If you type the word “favela” into Google, you will be bombarded with terms such as “shack”, “slum”, “a low-income informal urban area in Brazil” etc. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that favelas are more often than not associated with poverty, crime, and violence. Nonetheless, in this article I hope to address that there is much more to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro than meet the eye.
In fact, the mere existence of favelas in Brazil is very much a legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. During this period, Brazil transported more Africans across the Atlantic Ocean than any other country in the world; 4.9 million slaves from Africa were brought to Brazil during the period from 1501 to 1866.
When slavery was finally abolished in 1888, although free, these ex-slaves continued to have unequal civil rights. These unequal rights would have contributed to their economic instability, thereby leading them to build communities of their own – the favelas. The favelas were characterized by their deregulation; they were built without any kind of authority, no building permits, no red tape – the favelas were completely uncontrolled by the Brazilian government. But, here’s some food for thought… Perhaps this complete lack of governmental authority was and is the leading force behind Brazilian favelas’ culture of creativity and resourcefulness, as well as anarchy and dysfunction?
Therefore, not only do the favelas of Rio de Janeiro represent areas of the city that lack basic state services, and are inhabited by a people that not only lack money, but that work extremely hard and have a lot of struggle in their lives. The favelas of Rio de Janeiro also represent areas of the city that, despite these shortcomings, are an undoubted hub for their own culture and enterprise.
For example, in Rocinha, one of the biggest favelas of Rio de Janeiro (one could consider it a city within a city), there are banks, restaurants, beauty salons, pet-stores – anything you could possibly need. What the people have created in Rocinha alone is incredible, and this spontaneous resourcefulness is not uncommon throughout the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Likewise, In Vidigal, another one of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro that has been associated with organized crime, specifically the gang ADA (Amigos dos Amigos), is a further example of the “creativity and resourcefulness” amongst “anarchy and dysfunction” of favela life.
The ecological park, “Sitiê”, was created from what was once a 25-year-old dump site, that suffocated the Vidigal hill with junk. There was no government aid offered for the project, nor was building permission even sought – in the favelas, this was not necessary.
It took eight years of community efforts to clean Sitiê and make it to what it is today; an inspiring reminder of the ingenuity that looms within the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Today, favelas of Rio de Janeiro are not only inhabited by descendants of African slaves, but also Brazilian migrants from rural areas of the country, often looking for work in the city. However, Rio de Janeiro is one of the most expensive cities in Latin America, and taking into account that the minimum wage in Brazil is 979 reais per month, many people have no other option than to settle in favelas.
In conclusion, it’s important to remember that the occupants of these communities, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, are like anybody else; just trying to get by in an increasingly chaotic world, with hopes and dreams.