Favelas of rio de janeiro – shanty town

Rio de Janeiro’s mountainside and hilly favelas

These landmarks are just as famous as the city’s main tourist attractions. Still, they offer a unique perspective on the city. Many of these areas were once considered dangerous and closed to visitors. They are now open and welcoming tourists on favela tours or music nights held in the local communities.

A favela, Portuguese pronunciation: [fa’vela]), is an informal low-income settlement in Brazil that has suffered historical neglect. The original favela, now known as Providencia in the middle of Rio de Janeiro, was built by soldiers after the Canudos War.

Many of the earliest settlements and towns were known as bairros africanos (African neighbourhoods). Many former slaves from Africa moved in over the years. Poor citizens were often pushed out of the town and forced to live in the suburbs before the first favela was established.

Favelas of rio de janeiro shanty town

Due to the exodus of rural people from rural Brazil, many moved to the cities in the 1970s and created the most recent favelas. Many people found themselves in favelas because they were unable to find suitable places to live. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, about 6% of Brazil’s population lived in favelas and other slums in 2010. Favelas can be found in 323 of 5,565 Brazilian towns and cities.

Favelas of Rio de Janeiro History

Fogila dates back to the latter part of the 1800s. The term favela was used to describe soldiers sent from Canudos (or the Eastern region of Bahia) to fight the settlers and then left without a place to live.

After serving in the Bahia military, the soldiers were familiar with Canudos Favela Hill. This was a reputation for the favela, a skin-irritating tree in the spurge family (Cnidoscolus quircifolius). Once they settled on the Providencia hill in Rio de Janeiro, they gave the place the Favela Hill.

Favelas were created before dense urbanization and the dominance of property rights. Many people from Brazil moved to Rio after the end of slavery and the urbanization of Latin American cities. These migrants were looking for work in the city but couldn’t afford housing in urban areas.

The favelas were seen as a problem for society in the 1920s. The favela was first mentioned in 1937 when the Codigo de Obras (property or building code) recognized their existence and implemented explicit favela policies. Simultaneously the term favela was transformed into a primary institutionalization, becoming a category for urban poor’s settlements in hills.

Favelas of rio de janeiro – shanty town

Due to the primary type of residence for the Rio Cariocas (residents of Rio), favelas were created in the suburbs during the housing crisis of the 1940s.

The explosive period of favela growth began in the 1940s when Getulio Vargas’s industrialization drive drew many thousands of migrants to the former territorial division or Federal District. It continued until the 1970s when shantytowns grew and developed beyond urban areas.

Rio and beyond the urban boundary.

The 1950s saw mass migration from rural Brazil to cities to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered by urbanization. Rio de Janeiro was not the best time to move.

Brazil’s capital, from Rio to Brasilia, was in decline since 1960. As employment and industry options dried up, this marked a steady but slow decline. These new migrants could not find work or affordable housing in the towns and decided to stay within the favelas.

Favelas of rio de janeiro shanty town

Despite being close to Rio de Janeiro’s urban centre, they didn’t have access to electricity or sanitation. They quickly became associated or accustomed to extreme poverty and were considered a problem by many Rio citizens and politicians.

Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1970s introduced a favela-eradication policy that resulted in the displacement of thousands of people. During Carlos Lacerda’s administration, many were relocated to Cidade de Deus (“City of God”). This name was later wildly associated with the same feature.

Insufficient government investment and poor public planning led to the demise of these projects, which became new favelas. In the 1980s, concerns about eviction and eradication began to fade due to the burgeoning drug industry violence. Rio de Janeiro became a point of transit for cocaine bound for Europe because of production routes and consumption changes.

Favelas of rio de janeiro – shanty town

Drugs brought in money, but they also helped increase the small arms trade and the rise of gangs fighting for supremacy.

Although Rio favelas are still controlled by drug traffickers, drug lords, or gangland and organised crime syndicates and groups called milicias (Brazilian police militias), all favelas in Rio’s South Zone, and the critical favelas of the North Zone, are now managed and administered by Pacifying Police Units (referred to as UPPs).

Although drug dealing, gunfights and some residual control from drug lords still exist in some regions of Rio, Rio’s political leaders suggest that the UPP is a new paradigm after decades without any government presence in these areas.

The majority of current favelas were built in the 1970s. The construction boom in Rio de Janeiro’s more wealthy districts led to a significant departure from rural Brazil of workers from the poorer regions. Favelas have been created since then under different terms but with similar results.

Favelas are places where communities form over time. These associations can be used to obtain services such as electricity and running water. Sometimes, residents can take title to the land and make improvements to their homes.

Favelas of rio de janeiro shanty town

Poor nutrition, pollution, crowding and poor sanitation are all factors that contribute to the high rates of infant mortality in favelas. Flooding and landslides can also be a threat to favelas located on hillsides.

Public policy towards favelas

The state provided the regulatory impetus for Rio de Janeiro’s first settlement of squatters in the late 19th century. The Ministry of War granted the soldiers and military personnel permission from the War of Canudos (19896-7) to live and settle on Providencia hill (Pino 1997).

This settlement was expanded by former black and negro slaves. The hill was then called Morro de Providencia (Pino 1977). The overcrowding in Providencia and the outbreak of diseases was directly addressed by the first or initial wave of formal government intervention.

Thus, the surrounding slums rose and were made possible by internal migration (Oliveira 1996). This was due to the simultaneous immigration of White Europeans into the town. There was a high demand for housing close to the water in this period.

Favelas of rio de janeiro – shanty town

The government responded by “razing the slums” and moving the slum dwellers into Rio’s north- and south zones (Oliveira 1996). 74 This marked the beginning of nearly a century worth of state-sanctioned interventions to eradicate polio.

Favelas were seen as breeding grounds for antisocial behaviour in the early 20th century. Residents of favelas weren’t even given a chance to consider legal issues and spread a disease called honour.

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After a series of events and comments in the neighbourhood of Morro da Cyprianna during which Elvira Rodrigues Marques, a local woman, was misled, the Marques family brought it up to court. This often represents a significant shift in the public’s perception of favela residents who were considered empty of honour by the upper classes.

Favelas were not rehabilitated by the government after the initial relocation and movement. This was until the 1940s. This era saw politicians push for high-end public housing projects with high density as an alternative to favelas.

“Parque Proletario,” a program that relocated favelados, moved them to temporary housing and buildings nearby. In contrast, permanent housing units were built on the land (Skidmore 2010). Despite all the claims of Rio’s Mayor Henrique Dodsworth about the construction of the new housing estates, they were not built.

Favelas of rio de janeiro shanty town

Thus, temporary housing options began to develop into new and more critical favelas (Oliveira 1996). Skidmore (2010) claims that the “Parque Proletario” was the concept for the intensified eradication policies of the 1960s- and 1970s.

In the 1950s, there was a mass urban migration to Rio de Janeiro. This led to the growth of favelas in urban areas. Portes 1979, pp. 5), the state launched a comprehensive favela removal program in the 1960s and 1970s. This included the relocation of favelados to the city’s periphery (Oliveira 1996).

Anthony (2013) explains that many of the most violent favela removals in Rio de Janeiro history occurred during this period. The military regime of the time had limited resources for supporting the transition, and favelados had difficulty adapting to new environments.

They were almost ostracized communities with poor housing, insufficient infrastructure and a lack of transport connections. (Portes 1979).

Favelas of rio de janeiro – shanty town

Pino 1997. Perlman (2006) identifies the failure of the state to manage favelas properly as the primary cause for rampant violence, drug abuse, and gang problems in the communities over the years. In 1978, the government created BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) to respond to the violence. BOPE was Rio’s response to violence against an opposing entity. They wore all-black military gear and weapons.

Public policy changed from eradicating favelas to preserving and upgrading them in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, the “Favela-Bairro” program was launched to improve living conditions for favelados (Pamuk & Cavallieri 1998). It provided essential sanitation and social services and connected favelas to formal urban communities through a series of street connections and public spaces.

However, the aggressive intervention didn’t disappear entirely from the public agenda. The favelas were experiencing an increase in violence, including gunshot killings and drug gangs. In 1995, the state-approved an army-police joint intervention known as Operacao Rio (Human Rights Watch 1996).

“Operacao Rio” was a state plan to regain control over favelas from drug and gang factions, which were consolidating the social-political vacuum left by previous unsuccessful state interventions (Perlman 2006).

Culture and formation of a favela society

The people that reside in favelas are referred to as favelados (“inhabitants of favela”). Favelas are often associated with poverty. Brazil’s favelas can be attributed to unequal wealth distribution and asset allocation.

Brazil is among the most economically unequal countries on the planet, with about 10% of its population living below the poverty line and the top 10% earning half of its national income.

Residents of favelas often feel discriminated against and picked on because they live in these communities. Sometimes, they also experience inequality and exploitation. It can be challenging to find work due to the stigma associated with people who live in favelas.

Favelas of rio de janeiro – shanty town

Brazil has made many attempts to reduce urban poverty over the past century. One technique was to eradicate favelas, favela dwellers, and dwellings during the 1970s when Brazil was under military rule.

Over a hundred thousand people were expelled from favelas by these programs. They were then moved to public housing projects or returned to the outskirts of their home. Gentrification is another way to address urban poverty.

The government sought to improve the favelas and integrate them with the newly urbanised upper-middle class. These “upgraded favelas” began to attract lower-middle-class residents, pushing former favela dwellers into the streets or out of the city.

Rio de Janeiro is an example of this. The overwhelming majority of the homeless are black and will be attributed to favela Gentrification and displacement of those living in extreme poverty.

Drugs in the favelas

Brazil has been affected by the cocaine trade, as have its favelas. These favelas are dominated by drug lords. Regular shoot-outs, gunfights among traffickers and police, other criminals, and illegal activities result in murder rates of more than 40 per 100,000 residents in Rio. Some favelas have higher rates.

Through their political connections and actions, traffickers ensure that each resident is safe. This is done by maintaining order in the favela, giving and receiving respect and reciprocity, creating an environment that allows critical sections of the population to feel safe despite the high levels of violence.

These areas are controlled by local gangs and are a hub for drug use. Many favelas hold their baile (or a dance party) at night when drug sales are rampant. According to official Rio media estimates, drug sales in many occupied areas can generate as much as US$150million per month.

Favelas are removed and grown.

Despite efforts to rid Brazil’s major cities and centres, like Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, of favelas at the end of the 20th century, the poorer population multiplied due to the modern favelas they live in. This phenomenon is called “favelizacao”, or “favela growth” (or “favelization”). There were 300 favelas in Rio de Janeiro in 1969; they are now more than twice as many.

Only 7% of Rio de Janeiro’s inhabitants lived in favelas in 1950. Today, this figure is 19%. This means that one-fifth of Rio de Janeiro’s residents live in a favela. According to national census data, Rio de Janeiro’s general growth rate decreased by 8% from 1980 to 1990. Still, the favela population grew by 41% between 1980 and 1990.

The city’s growth rate remained at 7% after 1990. However, the favela population grew by 245 in the following years. The United Nations released a report in 2010 showing that Brazil had reduced its slum population by 16%. This is roughly 6% of Brazil’s total population.

Favelas of Rio de Janeiro – Religion

Many spiritual traditions exist in the favelas. Historically, the Catholic religion was the dominant religion in the region. However, over the last few decades & many years, there has been a shift towards Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. While the number of people who have converted to Evangelicalism has increased, a growing number of people claim they are not religious.

Favelas of rio de janeiro – shanty town

Favelas of Rio de Janeiro – Music

Favelas are known for their popular music, including funk, hip hop, and samba. Funk carioca, a popular form of music in favelas, has become a popular alternative to the traditional samba.

This type of music often includes samples from other songs. Famous funk musicians include MC Naldo and Buchecha Bailes funk. These types of dance parties, which play funk music, were popularized in favelas. MV Bill, a well-known hip hop artist is from Cidade de Deus, Rio de Janeiro.

Favela culture has been popularised.

Favelas are increasingly being seen as tourist destinations and spots through media representations. In recent years, favela culture has become a popular and well-known inspiration for art from other parts of the world.

Many paintings, artworks, photography, and reproductions are often inspired by favela life. European nightclubs and nightspots have been inspired by favelas.

Favelas of Rio de Janeiro – Tourism

A new form of tourism has emerged in the globalizing cities of many emerging countries and developing countries since the mid-1990s. This type of tourism requires visits to the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the city.

This type of tourism consists mainly of guided tours marketed and operated through these disadvantaged areas by professionals.

This type of tourism is often called slum tourism. It can even be found in India and South Africa.

Brazil’s new tourism market is being developed in a few favelas. The most popular favela is Rocinha. This is a new trend in touristic exploration. There are many opinions on the ethics of favela tourism.

Favelas of rio de janeiro shanty town

These tours raise awareness about the needs of the poorer and underprivileged population living in these favelas while also giving tourists access to an aspect of Rio that is often hidden from the public eye. These tours can be viewed as an alternative to the main Rio de Janeiro attractions, such as Sugarloaf Mountain or Christ the Redeemer.

These tours give a brief overview of Rio’s hillside villages, which are more than just the habitats misrepresented by criminals and drug lords. Tours of the big favela in Rocinha are one example. Tourists are guided by qualified guides who drive them up the favela and then walk the hillside.

Guides lead groups along main streets and alleyways and point out hot spots or sections that are popular. Many tours end at a school, college or community centre. These facilities are often partially funded by tour profits. Tourists have the opportunity to meet local leaders and officials to enhance their experience of favela life.

Favelas of rio de janeiro – shanty town

Depending on the tour company, some businesses and companies will allow photographs in predetermined locations, while others will ban all photography. These were the points that tour guides stressed:

  • There are many explanations and insights about the mechanisms that socio-geographic differentiation occurs within favelas.
  • Information on modern infrastructure equipment (such as wireless LAN and health services) and current information about shopping, commerce and services infrastructures (e.g. banks, fashion shops, cafes and shopping centres).
  • Visits to social or cultural projects and meetings with volunteers
  • Impressions of private residences and communication with their residents
  • Cafeteria or restaurant visits

Brazil’s government regards favela tourism as a high priority and an area of great interest. Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva’s administration initiated a program to integrate tourism into the structure and makeup of favela economies and culture. Inaugurated in August 2010, the Rio Top Tour Project promotes and advertises tourism within Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

Federal aid was given to Santa Marta, a favela with approximately 5,000 Cariocas. Santa Marta’s project was funded by the government with 230 million Reais (US$145 000). English signs are posted in the community indicating the location of attractions. Samba schools are open, and viewing stations are built so that tourists can enjoy Rio de Janeiro’s views.

Popular media coverage of favelas has raised interest in the area as a tourist destination. Federal and state officials are working together to develop marketing strategies and build information booths for potential visitors. Following the example of existing favela tour programs, residents have been trained as tour guides. Recently, favelas are featured in multiple types of media, including movies & video games.

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Further reading

Favela Brazilian shantytown.

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