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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 22:28 GMT
Brazil reviews its cultural mix
carnival
Carnival is one of Brazil's racial mix traditions
By Steven Cviic in Sao Paulo

Brazil is marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of its most famous social historian, Gilberto Freyre, the first writer to celebrate the country's unique racial mix.

Publishers are launching new editions of his books and in his native city, Recife, the event is being marked with a solemn mass and the minting of a commemorative medal.

Bur Mr Freyre's legacy has been challenged by writers who take a less optimistic view of the Brazilian melting pot.

The Masters and the Slaves

When Gilberto Freyre published his most important book, The Masters and the Slaves ("Casa Grande e Senzala") , in 1933, it created a sensation in Brazil and later around the world.

In his book Mr Freyre looked back to the colonial period, when Portuguese colonisers lived with their black slaves on huge sugar plantations.

fhc
President Cardoso now says Mr Freyre was light years ahead of his critics
His conclusion was that this co-existence, together with the sexual promiscuity of the Portuguese and the Africans, had created a unique society in which races mingled and inter-married freely, very different from what he had observed in Europe, the United States and Africa.

Racial democracy

Although Mr Freyre never used the phrase "racial democracy" some of his followers did, and all over the world Brazil came to be seen by some as a paradise of racial harmony.

But in the 1960s Mr Freyre's reputation began to fall apart, especially after he supported the 1964 coup which brought in 21 years of military rule.

Leftwing intellectuals, including a sociologist named Fernando Henrique Cardoso, said Mr Freyre had ignored real racism in Brazil and regarded culture as more important than economics.

This year is also the 500th anniversary of Brazil's "discovery" by the Portuguese and Mr Freyre's work is once again being regarded more sympathetically.

Professor Cardoso is now president of Brazil, and in a recent interview he acknowledged that Mr Freyre's celebration of racial mixture puts him light years ahead of the intellectuals who criticised him.

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06 Mar 00 | Americas
Rio's carnival kick-off
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