Cuba and Brazil – Similarities and Differences

HAVANA TIMES – The phenomenon of African slavery was a determining factor in the composition of both Cuba and Brazil, and in the idiosyncrasies and overall cultural expressions of both nations.

Slavery originated in ancient times, most likely introduced by civilizations interested in the conquest of other territories through war. Much later, in the 16th century, the Spanish brought Africans to North America, as part of their colonization of Florida and the Carolinas. They began to do the same in Cuba around 1513. For their part, the Portuguese colonizers began bringing the African slaves to Brazil around 1550. When the Dutch withdrew, around 1654, the Portuguese intensified the slave traffic, with the purpose of having them work in the sugar cane plantations.

This brutal slave trade lasted until the 19th century, violently uprooting Africans from their land and subjecting them to forced slavery. The Africans brought to these lands came with their customs, languages, religious and festive traditions. Over time, there was a process of mixing between the different ethnic groups, and between these groups and the Europeans. As a result, new autochthonous cultural expressions arose with their own characteristics.

The African component of Cuban and Brazilian culture comes mostly from sub-Saharan West Africa, where between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries different empires succeeded each other, each with its own particularities. Hence, both nations are known for the diversity and richness of their cultural expressions. These have defined their identities as peoples, giving Cuba and Brazil a common origin, but many differences at the same time.

My prolonged residence in Brazil has let me appreciate the great similarity between the two countries, especially in their racial characteristics, their idiosyncrasies, and their cultural expressions. That has led me to say that Cuba is a smaller scale Brazil, because the Cuban and the Brazilian populations are a similar mix of whites, blacks, and mestizos – so similar ethnically that if a Brazilian were to visit Cuba and not open their mouth to speak, it would be impossible to differentiate them from the other inhabitants of the island. Both populations have roots that share the same mix, and these roots are reflected in many of the same ways. This similarity is also manifested in the culinary culture, with typical dishes such as rice, beans, meats, – beef or poultry – and extremely sugary desserts elaborated with similar ingredients.

The musical rhythms deserve separate mention, including Samba, Bossa Nova, Candomble and Forro in Brazil, among others. These have their roots in popular celebrations and are the result of sounds blended from this mix of cultures, with the African component having the greatest weight.

The same thing occurs on our Caribbean island, with  Son, Chachacha, Rumba, Guaracha, Chagui, and Nengon, and all the other musical rhythms that share the same origin, in a centuries-long process of transformation that forged the profile of the nation.

The folk dances and religious practices in both countries reflect both Catholic influences and pagan rituals, the result of the mixture of the imposed European religion with the practices of the slaves. Now entwined, they’re the modern expression of Afro-descendant spirituality.

The existence of so many similarities between Cubans and Brazilians doesn’t make the two countries equal, however.  Nor does it mean that Cuba should be overestimated in relation to the South American giant for ideological reasons, and for the social transformations that benefited the masses, today greatly diminished. Brazil has 210 million inhabitants, making it 19 times greater in population than Cuba. On the other hand, it also has a land area of 3.3 million square miles, equivalent to 77 times the territory of the island. Obviously, Brazil is more complex, so that the political, economic, social, and even cultural problems of the two countries are incomparable.

The city of Sao Paulo alone has 12.2 million inhabitants, and the larger municipality of Sao Paulo, including the city and its surrounding towns – there aren’t any rural areas – has a total of 20.7 million inhabitants. Evidently, the mayor of the city of Sao Paulo has more responsibility than the president of Cuba (with 11.2 million people), not only for the number of inhabitants, but for the structural complexity in terms of urban mobility, buildings, and the health, education, and other social services.

When I arrived in Sao Paulo, my sotaque – or accent, as they say in Portuguese – caused some to ask me what country I was from. When I told them I was Cuban, I could usually see great joy in their glances, and they’d immediately tell me of their admiration for Cuba. I, myself, identify with the Workers’ Party. Ironically, the majority of my friends were from the PT [Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Brazilian Workers’ Party] as well. I got used to telling them that if they molded Brazil into the Cuba they had in their heads, they’d improve the country a lot; but if they transformed Brazil into the real Cuba, they’d destroy this immense and great nation.

It’s normal and even acceptable for a member of the PT to have that opinion of Cuba. But it’s also lamentable and very dangerous that the Brazilian leaders, on the very highest level, should want to convert Brazil into another Cuba, and that they can’t stop thinking about the mythical Cuba and its maximum leaders. Those same Cuban leaders transformed what was once the Pearl of the Caribbean into a political, economic and social pauper.

*Moustafa Hamze Guilart writes from Sao Paolo, Brazil

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

One thought on “Cuba and Brazil – Similarities and Differences

  • Similarity? Brazilians can get food ——- and Cubans ?

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