Samba, both music and dance, are associated with Brazil. Why study it? What does it offer students the opportunity to learn? Why should its investigation be included in a survey course of Geography and World Cultures? As students begin to delve into this topic they will realize its values and complexities because of its various roots and far-reaching associations. Just as students do not learn in a vacuum, teachers do not teach in isolation. They help students to recognize the prior knowledge that they have about a subject, to expand on that knowledge, and to make connections with information in a variety of other fields in order to gain a deeper appreciation of the learned material.
Location is one of the five major themes of Geography and a good starting point for the investigation into samba. By using this theme it is possible to discuss the absolute location and the relative location of Brazil, as well as the location of all the area and countries that contributed to the music.
A common reference point is needed when using relative location. Since this curriculum unit will be taught in New Haven, Connecticut, I have selected it as the reference point. The areas to be located are Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Sudan, Central Africa, and Angola. There are various levels of relative location. The first might give distance from the reference point; for example, Brazil is thousands of miles away from New Haven. Another level might add a direction, such as north, south, east, or west to the distance: Portugal is 3,000 miles east of New Haven. Globes and maps will assist in teaching relative location.
In order to locate a point on a map in absolute terms, students must comprehend and use several geographical terms and concepts. They must know that the Earth is a sphere and that geographers and cartographers use imaginary lines to divide it.
Lines of latitude encircle the Earth from east to west. They are parallel to the Equator which divides the Earth into two equal halves or the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. Lines of longitude extend from pole to pole. They aren’t parallel, but look like the sections of a citrus fruit that converge at each pole. The Prime Meridian (at 0º) and the line of longitude half way around the circumference of the globe (at 180º) divide the Earth into the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere. By assigning numbers to various lines, places may be located along the lines. In so doing we may then look at a globe or a map as a graph with a line of latitude as an “X” axis and a line of longitude as a “Y” axis. The absolute location is determined at the intersection of the two axes. Rio De Janeiro, the former capital of Brazil and the birthplace of samba, is located at 23º south latitude and 43º west longitude. There is no other spot on Earth with that exact location.
Once students understand how to use maps and globes effectively, they may not only locate any spot on Earth, but also trace the routes that Portuguese settlers took to Brazil or the routes that were used to take the Italian accordion or the Spanish guitar to Portugal , and then on to Brazil.
The theme of place answers what do we find there. In terms of Physical Geography, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and consists mainly of plateaus, low hills and the far-reaching Amazon Basin. This is a tropical land, for both the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn pass through Brazil. Because of the vast, unfriendly terrain, including thick rain forests, it is doubtful that all of the flora and fauna of this area have been identified by Westerners.
In terms of Human Geography Brazil is quite diverse. For 500 years it has been home to European immigrants and their offspring. It has been home to Africans and their descendants for about 400 years. In addition, there are about 200 indigenous societies who live in Brazil. Many of the current inhabitants have ancestry from all three groups; however, there still remain members from these groups who haven’t intermarried with those from other groups.
As students examine place, as a focus of their study, they will be able to attribute sounds, musical instruments, and traits to the various groups.
Many indigenous groups are affected by their environments to a greater degree than they affect it. Their lifestyles are usually determined by the climate and the natural resources found within it. Many native peoples appear to act as stewards of the Earth and, therefore, hold it in high regard without damaging or violating it as other groups have been known to do. The making of simple percussion or wind instruments is one example of such interaction.
Another example of interaction is the use of samba in the pre-Lenten Carnival. The incorporation of this joyful, lively music into a centuries old tradition, at the end of the 19th century, affected the celebration in Rio De Janeiro in terms of its size and frivolity. It turned many residents of poor, urban neighborhoods into elite members of samba schools competing for top honors in the Carnaval parades.
Brazil was and is a country on the move. Many people have arrived at its shores for a variety of reasons. Jesuit missionaries went to Brazil to convert the natives to Catholicism. Early Portuguese went there in search of riches, whether that be through trade, farming, or other means. For hundreds of years Africans from the Sudan, Central Africa, and Angola were captured and forced to go to Brazil to work as slaves. In the late 19th century and early 20th century droves of Europeans went to Brazil to escape hardships such as poverty in their homelands. Many former Nazis fled to Brazil, after Germany’s loss of World War II, to escape punishment for war crimes.
All these people had something in common. They brought with them or re-created for themselves bits of their original homes. It might have been something tangible, as a musical instrument, or the know-how to re-create one.
As time passed situations changed. Slavery was abolished; Brazil became independent from Portugal; people intermarried; people streamed into urban areas from rural ones. All of these events played a role in the creation of samba.
Once students recognize what the sounds of samba are, they can relate Brazil to other countries through its music. Just as students are able to search for the roots of samba, they will be able to trace its influence on the music of other countries through the use of musical recordings, films, and other media.
Students should leave this unit with a sense of accomplishment in that they will have acquired knowledge that is both enjoyable and useful. It should have a liberating effect on them because they will have honed their study skills along with feeling more confident in taking such exams as the CAPT or the SAT.