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Favelas: genesis and names

Favelas are a part of the reality of great urban centers. Belo Horizonte, for instance, has 226 favelas and vilas, registered by the Cultural Guide of Vilas and Favelas. Often referred as “Morro” (Hill), most of them are located on hills and risk areas. Great part of these communities shares the same neighborhood with buildings and luxury houses, exposing the economic and social inequalities from which they are a result.

The origin of the name Favela

The most famous favelas of Brazil are located in Rio de Janeiro. The first ones appeared in the early 1900’s, during the Canudos War. The small village of Canudos was built near a hill with a vegetation knows as Favela, a typical plant of the Caatinga region, resistant to the long dry period to which they are submitted. After returning to Rio de Janeiro, the soldiers who fought on the war, for the lack of a better place, settled on the hills of the city. From that period on, those hills started to be called Favelas, in reference to the name of the plant.

However, according to Mauricio Libânio, a sociologist with more than 20 years experience on the land and housing issues, those places existed before the popularization of the name Favela: “It is a condition expressed by the most needing classes due to the lack of housing policies. Since the colonial period the slaves lived at senzalas or mocambos. The name evolved to the one we know nowadays”.

The capital of Minas Gerais and the Favela

In Belo Horizonte, the first favelas appeared with the construction of the city itself. “The population that came from the countryside to work on the construction of the city had always lived in campsites, favelas, vilas and conglomerates. The workers did not receive any land, as did the public employees and the traders”, according to Maurício Libânio.

The most antique favelas of the capital established their presence on the urban scenario on the 60’s and 70’s, when the inhabitants struggled for better life conditions and infrastructure, as well as the possession of the land. The history of the favelas is marked by many fights, difficulties and victories and counted on the help of members of the Catholic Church and local leaders.

The favelas and their names

The names of the favelas were created by its own inhabitants and usually represent funny and double-sensed names, which reveal the hostility of an environment without proper living conditions. Normally, after a few years, the names are changed to less pejorative ones. Favela Cabeça de Porco (Pig’s Head) is an example of that. It became Vila Nossa Senhora da Conceição, after the mobilization of the population and help from the Catholic Church. Favela do Pau Comeu became Vila Nossa Senhora de Fátima and the famous Buraco Quente (Hot Hole) is nowadays knows as Vila Senhor dos Passos. Vila São Miguel was know as Vietnan, due to the violence. Morro do Papagaio (Kite’s Hill), located at the Santa Lucia Conglomerate, was named after the hobby practiced on the area by the locals.

Favela Rock in Rio, located at the Mariano de Abreu conglomerate, on the east region of Belo Horizonte, was nicknamed by the inhabitants because it was built in 1985, the same year of the international music event in Rio de Janeiro. Favela Quiabinho (Little Okra) was named due to its slippery hills.

According to Libânio, the names are given by the population and, usually, the municipality accepts it. “The term conglomerate was first used in Belo Horizonte to designate a conurbation of favelas. Nowadays the term is adopted to avoid the prejudicial name Favela. The term “Vila” is also used. Some favelas also have the names of the neighborhood where they are located”.

Write it down: Favela, according to the on line dictionary: big tooth; group of popular houses, usually rough and with no hygiene conditions, built on hills nearby urban centers.

Culture and outskirts: thinkings about concepts and its applications.

Outskirts and culture! Two words that have been often included in academic debates lately. The reason for that is the inappropriate use of the synonyms for each one of them, which leads to distortions of the concepts. It is common to hear the term culture in reference exclusively to art and to the possession of knowledge, while the anthropological meaning of the word points to the ways of life of one people and, therefore, is produced by all forms of human interaction.

Thus, it is possible to perceive the prejudice contained in sentences, such as: “The favela is a place with no culture”. More than the distortion of a concept, the sentence can be an evidence of an ethnocentric view, according to which the culture of one of the speakers is considered better than the other. “It is an ethnocentric view that considers the different an unequal and inferior. This vision makes it difficult to deal with the differences and inequalities”, according to the anthropologist José Márcio Barros. The initiative to bring culture to the favelas is actually an assumption that there is no culture in those places. “It is a double prejudice, in the sense of places and subjects”, says the researcher.

The music, dance, the art, all forms of cultural manifestations found in the vilas and favelas, including funk, pagode, rap, are part of the local cultural production, as well as the manifestations found everywhere else are part of the culture. However, culture is not restricted to art and covers many social fields. Walking, working, dating, marrying, studying, cooking, everything is culture.

Outskirts and downtown

Not only the concept of culture requires reflection, but also the one of outskirts. The term is commonly used as synonym of favela. “The concept of outskirts is associated with the distant places, but the contemporary city does not have only one center. Nowadays the term outskirts refers to places and people that seem to have been abandoned by public policies”, notes the researcher. “The vast majority of the favelas are in central areas, but in the outskirts from the economic point of view”, concludes.

Jailson de Souza e Silva, coordinator of the NGO Favelas’ Observatory, in Rio de Janeiro, and professor of the Fluminense Federal University, reaffirms that the concept of outskirts is associated to the social and power establishment. “The term outskirt is marked by the social stigma. The great urban centers use the term outskirts to distinguish the areas around its center that were occupied by the popular powers”, notes the researcher. However, he reminds that neighborhoods such as Alphaville in São Paulo, even though are located outside the urban geographical center, is not called outskirts, which demonstrates that the term is not used only to determine the geographical position.

Professor Jailson has recently produced an article in which he defines the term outskirts. The following text explains how the outskirt is considered a social problem. “The outskirts are approached as the opposite to the urban ideal or civilization, experienced by a small part of the inhabitants of the city or humanity. It is not a coincidence, therefore, that it is considered a dysfunction, a problem that affects the health of the city or the world”.

A new identification

More than the change of the regional feature of the concept to the economic one, the association between the term “outskirts” and “lack” is the aspect that concerns researchers and people who work at favelas. “The outskirts cannot be characterized by the lack; it is remembered by what it does not have. We have been trying to approach the theme considering what it has”, says Jailson Souza. The effort to change the injustice and prejudice considering what really exists in the favelas, in Jailson’s opinion, has caused an impact. “The outskirts are no longer characterized for the absence of culture, but as a different perspective of the city”, notes.

“Another possible form to perceive the outskirts is to recognize the fact that its inhabitants develop active and contrasting forms to deal with the difficulties of the day to day life, defined by their personal and collective history, the socio-cultural and geographical characteristics of their territory and the position assumed by the their leaderships and local institutions, among other variables. Naturally, to overcome the limits of their life conditions, the problem must be faced by the public powers and social sectors identified with the democracy and social justice. To achieve this goal, the sociocentric references must be broken, as well as the diagnosis mechanisms and the actions should start taking into account the knowledge gathered by the inhabitants in their long and intense path for a more fulfilling life”.