Over a period of three centuries approximately 4 million African slaves were brought to Brazil. Most came from Angola, the Congo, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal. The slave trade in Brazil began with the expansion of the sugar cane plantations and mining activities in Minas Gerais. Slaves were forced to work long days, without decent living conditions, exposed to disease and sexual exploitation. Relationships between masters and slaves were very common, resulting in the interracial mixture of our country.
Many slaves ran away and formed communities known as quilombos. The Republic of Palmares was the most famous community of runaway slaves, home to approximately 20.000 people. Located on the border between Alagoas and Pernambuco, it survived until the 17th century.
Similar to what occurred with the Indians, African culture was gradually oppressed by the colonizers. In the colony, slaves learned Portuguese, were baptized with Portuguese names and forced to convert to Catholicism.
Many sought solace in their own religion and culture. The mixture of Catholicism and African traditions gave rise to a new religion, known as candomblé. Based on the worship of Orixás, it is still practiced all across Brazil. Also widely practiced is Umbanda, a syncretic religion that combines African elements with Catholicism and spritism, including the association of Catholic saints with Orixás.
The cultural diversity of Africa was reflected in the slaves that represented various different ethnic groups who each brought their own traditions to Brazil. The Brazilian martial art, called Capoeira, emerged within the slave communities in Brazil. The influence of African culture is also strongly present in the regional cuisine, especially in Bahia, where the Dendê palm was introduced, an African tree from which dendê oil is extracted, a distinctly red oil used in dishes such as vatapá, caruru and acarajé.
The Africans contributed to many aspects of Brazilian culture, including dance, music, religion, cuisine and language. This influence is found throughout most of the country.