Thursday, March 20, 2008


The favela "Morumbi" in Sao Paulo

From "Favelas" on:

FAVELA is the name given to spontaneous settlements in Brazil. They are prevalent in all the major cities, even the recently built new capital of Brazilia. The residents are known as favelados.

Defined on another site as:

A "favela" is an illegal occupation of a terrain in large cities, where dwellers often have to live without any basic infrastructure, such as water, sewage, electricity, garbage collection, mail, etc. In Rio de Janeiro, these favelas are home to about half its population and are normally located in the hills, as this land is difficult to access and tend to be neglected by contractors.

The Rio de Janeiro Master Plan, ratified in 1992 defines a favela as:

" area, predominantly of housing, characterised by the occupation of land by low-income populations, precarious infrastructure and public services, narrow and irregular layout of access ways, irregular shaped and sized plots and unregistered constructions, breaking with legal standards."

They develop on steep slopes and other unwanted land, which is also mentioned by some sources as being the origin of their name. There seems to be no hard and fast reason as to why they are called favelas, but possible origins include:

1. Named after the flowers which blanket the steep slopes

2. Military encampment called Favela, named for a local cactus, that was razed in the war of 1897 between the rebels and soldiers of the new Brazilian republic. The survivors were made homeless and moved south to add to the great immigration to the cities. Favela lent its name to the shantytowns which sprang up around the great cities of Brazil (10 of which are millionaire cities (which doesn't mean, as some of my students thought, that every person living there is a millionaire)

3. Named after a honeycomb, because they are a warren of small dwellings all linked together which grows organically over a period of time. The Brazilian name for honeycomb is very similar to favela.

Favela is an exclusive term. There are a lot of NGO: non-governmental organisations working to improve the conditions of the favelas [AVSI is one] . Some communities like Rocinha have become legalised neighbourhoods.

In terms of area, they are likely to be similar to the bustees of India which are defined as:

"a collection of huts standing on a plot of land at least one sixth of an acre"

High percentages of people in cities like Sao Paulo live in Favelas. People move to favelas to escape the sertão: the poverty-stricken interior of the country, or the drought ridden caatinga in the NE of Brazil where unreliable rains and Government policies have left many struggling to cope on marginal land. People tend to move into the areas before services have been built, or the houses.

A favela home in São Paulo

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."