The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know…

What is Favela?


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, with an estimated population of a quarter of a million people.

Inside Rocinha

Vidigal at night, Rio de Janeiro

favela (Portuguese pronunciation: [faˈvɛlɐ]) is the generally used term for a shanty town in Brazil. In the late 18th century, the first settlements were called bairros africanos (African neighborhoods), and they were the place where former slaves with no land ownership and no options for work lived. Over the years, many freed black slaves moved in. However, before the first settlement called “favela” came into being, poor black citizens were pushed away from downtown into the far suburbs. Most modern favelas appeared in the 1970s, due to rural exodus, when many people left rural areas of Brazil and moved to cities. Without finding a place to live, many people ended up in a favela.[1]


Some of the older favelas in Rio de Janeiro were originally started as quilombos (independent settlements of fugitive African slaves) among the hilly terrain of the area surrounding Rio, which later grew as slaves were liberated in 1888 with no places to live.

It is generally agreed upon[by whom?] that the first favela to be called by this name was created in November 1897. At the time, 20,000veteran soldiers were brought from the conflict against the settlers of Canudos, in the Eastern province of Bahia, to Rio de Janeiro and left with no place to live.[2] When they served the Army in Bahia, those soldiers had been familiar with Canudos’s Favela Hill — a name referring to favela, a skin-irritating tree in the spurge family indigenous to Bahia, Jatropha phyllacantha (or else the relatedfaveleira tree,[3] Cnidoscolus quercifolius). When they settled in the Providência [Providence] hill in Rio de Janeiro, they nicknamed the place Favela hill from their common reference, thereby calling a slum a favela for the first time.[4]

The favelas were formed prior to the dense occupation of cities and the domination of real estate interests.[5] The housing crisis of the 1940s forced the urban poor to erect hundreds of shantytowns in the suburbs, when favelas replaced tenements as the main type of residence for destitute cariocas (residents of Rio). The explosive era of favela growth dates from the 1940s, when Getúlio Vargas‘s industrialization drive pulled hundreds of thousands of migrants into the Federal District, until 1970, when shantytowns expanded beyond urban Rio and into the metropolitan periphery.[6] Most of the current favelas began in the 1970s, as a construction boom in the richer neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro initiated a rural exodus of workers from poorer states in Brazil. Heavy flooding in the low-lying slum areas of Rio also forcibly removed a large population into favelas, which are mostly located on Rio’s various hillsides. Since favelas have been created under different terms but with similar end results, the term favela has become generally interchangeable with any impoverished area. Favelas are built around the edge of the main city so in a way they are actually expanding the city.

The Brazilian Census of 2000 provided information about the cities with most favelas in Brazil.[7]

Cities with most favelas in Brazil

[edit]Public policy towards favelas

A view from a lookout of Santa Teresa of a hillside slum (right) in Rio de Janeiro, contrasted with a more affluent neighbourhood (left). The Cristo Redentor, shrouded in clouds, is in the left background.

The explosive growth of favelas triggered government removal campaigns. Police have little or no control in many favelas. A program in the 1940s called Parque Proletário destroyed the original homes of those dwelling in favelas in Rio and relocated them to temporary housing as they waited for the building of public housing.[8] Eventually little public housing was built and the land that was cleared for it just became reoccupied with new settlements of favela dwellers. In 1955, Dom Hélder Câmara, Archbishop of Recife and Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janeiro, launched the Cruzada São Sebastião (St. Sebastian’s Crusade), a federally financed project to build an apartment complex in the biggest favela at the time, Praia do Pinto. The goal of the Cruzada was to transform favela dwellers into more acceptable citizens by only housing those willing to give up the vices associated with favela life. One was in Praia do Pinto and the other in the favela of Rádio Nacional in Parada de Lucas.[9] Removal programs of the favelas flourished once again in the 1970s under the military dictatorship, disguised as a government housing program for the poor. What really happened was that more favelas were eliminated and their residents were displaced to urban territory lacking basic infrastructure.[5] The idea was to eliminate the physical existence of favelas by taking advantage of the cheaper prices of suburban land. The favela eradication program became paralyzed eventually because of the resistance of those who were supposed to benefit from the program and a distribution of income did not permit the poor to assume the economic burden of public housing that was placed on them.[10]

[edit]Recent developments

In 2007, President Lula announced the Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento, a four-year investment plan, which includes the promotion of urban development for the favelas.

There have been public policies aimed at the favelas from local governments. In Rio de Janeiro, programs such as the favela-bairro and Rio cidade have attempted to mitigate the problem.[further explanation needed]

[edit]Formation of favela society

public health team vaccinating children for polioat Rocinha, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, 2001 (Source:CDC)

The people who live in favelas are known as Moradores da favela, or pejoratively as favelados. Favelas are associated with extreme poverty. Brazil’s favelas can be seen as the result of the unequal distribution of wealth in the country. Brazil is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world with the top 10 percent of its population earning 50 percent of the national income and about 34 percent of all people living below the poverty line. The Brazilian government has made several attempts in the 20th century to improve the nation’s problem of urban poverty. One way was by the eradication of the favelas and favela dwellers that occurred during the 1970s while Brazil was under military governance. These favela eradication programs forcibly removed over 100,000 residents and placed them in public housing projects or back to the rural areas that many emigrated from.[11] Another attempt to deal with urban poverty came by way of gentrification. The government sought to upgrade the favelas and integrate them into the inner city with the newly urbanized upper-middle class. As these “upgraded favelas” became more stable, they began to attract members of the lower-middle class pushing the former favela dwellers onto the streets or outside of the urban center and into the suburbs further away from opportunity and economic advancement. For example: in Rio de Janeiro, the vast majority of the homeless population is black, and part of that can be attributed to favela gentrification and displacement of those in extreme poverty.[12]

[edit]Drugs and the favela

Soldiers in a favela

The cocaine trade has affected Brazil and in turn its favelas, which tend to be ruled by drug lords. Regular shoot-outs between traffickers and police and other criminals, as well as assorted illegal activities, lead to murder rates in excess of 40 per 100,000 inhabitants in the city of Rio and much higher rates in some Rio favelas.[13] Traffickers ensure that individual residents can guarantee their own safety through their actions and political connections to them. They do this by maintaining order in the favela and giving and receiving reciprocity and respect, thus creating an environment in which critical segments of the local population feel safe despite continuing high levels of violence.

Drug use is highly concentrated in these areas run by local gangs in each highly populated favela. Drug sales and use run rampant at night when many favelas host their own baile, or dance party, where many different social classes can be found. These drug sales make up “a business that in some of the occupied areas rakes in as much as US$ 150 million per month, according to official estimates released by the Rio media.”[14]

[edit]Growth and removal of the favelas

Despite the attempts to cleanse Brazil’s major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo of favelas, the poor population grew at a rapid pace as well as the modern favelas that house them in the end of last century. This is a phenomenon called “favelização” (“favela growth” or “favelization”). In 1969, there were approximately 300 favelas in Rio de Janeiro; today there are twice as many. In 1950, only 7 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s population lived in favelas, nowadays this number has grown to 19 percent or about one in five people living in a favela. According to national census data, from 1980–1990, the overall growth rate of Rio de Janeiro dropped by 8 percent, but the favela population increased by 41 percent. After 1990, the city’s growth rate leveled at 7 percent, but the favela population increased by 24 percent. However, a report of the United Nations, released in 2010 shows that Brazil has reduced its slum population by 16%, now corresponding to about 26% of the overall population of the nation, compared to more than 30% in 2000.[citation needed]

Current decreases in the population of favelas can, in some ways, be credited to the original reasons of rural to urban migration that, in the last years, has become less attractive once the investments in the rural whole in Brazil has improved the life conditions to rural workers.[citation needed]

Other investments, such as the ones to industries, infrastructure, tourism and social assistance are helping to spread the wealth, developing historic underdeveloped regions (like Northeastern Brazil) and reducing the reasons to migrate to economic cores like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. All of this has added to the fast economic growth Brazil has been experiencing. The poor classes are entering the middle classes and the rate of poverty is vertiginously falling.[citation needed]

Even though there has been a decrease in the number of people living in favelas, it’s common that small and modest apartments, located in central areas are as cheap or cheaper than living in a favela.[citation needed]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s