With the upcoming Olympics in the beautiful city of Rio, many will be travelling there to explore its beaches, mountains, famous landmarks (as well as the sporting events!). However there is a different, somewhat darker, side to the city, one which the locals do not really have an interest in to explore.
Anyone who has been to Rio and has visited the fascinating favelas will understand its complex and community nature. Incredibly, there are over 600 favelas just in Rio alone inhabited by over 1 million people.
Spread out across a steep hillside in Rio de Janeiro, Favela Rocinha, the biggest favela in Brazil, is like an underground city, a maze of small streets and steps and alleyways and houses all crammed together with a lack of ventilation. Its estimated population is said to be as high as nearly 200,000 although the 2010 census recorded just 70,000.
This particular favela is safe to visit when accompanied by a tour guide who knows the area and has actually become a popular form of tourism. The money gained from tourism has aided this favela in prospering further by increasing resources. Rocinha has also been pacified. In fact much before the World Cup in 2014 and the upcoming Olympics, from 2008 the favelas have been in a process of pacification and units of pacifying police called the UPP have been developed, aimed at reclaiming the favelas from the control of the drug lords. For people living in the favelas this has been somewhat of a good thing as violent crime has decreased, although they are also aware of police corruption.
The favelados as they’re called (people living in the favelas) go about their ordinary, daily lives in these captivating shanti towns. Contrary to media portrayal, the majority of the population are hardworking and decent people employed in respectable, everyday jobs. However drug dealers and gang members are present and for these young men being armed with guns is normal. With most of it only accessible by foot, to a foreigner or Gringo as they’re called locally, trying to find your way around the favela would be mindboggling but the favelados know the streets like the back of their hand and there is much happiness in the community atmosphere.
Originally the DIY houses in favelas were built with makeshift materials, woods and metals but over time there has come to be concrete and brick buildings as well as a basic level of plumbing, electricity and sanitation. Some even have Televisions and mobile phones. Even Rocinha holds poorer and richer communities within it. Ironically some of the houses in Rocinha, the ones higher on the hilltop which are harder to reach by foot, occupied by poorer inhabitants, have some of the best views of Rio. Rocinha is a larger and more developed favela compared to some of the others and even has its own shops, banks, a post-office, schools and day-care centres.
The favelas have a vibrant cultural and music scene, hip hop, samba and notably Brazilian funk or favela funk. The lyrics of the music reflect life in the favelas for some people such as poverty, promiscuity, money, drugs, women and so on. The favelas have regular ‘favela funk’ parties, a lively, energetic scene where everyone expresses themselves on the dance floor. Indeed the favela is also a hub of undiscovered, talented, artists, musicians and footballers, their immense cultural input in Brazil is somewhat undervalued.
Walking through the favelas you can get a taste of normal life – people buying groceries from the shop, men going to the barber, footie lovers watching a Champion’s league game on their small TVs. For these people the fascinating favela Rocinha is their home.