Yesterday, I mentioned that I had learned something interesting about the Favela. ‘Favelas’ are what Brazilian slums are called. Interestingly, they have an origin besides simple rank poverty.
The slum I have photographed here is not very far from where we live. I photographed this long ago when we were driving by in a hired car. It is not the kind of place where you go to do a photo shoot. It was this favela that brought on the discussion and learning curve.
Jorge and I came home and looked up the entymology of the word ‘favela’ to confirm the story he heard. We enjoy digging into the history of language. It turns out that the word ‘favela’ originated on a hill in Rio de Janeiro. This hill had many ‘fava’ trees. After the war of the ‘Canudo’ (Don’t ask about that… I have no clue), many soldiers returned home and were left destitute by the country they had just fought for. No longer earning a living fighting, they had no income. They built up this collective housing settlement on this hill and called it "Favela". The word has since become the generic word for slums here. Another curious thing about favelas here is that they can be found in any area, be it a wealthy, upmarket area, or a downtown ‘poor’ area. The city center has a few upright ‘favelas’, tall buildings that have been turned into slums.
Researching the ‘fava’ tree led me to this site where I discovered that it is either a mimosa or family of the mimosa. Very interesting!
Back to our favela….
Our bus regularly takes us past this favela. It intrigues me. The homes, as you can see in this photo, are skew, ramshackled, tiny, and not quite the kind of dwelling any of us can see ourselves being happy in. The people, for the most part, do appear to be content. I strongly suspect that this dwelling also houses the ‘pub’, judging by the quantity of bottles of ’51’, a well known ‘cachaça’. Cachaça, incidentally, is a locally-made cane spirit.
What makes these people content? They have so little. Their homes are rudimentary at best. Some have pot plants balancing precariously on ledges outside their windows. Some are brightly painted, but, for the most part, delapidation is the order of the day. Few of the people I know are totally content, not wanting more.
This provoked a long discussion between Jorge and I as we trundled on our way home. What makes us want more? What is it that makes us not settle for ‘less’? Jorge speculated over the whole ‘ruler class’ and ‘slave class’. Class aside… what is it that makes us want to better ourselves? What is it that makes people like this content to stay where they are? What is the difference? Is it because they know what is important in life or is it because they have given up? Are we shallow for wanting more… for wanting better? I have learned a new set of priorities over the years. What ‘things’ are truly important and what aren’t. I still think that if I found myself living in a place like this, I would slowly die. When I am being honest with myself, I know this to be true. I have often said that if I had my family around me, I’d be happy in a tin shack, but would I? I doubt it.
Having said all that, I have a great deal of admiration for the people who live in the favelas and really make a go of it, prettying up their homes with whatever they can find… living in dignity… making the best of their lot. I bet they whine a lot less than I do too!