Ethnic groups in Brazil

Ethnic groups in Brazil

Brazil is a racially diverse and multiracial country. [ [ Bibliothèque Virtuelle Gilberto Freyre - L'oeuvre ] ] Intermarriage among different ethnic groups has been part of the country's history, and most Brazilians can trace their origin to European, Amerindian, and African ancestors.

Ethnic groups

The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) classifies the Brazilian population in five categories: white, black, pardo (brown), yellow, and Indigenous, based on skin color as given by the individual being interviewed in the census.

*White (49.7% of the population): [ Sintese_2006_semlinks.indd ] ] usually a Brazilian of full or predominant European ancestry or other ancestry (such as Arab Brazilian) who considers himself or herself to be White.

*Pardo or Brown (42.6%): usually a Multiracial Brazilian of brown skin color and mixed-race features who considers himself or herself to be "Pardo".

*Black (6.9%): usually a dark-skinned Brazilian of Black African ancestry who considers himself or herself to be Black.

*Yellow: (0.5%) usually a Brazilian of East Asian descent, mostly Japanese.

*Indigenous (0.3%): [ [ Brazil - Brasil - BRAZZIL - News from Brazil - The life and death of Orlando Villas Boas - Brazilian Indians, Ecology, Amazon- January 2003 ] ] usually a Brazilian of full or predominant Amerindian ancestry who considers himself or herself to be Amerindian.

Brazil's population history

Immigration to Brazil, by Ethnic groups, periods from 1500 to 1933
Source: Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE)

Ethnic group 1500-1700 1701-1760 1761-1829 1830-1855 1856-1883 1884-1893 1894-1903 1904-1913 1914-1923 1924-1933
Africans 510,000 958,000 1,720,000 618,000 - - - - - -
Portuguese 100,000 600,000 26,000 16,737 116,000 170,621 155,542 384,672 201,252 233,650
Italians - - - - 100,000 510,533 537,784 196,521 86,320 70,177
Spaniards - - - - - 113,116 102,142 224,672 94,779 52,405
Germans - - 5,003 2,008 30,000 22,778 6,698 33,859 29,339 61,723
Japanese - - - - - - - 11,868 20,398 110,191
Syrians and Lebanese - - - - - 96 7,124 45,803 20,400 20,400
Others - - - - - 66,524 42,820 109,222 51,493 164,586

When Brazil was discovered as a new land by the Portuguese in 1500, its native population was composed of between 3 and 6 million Amerindians, living there for the last 15,000 to 20,000 years. [ [ The vanishing art of Brazil's Indians] ] During several decades afterwards, the country remained sparsely inhabited by Europeans, mainly Portuguese.

Another important instance of forced migration has been the Atlantic slave trade. Over 3 million Africans were captured by their enemy neighbors during feuds to be sold and bought, captured and transported to slavery in Brazil, for two and half centuries, adding to the demographic and racial composition of the country. [ [ Slavery in Brazil] ]

Immigration discussion and policy in the 19th century

"See also:" Immigration to Brazil

Brazilian ethnic constitution was widely influenced by race-based ideas from the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, leading Brazil to chose white immigrants as the ideal “race” to constitute Brazilian population. This Brazilian immigration policy was closely connected to the so-called “questão da mão-de-obra” (workforce question), which is the name of the legislative discussions, and planters’ concerns about how to substitute the slave workforce. This concern indicates that Brazilian elites were at that moment considering slavery a bad institution and former slaves as undesired population components which should be mixed within the white population.

Brazilian Slavery was abolished in 1888 but immigration policies were being formulated throughout the second half of the 19th century and culminated in the early Republican period (1890s). Those discussions intended not to be based only in practical experiences but sought to be based in ideas and philosophies considered scientific in the 19th century such as “natural inequality of human beings”, “hierarchy of races”, Social Darwinism and Positivism.

In Brazil, the dominant idea was that the national worker was unable to develop the country, and that only free foreign workers could racially and culturally improve Brazil. The goal was to "whiten" Brazil through new immigrants and through future miscegenation in which former slaves would disappear by becoming “whiter.” [ VAINFAS, Ronaldo. Dicionário do Brasil Imperial. Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva, 2002, p 152.] In 1878, ten years before the abolition of slavery, Rio de Janeiro hosted the "Congresso Agrícola" (Agricultural Congress) and that meeting reflected what the Brazilian elite (especially coffee planters) expected from their future workers [ SANTOS, Sales Augusto dos. Historical roots of the “whitening” of Brazil. Translated by Lawrence Hallewell. Latin American Perspectives. Issue 122, Vol. 29 No I, January 2002, p 62.] . Besides national workers were an option to some of the participants, most of them agreed that only immigration would be good to Brazil [ LIMA, Sílvio C.S. Determinismo biológico e imigração chinesa em Nicolau Moreira (1870-1890). 123 p. Dissertation (Master degree in History of Health Sciences) Rio de Janeiro: Fiocruz, 2005. [] , p. 104] , and, moreover, European immigration. The "Congresso Agrícola" showed that the elite was convinced that Europeans were racially and culturally superior to other “races”.

Henceforth, the Brazilian narrative of a perfect "post-racist" country, composed of the "cosmic race" celebrated in 1925 by José Vasconcelos, must be met with caution, as sociologist Gilberto Freyre demonstrated in 1933 in "Casa Grande e Senzala".Although discussions were situated in a theoretical field, immigrants arrived and colonies were founded through all this period (the rule of Pedro II), especially from 1850 on, particularly in the Southeast and Southern Brazil.

These discussions culminated in the Decree 528 in 1890, signed by Brazil's first President Deodoro da Fonseca, which opened the national harbors to immigration except for Africans and Asians. This decree remained valid until 1907 when it was substituted for one that did not specify the immigrants’ nationalities or origins although Europeans were still favorite immigrants. [Ibid., p. 110]

As a result of those discussions and policies, Brazil experienced immigration mostly from countries such as Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Poland during the end of the empire and the beginning of the republic period (late 19th and early 20th century). Later immigration, from 1920 on was not so much influenced by that race discussions and Brazil attracted, besides Europeans, more immigrants from Lebanon, Syria and Japan, for example.

Racial makeup and genetic studies

Nowadays, most Brazilians classify themselves as being Whites, closely followed by the Brown group. Recent genetic studies found a high degree of racial admixture in all ethnic groups of Brazil, concluding that the vast majority of Brazilians have some amount of European, African and Amerindian ancestors.


According to a study, White Brazilians possess almost all their paternal ancestry of European origin (98% in the Y Chromosome) with a very small African admixture at 2% and a complete absence of Amerindian contributions. In the maternal side, there is a 39% European, 33% Amerindian and 28% African contribution to the total mtDNA pool. This would give White Brazilians the percentage of 68.5% European, 16.5% Amerindian and 15% African admixture. Another study found similar figures: 70% European, 18% African and 12% Amerindian admixture.

Black Brazilians have an average of 52% African and 48% non-African admixture. Another study calculated to Black Brazilians 67% African, 28% European and 5% Amerindian admixture. To Brown Brazilians, the study calculated a 45% African and 55% European and Amerindian admixture.

In all Brazil's regions, European ancestry predominates in the population. The percentage, however, varies from region to region. It was calculated that to the population of Northern Brazil as a whole, the genetic contribution is 47% European, 41% Amerindian and 12% African. In Northeast Brazil, the distribution is 51% European, 36% African and 13% Amerindian. In Southern Brazil 82% European, 11% Amerindian and 7% African. [ [ Color and genomic ancestry in Brazilians] ]

Descendants of colonial settlers

Brazil's racial base are its colonial settlers (Amerindians, Portuguese and Africans):

*Over 90 million Brazilians (50% of the population) have some Portuguese ancestry. [ [ Os Genes de Cabral] ]
*86% of Brazilians have over 10% of their genes coming from Africans. [ [ Estudos Avançados - Pode a genética definir quem deve se beneficiar das cotas universitárias e demais ações afirmativas? ] ]
*Over 60 million Brazilians (33%) have some Amerindian ancestry. [ [ Retrato molecular do Brasil] ]

Descendants of immigrants

The largest influx of European immigrants to Brazil occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. According to the "Memorial do Imigrante" statistics data, Brazil attracted nearly 5 million immigrants between 1870 and 1953.cite web |title=Entrada de imigrantes no Brasil - 1870/1907 |date= |url= |language=Portuguese |accessdate=2007-06-20 ] cite web |title=Entrada de imigrantes no Brasil - 1908/1953 |date= |url= |language=Portuguese |accessdate=2007-06-20 ] These immigrants were divided in two groups: a part of them was sent to Southern Brazil to work as small farmers. However, the biggest part of the immigrants was sent to Southeast Brazil to work in the coffee plantations. The immigrants sent to Southern Brazil were mainly Germans (starting in 1824, mainly from Rhineland-Palatinate, the others from Pomerania, Hamburg, Westphalia, etc) and Italians (starting in 1875, mainly from the Veneto and Lombardia). In the South, the immigrants established rural communities that, still today, have a strong cultural connection with their ancestral homelands. In South East Brazil, most of the immigrants were Italians (mainly from the Veneto, Campania, Calabria and Lombardia), Portuguese (mainly from Beira Alta, Minho and Alto Trás-os-Montes), Spaniards (mainly from Galicia and Andalusia).

Notably, the first half of the twentieth century saw a large inflow of Japanese (mainly from Honshū, Hokkaidō and Okinawa) and Arab (from Lebanon and Syria) immigrants.

Populations of immigrants and descendants in Brazil with over 1 million members:

:fnb|1It includes all people who were brought from Sub-Saharan Africa.

:fnb|2It does not include Germans who immigrated with Russian passports (see Volga Germans)

:fnb|3Most of the Poles immigrated to Brazil with Russian passports

Races and ethnicities by region


The South of Brazil is the region with the largest percentage of Whites. According to the 2005 census, people of European ancestry account for 79.6% of the population.cite web |title=PNAD |date=2006 |url= |language=Portuguese |accessdate=2007-09-14 ] In colonial times, this region had a very small population.

The region what is now Southern Brazil was originally settled by Amerindian peoples, mostly Guarani and Kaingangs [ [ Página do Gaúcho - Índios - Os grupos indígenas e sua distribuição ] ] . Only a few settlers from São Paulo were living there. This situation made the region vulnerable to attacks from neighboring countries. This fact forced the King of Portugal to decide to populate the region. For this, settlers of the Portuguese Azores islands were sent to the coast.

To stimulate the immigration to Brazil, the king offered several benefits for the Azorean couples. Between 1748 and 1756, six thousand Azoreans moved to the coast of Santa Catarina. They were mainly newly married who were seeking a better life. At that time, the Azores were one of the poorest regions of Portugal. They established themselves mainly in the Santa Catarina Island, nowadays the region of Biguaçu. Later, some couples moved to Rio Grande do Sul, where they established Porto Alegre, the capital. The Azoreans lived on fishing and agriculture, especially flour. They composed over half of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina's population in the late 18th century. [ Imigrantes: Açorianos ] ] The state of Paraná was settled by colonists from São Paulo due to their proximity (Paraná was part of São Paulo until the mid-19th century).

With the development of cattle in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, African slaves began arriving in large numbers. By 1822, Blacks were 50% of Rio Grande do Sul's population. This number decreased to 25% in 1858 and to only 5.2% in 2005. Most of them came from Angola. [ [ RS VIRTUAL - O Rio Grande do Sul na Internet - História - Colonização - Negros - A história dos gaúchos sem história ] ]

After independence from Portugal (1822) the Brazilian government started to stimulate the arrival of a new wave of immigrants to settle the South. In 1824 they established São Leopoldo, a German community. Major Schaeffer, a German who was living in Brazil, was sent to Germany in order to bring immigrants. From Rhineland-Palatinate, the Major brought the immigrants and soldiers. Settlers from Germany were brought to work as small farmers, because there were many land holdings without workers. To attract the immigrants, the Brazilian government had promised large tracts of land, where they could settle with their families and colonize the region. The first years were not easy. Many Germans died of tropical disease, while others left the colonies to find better living conditions. The German colony of São Leopoldo was a disaster. Nevertheless, in the following years, a further 4,830 Germans arrived at São Leopoldo, and then the colony started to develop, with the immigrants establishing the town of Novo Hamburgo ("New Hamburg"). From São Leopoldo and Novo Hamburgo, the German immigrants spread into others areas of Rio Grande do Sul, mainly close to sources of rivers. The whole region of Vale dos Sinos was populated by Germans. During the 1830s and part of the 1840s German immigration to Brazil was interrupted due to conflicts in the country (War of the Farrapos). The immigration restarted after 1845 with the creation of new colonies. The most important ones were Blumenau, in 1850, and Joinville in 1851, both in Santa Catarina state; these attracted thousands of German immigrants to the region. In the next five decades, other 28 thousand Germans were brought to Rio Grande do Sul to work as small farmers in the countryside. [ [ Germans ] ] Until 1914, it is estimated that 50 thousand Germans settled in this state.

Another immigration boom to this region started in 1875. Communities with Italian immigrants were also created in southern Brazil. The first colonies to be populated by Italians were created in the highlands of Rio Grande do Sul (Serra Gaúcha). These were Garibaldi and Bento Gonçalves. These immigrants were predominantly from Veneto, in northern Italy. After five years, in 1880, the great numbers of Italian immigrants arriving caused the Brazilian government to create another Italian colony, Caxias do Sul. After initially settling in the government-promoted colonies, many of the Italian immigrants spread themselves into other areas of Rio Grande do Sul seeking further opportunities. They created many other Italian colonies on their own, mainly in highlands, because the lowlands were already populated by Germans and native "gaúchos". The Italian established many vineyards in the region. Nowadays, the wine produced in these areas of Italian colonization in southern Brazil is much appreciated within the country, though little is available for export. In 1875, the first Italian colonies were established in Santa Catarina, which lies immediately to the north of Rio Grande do Sul. The colonies gave rise to towns such as Criciúma, and later also spread further north, to Paraná.

A significant number of Poles have settled in Southern Brazil. The first immigrants arrived in 1869 and until 1920, it is estimated that over 60,000 Poles migrated to Brazil, 95% of whom were peasants. The State of Paraná received the majority of Polish immigrants, who settled mainly in the region of Curitiba, in the towns of Mallet, Cruz Machado, São Matheus do Sul, Irati, and União da Vitória. Russians and Ukrainians are present as well. The latter group, numbering as many as 350,000, live primarily in South Central Parana around the city of Prudentopolis.


The Southeastern region of Brazil is the ethnically most diverse part of the country. Whites make up 58.8% of its population, and those of mixed-race and African descent make up, together, 40.2%. It has the largest percentage of Asian Brazilians, composing 0.8%, and small Amerindian community (0.2%).

Southeast Brazil is home to the oldest Portuguese village in the Americas, São Vicente, São Paulo, established in 1532. [ [ RankBrasil - Homologação de recordes no Brasil - Cidade Mais Velha do Brasil ] ] The region, since the beginning of its colonization, is a melting pot of Whites, Indians and Blacks. The Amerindians of the region were enslaved by the Portuguese. The race mixing between the Indian females and their White masters produced the Bandeirante, the colonial inhabitant of São Paulo, who formed expeditions that crossed the interior of Brazil and greatly increased the Portuguese colonial territory. The main language spoken by these people of mixed Indian/Portuguese heritage was Língua geral, a language that mixed Tupi and Portuguese words.

In the late 17th century the Bandeirantes found gold in the area that nowadays is Minas Gerais. A gold rush took place in Brazil, and thousands of Portuguese colonists arrived during this period. The confrontation between the Bandeirantes and the Portuguese for obtaining possession of the mines led to the Emboabas' War. The Portuguese won the war. The Amerindian culture declined, giving space to a stronger Portuguese cultural domination. In order to control the richness, the Portuguese Crown moved the capital of Brazil from Salvador, Bahia to Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of African slaves were brought to work in the gold mines. They were landed in Rio de Janeiro and sent to other regions. By the late 18th century, Rio de Janeiro was an "African city": most of its inhabitants were slaves. No other place in the world had so many slaves, since the end of the Roman Empire. [ [ Pdt - Rj ] ] In 1808 the Portuguese Royal Family, fleeing from Napoleon, took charge in Rio de Janeiro. Some 15 thousand Portuguese nobles moved to Brazil. The region changed a lot, becoming more European.

After independence and principally after 1850, Southeast Brazil was "inundated" by European immigrants, who were attracted by the government to replace the African slaves in the coffee plantations. Most immigrants landed in the Port of Santos and has been forwarded to the coffee farms within São Paulo. The vast majority of the immigrants came from Italy. Brazil attracted nearly 5 million immigrants between 1870 and 1953. The large amounts of Italians are visible in many parts of Southeast Brazil. Their descendants are nowadays predominant in may areas. Northeast São Paulo is 65% Italian, for example. [ [ Fundação Lorenzato ] ]

The arrival of immigrants from several places of Europe, the Middle-East and Asia produced an ethnically diverse population. The city of Bastos, in São Paulo, is 11.4% Japanese. The city of São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan itself. [ [ São Paulo é tudo de bom - Turismo, eventos e entretenimento na cidade de São Paulo ] ] The capital of São Paulo is also home to the largest Arab population outside the Levant region.


The population of Northeast Brazil is a result of an intensive race mixing. According to the 2006 census people of Multiracial background make up 62.5% of the population. Those of total or predominantly Black ancestry account for 7.8%. This region did not have any effect of the European immigration that took place in Southern Brazil in the 19th century. The Northeast is the poorest part of Brazil and did not need immigrants. By the way, since the late 19th century, thousands of people from this region move to the richest parts of Brazil, mainly São Paulo.

The ethnic composition of the population starts in the 16th century. The Portuguese settlers rarely brought women, which led to relationships with the Indian women. Later, interracial relationships occurred between Portuguese and African females. The coast, in the past a place to the arrival of millions of Black slaves from Angola, Nigeria and Benin to embrace the plantations of sugar-cane, is where nowadays there is a predominance of Mulattoes, those of Black and White ancestry. Salvador, Bahia is considered the largest Black city outside of Africa, with over 80% of its inhabitants being African-Brazilians. In the interior, there is a predominance of Indian and White mixture. [ [ Regiões do Brasil ] ]


Northern Brazil, largely covered by the Amazon rainforest, is the Brazilian region with the largest Amerindian influences, both in culture and ethnicity. Inhabited by diverse indigenous tribes, this part of Brazil was reached by Portuguese and Spanish colonists in the 17th century, but it started to be populated by non-Indians only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The exploitation of rubber used in the growing industries of automobiles, has emerged a huge migration to the region. Many people from the poor Northeast Brazil, mostly Ceará, moved to the Amazon area. The contact between the Indians and the northeastern rubbers created the base of the ethnic composition of the region, with its mixed-race majority.


The Central-West region of Brazil was inhabited by diverse Indians when the Portuguese arrived in the early 18th century. The Portuguese came to explore the precious stones that were found there. As it was a far away region, very few African slaves were brought to this area. Who, in fact, worked as slaves in the gold mines were the local Indians. The contact between the Portuguese and the Indians created a mixed-race population. Until the mid-20th century, Central-West Brazil had a very small population. The situation changed with the construction of Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil, in 1960. Many workers were attracted to the region, mostly from northeastern Brazil.

A new wave of settlers started arriving from the 1970s. With the mechanization of agriculture in the South of Brazil, many rural workers of German and Italian origin migrated to the Central-West Brazil. In some areas, they are already the majority of the population.

External links

* [ Racism takes many hues: In Brazil, the experience is like looking into a fun-house mirror]
* [,GGGL:2006-46,GGGL:en%26q%3Dsignificance%2Bof%2Bskin%2Bcolor%2Bin%2Bbrazil&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title The significance of skin color in Brazil]
* [ article]
* [ Blackness without ethnicity, Constructing race in brazil]
* [ African 'Americans' in Brazil]
* [ University of Notre Dame article Discovering a racial problem in Brazil]
* [ princeton university race segregation in brazil]
* [ A great divide]


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