as more beer is sold to a growing crowd. It is at this time the unique mix of people starts to happen, street vendors sell peanuts to journalists and house wives; petty scoundrels can rub shoulders with politicians.


On Saturday and Sundays the rhythm is different, at 9 AM in the morning it is not uncommon to see a team of construction workers having their first beer before work, in areas that are close to the ocean it becomes the finish to a day on the beach. On weekends it is common to have semi-improvised barbecues where friends chip in, a simple grill is loaded with meat and sausages bought in the closest super market. Perhaps a group of people will start to play some Samba music around a table; Plates, spoons and glasses would join with instruments brought from home. On that Sunday afternoon a group of old-timers would put on the green tablecloth and start shuffling the cards in preparation for the weekly session of sueca.


Each pé-sujo has its own atmosphere and schedule, the clients that come are most often living or working closeby. Each bar can have their special mix of people made up of criminals, police officers, doctors, actors and lawyers. The choice of the bar can be made from convenience, preference or just coincidence. They are perhaps like ice cream flavours, you pick out of preference. If you ever go to Rio de Janeiro why not try to find one that is to your fancy? It is a true experience of life in this city.

If you have some good places to recommend and at least 20 words to share, please comment this article!

Sources and for further reading:
– Luz, M “Botequim de bêbado tem dono“ (2008)

feijoada meal

A feijoada meal. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

In Brazil the heavy meat and bean casserole known as feijoada is considered a national dish with roots in the time of slavery, left-over meat was supposedly utilized by slaves to make this dish. Of late this idea has been challenged as untrue.


Feijoada is a hearty stew made with black beans and meat, before I came to Brazil I had read how this stew made with left-over meats had become the national dish. Freshly arrived in Brazil in 2003 I of course had to try it, I liked it, heavy and very rich. Over the last few years I have read a lot about food history and the notion that feijoada originally would be slave food seemed more and more strange, up until 100 years ago pretty much all parts of the pig and cow was considered good to eat and dishes rich in any meat not food for serfs and the poor. I have also across some texts that suggests I could be right. Let me explain.

Feijoada Has European Roots

To begin with, the meat and bean stew does not have Brazilian origins, a French dish called cassoulet has been around since at least the 14th century, it is a bean and mixed meat casserole which is popular until today in southwest France. Originally it was made with fava beans but since a few hundred years the white bean, endemic to the Americas, has become the most common choice. Other types of bean and meat stews existed in Europe at least a couple of centuries earlier, the cassoulet is very similar in preparation and taste, it is easy to see the connection with the Brazilian dish.

The Portuguese Brought It To Brazil

A type of feijoada was already in Portugal before the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese version most often today (just like the cassoulet), include white or red beans, different types of sausages, beef- and pork-parts together with vegetables – it is popular in Portugal until today. The Portuguese brought the dish with them to their colonies like Angola, São Tomé and Brazil. The black bean, which is the main ingredient in most Brazilian versions, became popular with the Portuguese already in the 16th century. The black bean is easy to grow and nutritious, to be able to digest it you have to cook it for hours or use a pressure cooker. The bean stew feijão is eaten on a daily basis by many Brazilians. Together with rice and manioc it would become a mainstay for the whole population, from rich to slaves. The feijão was often enhanced with vegetables and tubers.

How Brazilian Feijoada Evolved

The habit to mix in sausages, bacon, pig’s ear, tail and trotters, bacon and beef jerky the Portuguese already had (as I have explained). Exactly when the feijoada brasileira became a defined dish is uncertain but by the mid 19th century there are written sources proving its existence in Brazilian high society. To use tail, ears and other obscurer parts of the pig was common, at this time it is doubtful that even the King of Brazil would have frowned upon that since our more selective behavior towards which animal parts we eat is a quite recent behavior. Without the inclusion of the fatty “unnoble” parts of the pig the dish would not get its distinctive taste. Of course there might have some left overs cooked into a bean stew for the slaves, but most likely it would bear little resemblance to the rich tasting dish we see today since ingredients like sausages and bacon would probably have been left out – Perhaps you had something you could call a slave-feijoada. For me I always saw feijoada as a kind of feijão-de-luxe, something for special occasions, with my new knowledge it seems like it also could have been on the menu of the rich quite often.


When the idea that this would be some kind of left-over slave food sprung is unknown, perhaps some time during the 20th century. My unfounded guess would be that when the population started having ample access to meat they became more selective to what they ate, many of the parts that is included in the feijoada were not eaten anymore and became considered as lesser. From this development the idea perhaps came. In Brazil the most common bean in use became the black variety, ingredients vary a lot with region: Onion, garlioc, bacon, dried beef, pig’s ear, kale and okra are examples. Feijoada is often eaten with manioc flour, rice, fried kale and sliced orange.

Sources and for further reading:

Bacalhau Rio.

Bacalhau on display in a Casas Pedro shop in Copacabana.

Bacalhau, dried and salted cod is the core ingredient in many dishes most treasured by Brazilians. Today it is a quite expensive ingredient and mostly reserved for special occasions, that was not always the case.

Arriving in a new culture can sometimes present you with culinary challenges, for me bacalhau was one of those. The dried and salted cod did not agree with my palate, until today I pretty much can only liked it when the taste is hidden in fried batter and chili sauce. This is the story about bacalhau.


Scandinavian Vikings discovered how you could dry air dry cod. The tradition to dry and salt the cod dates back at least 500 years and was initiated with the discovery of huge shoals of cod outside of Newfoundland, the result is referred to as stockfish (bacalhau in Portuguese). Initially most of the fishing vessels came from the Iberian peninsula, they would catch, salt and dry the cod before bringing it back to Europe. In the 17th century better salination methods made salt cheaper, coupled with better equipment volumes went up and the price down. Dried and salted fish became a mainstay in many European countries, in Portugal and Atlantic Spain so much it became a part of culture. It is by most considered the national dish of Portugal.

How Bacalhau Came to Brazil

The Portuguese would bring the cod to their colonies, this is how it came to Brazil. Since meat was expensive and bacalhau cheap it became a very important food. So cheap that slaves and poor were more likely to eat it rather than the meat rich feijoada considered by many as the typical slave-dish (read my article Brazilian Feijoada for more on this topic). The Brazilian saying “Para quem é, bacalhau basta” (En: “For who it is, bacalhau is good enough”) can serve as an indicator for how this was originally a cheap food.


In time large quantities of cod would also be caught off the coasts of Iceland and Norway. Today the shoals outside of Newfoundland are almost depleted, most of the cod comes from Norway. Since the Second World diminishing catches have made prices go up drastically, for Brazilians it is an exclusive food these days and only eaten on special occasions. For many the Christmas dinner would not be complete with out some dried cod.
In Brazil stockfish is prepared in various fashions, it can be baked it in the oven, used as ingredient in fritters or casseroles.

Sources and for further reading:
– Kurlansky, M “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World “ (1997)

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