Favela (Portuguese and Spanish for "slum") is a specifically Brazilian word for a shanty town. The majority have electricity, but in most cases it is illegally tapped from the public grid. Favelas are constructed from a variety of materials, ranging from bricks to garbage. Many favelas are very close and very cramped. They are plagued by sewage, crime and hygiene problems. Although many of the most infamous are located in Rio de Janeiro, there are favelas in almost every large or even mid-sized Brazilian town. In Rio one in every four "cariocas" (as Rio's inhabitants are called) lives in a favela. [RIO DE JANEIRO: Microcosm of the Future. By: Foek, Anton. Humanist, Jul/Aug2005, Vol. 65 Issue 4, p31-34, 4p. ] As a general rule, Brazilian cities do not recognize the existence of favelas as a legal entity. The name originates from a species of plant with thorny leaves that grows in the semi-arid North-East region. Refugees and former soldiers involved in the Canudos Civil War (1895–1896) in Bahia would eventually settle on unreclaimed public land on a hill in Rio de Janeiro called Morro da Providência, because the government failed to provide any housing for them. There the former soldiers named their new settlement Morro da Favela, after a plant which had thrived at the site of their famous victory against the rebels. [Neuwirth, R (2004) Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, Routledge ISBN 0415933196]

Over the years, many freed black slaves moved in, contributing to its current state of poverty by replacing refugees as the major ethnic group. However, long before the first settlement called "favela" came into being, poor blacks were pushed away from downtown into the far suburbs. Favelas were handy for them because they allowed them to be close to work, while keeping away from where they were not welcome.


A favela is fundamentally different from a slum or tenement, for the poor unfortunate people that live there, primarily in terms of its origin and location. While slum quarters in other Latin American countries generally form when poorer residents from the countryside come to larger cities in search of work, and while this also occurs to some extent with favelas, the latter are unique in that they were chiefly created as large populations became displaced. Fact|date=July 2008Favelas differ from ghettos such as those in the United States in that they are racially mixed, even though blacks make up the majority of the population - that is, in Brazil it is chiefly economic forces, rather than ethnic or cultural issues, that drive people there. Although favelas were first mostly made up of most Afro-Brazilians they slowly began to consist of many European immigrants arriving in the 19th century. [Ney dos Santos Oliveira.,"Favelas and Ghettos: race and Class in Rio de Janeiro and New York City., Latin American, vol 23 no. 4 Perspectives ]

Shanty towns are units of irregular self-constructed housing that are typically unlicensed and occupied illegally. They are usually on lands belonging to third parties, and are most often located on the urban periphery. Shanty town residences are built randomly, although ad hoc networks of stairways, sidewalks, and simple tracks allow passage through them. Most favelas are inaccessible by vehicle, due to their narrow and irregular streets and walkways and often steep inclines. Fact|date=September 2008

These areas of irregular and poor-quality housing are often crowded onto hillsides, and as a result, these areas suffer from frequent landslides during heavy rain. In recent decades, favelas have been troubled by drug-related crime and gang warfare. There are often common social codes in some favelas which forbid residents from engaging in criminal activity inside their own favela.


It is generally agreed upon that the first favela was created in November 1897 when 20,000 veteran soldiers were brought to Rio de Janeiro and left with no place to live. [ [http://www.brazzillog.com/pages/cvrjun97.htm Favelas commemorate 100 years - accessed December 25 2006] ] Some of the older favelas 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 place to live. The favelas were formed prior to the dense occupation of cities and the domination of real estate interests. [Ney dos Santos Oliveira., "Favelas and Ghettos:race and Class in Rio de Janeiro and New York City"] 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. [Pino, Julio Cesar. Sources on the history of favelas in Brazil.] 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 areas.

Public policy towards favelas

The explosive growth of favelas triggered government removal campaigns. A program in the 1940s called Parque Proletário destroyed the original homes of favelados in Rio and relocated them to temporary housing as they waited for the building of public housing. [ Ney dos Santos Oliveira., "Favelas and Ghettos: race and Class in Rio de Janeiro and New York City"] Eventually little public housing was built and the land that was cleared for it just become reoccupied with new settlements of favelados. 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 largest 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 in Praia do Pinto and the other in the favela of Rádio Nacional in Parada de Lucas [Pino, Julio Cesar. Sources on the History of favelas in Brazil.] 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 its residents were displaced to urban territory lacking basic infrastructure. [ Ney dos Santos Oliveira., "Favelas and Ghettos:race and Class in Rio de Janeiro and New York City"] 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. [Housing Policy, Urban Poverty, and the State:The Favelas of Rio de Janeiro 1972-1976] ]

Formation of Favela Society

The people who live in favelas are known as "favelados". As previously stated, the original favelados were of African descent, and Black Brazilians still make up the majority. However, with the influx of service and manufacturing jobs during the late 19th century in the core of Brazil's major cities, European immigrants and poor white Brazilians settled in the favelas as well. This new influx of people diversified the face of the favelado. This altered image of the favelado broadened the inequalities and discrimination associated with the favelas from simply racial inequality and discrimination to economic. [Oliveira, Ney dos Santos.1996.Favelas and Ghettos: Race and Class in Rio de Janeiro and New York City."Latin American Perspectives" 23:75.]
Favelas are associated with immense 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 favelados 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. [Perlman, Janice E,.2006.The Metamorphosis of Marginality: Four Generations in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro. "The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science".606 Annals 154:2] 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 favelados 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. [Oliveira, Ney dos Santos.1996.Favelas and Ghettos: Race and Class in Rio de Janeiro and New York City."Latin American Perspectives" 23:82.]

Drugs and the favela

The Colombian cocaine trade has impacted Brazil and in turn its favelas, which tend to be ruled by druglords. 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. [The Myth of Personal Security: Criminal Gangs, Dispute Resolution, and Identity in Rio de Janeiro's Favelas. By: Arias, Enrique Desmond; Rodrigues, Corinne Davis. Latin American Politics & Society, Winter2006, Vol. 48 Issue 4, p53-81, 29p.] Traffickers ensure that individual residents believe they 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." [ [http://www.brazzilmag.com/content/view/5790/54/ Brazil - Brazzil Mag - Brazilian Army Caves in to Favela's Drug Dealers]

Extant favelas

The best-known favelas are those in and around Rio de Janeiro, possibly because Rio's peculiar urban geography has placed many of them up the hills that face the city's prosperous seaside neighbourhoods and tourist spots, and thus made them readily visible. They provide a dramatic illustration of the gap between poverty and wealth, juxtaposed with the luxurious apartment buildings and mansions of Rio's social elite. Several hills in Rio are densely populated by favelas. In 2004, it was estimated that 19 percent of Rio's population lived within favelas. Rocinha, Pavão-Pavãozinho, Parada de Lucas, Maré and Turano are some of the most famous of Rio's favelas.

Cidade de Deus (City of God), made famous in the 2002 film of the same name, is technically not a real favela, since it was originally a government-sponsored housing community designed to replace a favela, which subsequently ran down and took on many of the very social features of favelas it was intended to eradicate. Two run-down condominiums in the otherwise affluent Leblon district of Rio de Janeiro (very near Rocinha) are often sarcastically called favelas by locals. However, they are true condominiums, master-planned on deeded land with city utilities, owned individually by unit and managed by associations of their occupants. One, at the front gates of PUC-Rio, was actually built by the government. The other one, south of the horse track and soccer stadium, was donated to individual favela inhabitants by a wealthy benefactor.

Depiction in popular culture

A 1963 documentary, "fish need to learn how to swim", marked the film debut of Gordon Parks.

In his 2006 book, "", Robert Neuwirth reports on the time he spent in the favelas as well as in squatter settlements in other parts of the world. He focuses on some of the positive aspects of life in these places and argues that many of the problems in these communities stem not from the fact that they are poor or illegal but from the way they are viewed by authorities.

The 2002 film "City of God" placed a spotlight on favelas, chronicling the cycle of poverty, violence, and despair in a Rio de Janeiro slum (although arguably Cidade de Deus does not meet the strict definition of a favela). The documentary "Bus 174", also released in 2002, placed a focus on the poor conditions of favelas and their instigation of social stigmatization and street crime.

The 2005 documentary, "Favela Rising", directed by Jeff Zimbalist, has won several awards for its daring look at life in Brazil's slums. The film focuses on the work of Anderson Sá, a former drug trafficker who establishes the music group Afro Reggae. This group aims at using music and education to better the lives of youth and prevent further growth of gangs.

The 2007 film "Tropa de Elite" (Elite Squad) shows the Brazilian elite force BOPE fighting against the druglord of the favela Babilônia, in 1997. The favela must be "cleaned" because Pope John Paul II would stay at the nearby Rio Archbishop's Residence during his visit to Rio de Janeiro.

The Brazilian television series "City of Men" and the 2007 film version takes place in a favela.

The skateboarding video game "Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam" has a skate course in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

The street socceer video game " [FIFA Street 2] " has two pitches in Brazil, one of then are in a unnamed favela of Rio de Janeiro.The pitch is called Favela.

One of the levels in the PC game "Counter-Strike" (not included with the original game and available as a separate download) takes place in a Rio de Janeiro favela.

The 2000 film "BMW Vermelho" gives an interesting insight into the economic and cultural aspects of living in a Favela from a comedic perspective when a Favela resident wins a BMW that he can neither use nor sell. http://posters.imdb.com/title/tt0275950/

In the game "SOCOM II" one of the areas of operation is in a Rio de Janeiro favela.

The opening scenes of Marvel and Universal Studios' 2008 film "The Incredible Hulk" find main character Bruce Banner hiding out incognito in a densely-populated Brazilian favela, with an elaborate chase scene ensuing amid the rooftops and alleyways.

The first episode of season 5 from CSI Miami, shows Lt. Horatio Caine and Eric Delko entering a favela. They are looking for Antonio Riaz, who killed Marisol Delko, Caine's wife and Delko's sister. The reception from the locals is hostile and they retreat from the favela.

ee also

*Villa Miseria
*Pueblos jóvenes
*Colonia (border settlement)

*Abahlali baseMjondolo
*Township (South Africa)

Favelas:*List of favelas in Brazil:*Heliópolis:*Rocinha

External links

* [http://www.blog.ar2com.de/favela/ What is a Favela?] , a podcast by 'RadioFavela - The Sound of Rio' with some quotations and definitions of favela.
* [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/specials/favelas/handholding.html?hpid=topnews Life in Rio's Favelas] , A photo essay from the Washington Post.
* [http://www.2bros.org Two Brothers Foundation/Fundação Dois Irmãos] , a nonprofit organization based in the United States and Brazil whose mission is to provide educational opportunities in the favela of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, through local and international community service and cultural exchange.
* [http://favelinha.com Favelinha] , a project in Rio de Janeiro which enables visitors to stay safely inside a favela.
* [http://www.radiofavelafm.com.br Radio Favela] , a community radio broadcasting from inside a favela located in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais)
* [http://www.ar2com.de/radiofavela-blog/?p=83 The practical urbanity of Rocinha] , the biggest favela in Brazil.
* [http://www.aopcao.org A Opção] , a grassroots organization providing business consultation and training to citizens of Rio de Janeiro's Favelas.
* [http://www.correspondent.tv/Catalogue/index.cfm?ccs=461&cs=182 Capoeira in Rio's favelas] - short freelance video on the use of Capoeira to engage youngsters in Rio de Janeiro's favelas


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