Favela (Portuguese and Spanish for slum) is a specifically Brazilian word for a shanty town. The majority have electricity, but in most cases it is illegally tapped from the public grid. Favelas are constructed from a variety of materials, ranging from bricks to garbage. Many favelas are very close and very cramped. They are plagued by sewage, crime and hygiene problems. Although many of the most infamous are located in Rio de Janeiro, there are favelas in almost every large or even mid-sized Brazilian town. In Rio one in every four cariocas (as Rio's inhabitants are called) lives in a favela. As a general rule, Brazilian cities do not recognize the existence of favelas as a legal entity. The name originates from a species of plant with thorny leaves that grows in the semi-arid North-East region. Refugees and former soldiers involved in the Canudos Civil War (1895–1896) in Bahia would eventually settle on unreclaimed public land on a hill in Rio de Janeiro called Morro da Providência, because the government failed to provide any housing for them. There the former soldiers named their new settlement Morro da Favela, after a plant which had thrived at the site of their famous victory against the rebels.
Over the years, many freed black slaves moved in, contributing to its current state of poverty by replacing refugees as the major ethnic group. However, long before the first settlement called "favela" came into being, poor blacks were pushed away from downtown into the far suburbs. Favelas were handy for them because they allowed them to be close to work, while keeping away from where they were not welcome.
Shanty towns are units of irregular self-constructed housing that are typically unlicensed and occupied illegally. They are usually on lands belonging to third parties, and are most often located on the urban periphery. Shanty town residences are built randomly, although ad hoc networks of stairways, sidewalks, and simple tracks allow passage through them. Most favelas are inaccessible by vehicle, due to their narrow and irregular streets and walkways and often steep inclines.
These areas of irregular and poor-quality housing are often crowded onto hillsides, and as a result, these areas suffer from frequent landslides during heavy rain. In recent decades, favelas have been troubled by drug-related crime and gang warfare. There are often common social codes in some favelas which forbid residents from engaging in criminal activity inside their own favela.
The Colombian cocaine trade has impacted Brazil and in turn its favelas, which tend to be ruled by druglords. Regular shoot-outs between traffickers and police and other criminals, as well as assorted illegal activities, lead to murder rates in excess of 40 per 100,000 inhabitants in the city of Rio and much higher rates in some Rio favelas. Traffickers ensure that individual residents believe they can guarantee their own safety through their actions and political connections to them. They do this by maintaining order in the favela and giving and receiving reciprocity and respect, thus creating an environment in which critical segments of the local population feel safe despite continuing high levels of violence.
Drug use is highly concentrated in these areas run by local gangs in each highly populated favela. Drug sales and use run rampant at night when many Favelas host their own baile, or dance party, where many different social classes can be found. These drug sales make up "a business that in some of the occupied areas rakes in as much as US$ 150 million per month, according to official estimates released by the Rio media.
Cidade de Deus (City of God), made famous in the 2002 film of the same name, is technically not a real favela, since it was originally a government-sponsored housing community designed to replace a favela, which subsequently ran down and took on many of the very social features of favelas it was intended to eradicate. Two run-down condominiums in the otherwise affluent Leblon district of Rio de Janeiro (very near Rocinha) are often sarcastically called favelas by locals. However, they are true condominiums, master-planned on deeded land with city utilities, owned individually by unit and managed by associations of their occupants. One, at the front gates of PUC-Rio, was actually built by the government. The other one, south of the horse track and soccer stadium, was donated to individual favela inhabitants by a wealthy benefactor.
In his 2006 book, Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, Robert Neuwirth reports on the time he spent in the favelas as well as in squatter settlements in other parts of the world. He focuses on some of the positive aspects of life in these places and argues that many of the problems in these communities stem not from the fact that they are poor or illegal but from the way they are viewed by authorities.
The 2002 film City of God placed a spotlight on favelas, chronicling the cycle of poverty, violence, and despair in a Rio de Janeiro slum (although arguably Cidade de Deus does not meet the strict definition of a favela). The documentary Bus 174, also released in 2002, placed a focus on the poor conditions of favelas and their instigation of social stigmatization and street crime.
The 2005 documentary, Favela Rising, directed by Jeff Zimbalist, has won several awards for its daring look at life in Brazil's slums. The film focuses on the work of Anderson Sá, a former drug trafficker who establishes the music group Afro Reggae. This group aims at using music and education to better the lives of youth and prevent further growth of gangs.
The 2007 film Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) shows the Brazilian elite force BOPE fighting against the druglord of the favela Babilônia, in 1997. The favela must be "cleaned" because Pope John Paul II would stay at the nearby Rio Archbishop's Residence during his visit to Rio de Janeiro.
The skateboarding video game Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam has a skate course in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
The street socceer video game [FIFA Street 2]] has two pitches in Brazil, one of then are in a unnamed favela of Rio de Janeiro.The pitch is called Favela.
One of the levels in the PC game Counter-Strike (not included with the original game and available as a separate download) takes place in a Rio de Janeiro favela.
The 2000 film BMW Vermelho gives an interesting insight into the economic and cultural aspects of living in a Favela from a comedic perspective when a Favela resident wins a BMW that he can neither use nor sell. http://posters.imdb.com/title/tt0275950/
In the game SOCOM II one of the areas of operation is in a Rio de Janeiro favela.
The opening scenes of Marvel and Universal Studios' 2008 film The Incredible Hulk find main character Bruce Banner hiding out incognito in a densely-populated Brazilian favela, with an elaborate chase scene ensuing amid the rooftops and alleyways.
The first episode of season 5 from CSI Miami, shows Lt. Horatio Caine and Eric Delko entering a favela. They are looking for Antonio Riaz, who killed Marisol Delko, Caine's wife and Delko's sister. The reception from the locals is hostile and they retreat from the favela.
Favela fever hits Brazil; Favelas, Brazil's equivalent of our squatters' area, is now a favorite tourist spot. Find out why...(Tourism)
Jul 28, 2007; Byline: PETER MUELLO RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- The massive hillside slums around Rio's posh Ipanema beach district are...