We got an early start this morning, riding a city bus to the oldest part of town where CIEE has their study center. We had a lesson in basic Portuguese – it is really hard! I learned I’ve been pronouncing all my words wrong. For example, the currency here is the Real, which throughout my career teaching finance, I have said as ree-ALL. But the R is an H sound, and the L is an I sound, so it should be hee-EYE. Plus, the S sound here in Rio is SH (local folks call this the “carioca” accent), so the plural, Reals, is pronounced hee-EYEsh instead of ree-ALLs. The D sound is like a J for the locals, so “de nada” (you’re welcome, or literally, “it’s nothing”) is pronounced day-NAH-ja. There are many other tricks to learn before I will be speaking understandable Portuguese, but we have another week here so we’re all working hard to learn as much as possible.
Our second lesson of the day was the history of Rio. This is a fascinating story. The French, Spanish and Portuguese all tried to colonize the area, but Portugal won out by the mid 1500s. Beginning in the 1600s this was a significant whaling center. Sugar and coffee took a turn each as the major export. Gold and precious stones were discovered in the 1700s. But the slave trade through here was enormous. Probably about 80% of all slaves from Africa passed through, or stayed in, Rio or other ports in Brazil. Compared to New Orleans at the same time, Rio had 5 times as many slaves; more than 40% of the entire population were slaves by 1850. Slaves were used in the urban areas, as well as in the mines and in the production of sugar and coffee.
I was surprised to learn that the entire royal court of Portugal escaped from the Napoleonic wars by moving to Brazil in 1808. It was the first and only time a European nation was ruled by a king from a colony. Not only the royal family, but most all of the wealthy and powerful in Portugal escaped here – 15,000 in all. When the king returned in the 1820’s, his son remained and Brazil was declared a kingdom under his rule. It remained a monarchy until the 20th century. Slavery was finally abolished in 1889.
Our next stop was the historic location of the original slave port.
When the royal family moved here, they settled near this port and decided to move the slave trade a few blocks away to Volongo. Volongo became the largest port in the Americas for receiving slaves from Africa – sort of an Ellis Island for slavery. (In addition to African slaves, the Portuguese also tried enslaving the native “Indians” and also imported Japanese slaves, with limited success). This important archaeological artifact was buried under to build new port facilities sometime in the 19th century, and was only re-discovered in 2011. Here are some photos of the first excavation.
After lunch at another “kilo” restaurant, we visited the nearby area of Rio known as “Little Africa”. Settled mostly by freed slaves, this is NOT a favela but one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rio. Similar to many favelas, much of this neighborhood is up along a steep hillside, so there are beautiful views from the top.
Our final stop today was Pao de Asucar (Sugarloaf Mtn). This is an incredibly steep and tall rock outcropping right in the bay. The ride to the top is in a series of two gondolas. The view at sunset was simply spectacular. We could see many iconic parts of Rio, including Copacabana and the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado. By the time we returned to the hotel it was time for me to call it a day. I picked up some snacks at the mercado in lieu of dinner and started sorting through my pictures. I took over 100 today.
I hope you are enjoying the blog. Tomorrow is a big day and I expect to have lots more for you to see and read then.
Soli Deo Gloria,