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south american history

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Capoeira, Runaway Slaves & The Dutch-Portuguese War

Through a curious accident of history, Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country in all of South America. The ethnic mix is very different too, largely down to the legacy of slavery.

An estimated 6 million African slaves were “imported” into Brazil between the 1500s and the 1800s. One consequence of this was that the colonists were vastly outnumbered.

Brazil’s inhospitable geography (a vast, barren interior surrounded by impenetrable jungle), meant settlements hugged the coastline. When a slave escaped, the first thing they did was head inland.

The harsh Brazilian interior, known as the sertão, became home to scattered runaway communities known as quilombos. The word itself derives from the Kimbundu word kilombo – Angolan tribes who organized themselves into defensive communities to resist slavers – and the tradition crossed the Atlantic with those taken.

But the quilombos didn’t just consist of escaped slaves and their free-born children, they also sheltered Brazilian Indians, oppressed Portuguese, army deserters, fugitives, as well as Jews and Arabs escaping religious persecution by Catholic zealots. Continue reading

Welcome to South Americana

Well, hello there. Some of you may be familiar with my other blog Let’s Get Digital, some may not. It’s all good; this place is going to be very different as it’s an outlet for an altogether different obsession: South America.

It’s hard to imagine what I thought of South America before I visited there, but I’m sure it was the standard stereotypes of violent druglords, corrupt regimes, and hedonistic locals.

While those things hold true – to a very limited extent – there is also so much more to the continent, and one of the most fascinating aspects of South America is its history.

From swashbuckling heroes to comic-book villains, South American history reads like an old-school adventure story and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the stories I collected on two separate trips around the continent.

I first went to South America in 2005. I only intended staying for a couple of months before continuing on to New Zealand. However, within a few weeks, I knew I wasn’t going to leave until I ran out of money.

I managed to stretch it out for nine months, and by then I was fully addicted. Even though I traveled to some interesting and exotic places in subsequent years, South America never strayed from the forefront my mind; it gets under your skin.

Returning was an inevitability, and I was able to spend another nine months there in 2009. Although that time I had I good excuse: research. But we’ll talk more about that later.

Please excuse the mess while the builders are at work making the place all pretty. You’ll hear from me soon, and in the meantime, you can learn a little about me here or contact me here.

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