22 January 2009

In Country: All Things Arabic

As a result of my encounter with the Arabic art work at the Museum of History and Geography in Paranagua, I have done some searching around about relationships between Brasil and the Middle East. This is a sampling of what I have found:

Many people of Arabic descent began coming to Brasil in the latter decades of the 19th century. One contemporary author, Milton Hatoum, writes fiction using his experiences being Lebanese-Brasilian in the Amazonian city of Manaus. Hatoum, a recent recipient of Brasil's highest literary prize, is considered one of Brasil's most important living authors Sadly for me, I have not even heard of him before this afternoon, much less read any of his books. Interestingly for the U.S., Hatoum will be in New York in April for the World Voices writer's convention.

According to Larry Luxner and Douglas Engle, authors of the article entitled "The Arabs of Brazil", which was written in 2005 "an estimated nine million, or five percent [of the population of Brasil], can point to roots in the Middle East. Brazil has more citizens of Syrian origin than Damascus, and more inhabitants of Lebanese origin than all of Lebanon. Of the nine million, some 1.5 million are Muslims; the majority are Orthodox Christians and Maronites" (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200505/the.arabs.of.brazil.htm).

In addition, the Arabic language has found its way into Brasil by way of the Iberian Peninsula and Muslims in Spain. Indeed, over 100 Arabic words in Portuguese—arroz (rice), alface (lettuce) and a├žucar (sugar) to name just a few - are used by millions of Brasilians everyday.

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