Afro-Brazilian elements are fundamental to the history of Brazilian culture. Brazil has the largest population of African origin outside of Africa, and because of this, the culture of Africa has had a huge influence on Brazil, principally in the Northeast region. Today, Afro-Brazilian culture manifests in Brazilian music, religion, martial arts, language and cuisine. (By the way, in Portuguese, Afro-Brazilian culture is called ”A Cultura Afro-Brasileira.“)
Due to the quantity of slaves that were brought to Brazil, the Brazilian states Maranhão, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Bahia, (and also Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul) were the most influenced by African culture. Elements of Brazilian culture that have African origins include: Capoeira, Samba, Candomblé and many wonderful dishes such as: the infamous feijoada, vatapá, acarajé, caruru, mungunzá, sarapatel, baba de moça,cocada, bala de coco and many many more. Also, the Brazilian Portuguese language did not escape the reach of African culture.
The Africans who were brought to Brazil as slaves spoke many different languages, and therefore were obligated to create a common language in order to communicate with one another. Most of the African words in Brazilian Portuguese come from Iorubá, spoken by the Africans of Nigeria (Nigéria) and Quimbundo (language spoken by the Banto peoples of Angola). You will note that Afro-Brazilian vocabulary is principally found in words related to cooking and religion but also in very common Portuguese vocabulary such as caçula, cafuné, moleque, maxixe e samba, among hundreds of other vocabulary words.
Thank you so much to Stephen Sullivan for providing this Brazilian Portuguese vocabulary list – “Portuguese Words of African Origin:”
abará - A small ball of beans.
acará – The skeleton of a fish.
acarajé – A small ball of fried beans.
agogô – A musical instrument used in Brazilian music
angu – flour dough.
bangulê – an Afro-Brazilian dance.
banzar – to think or plan.
banzo – nostalgia.
banto – name of a group of African languages
batuque – a kind of dance
banguela – toothless.
berimbau – a musical instrument played in during the practice of capoeira.
búzio – shell (Also, the “Jogo de Búzios” is a form of fortune-telling, practiced most commonly in Bahia, where the reader throws shells and reads a fortune based on how they fall. This is one of the divine arts practiced in traditional African religions.)
cachaça - A well-known alcoholic drink in Brazil.
cachimbo - a pipe (for smoking)
cacimba – a pit that collects water from wetlands.
caçula – the youngest child
caculé – a town in Bahia.
cafife – you say this about people who have bad luck
cafuca – hide-out.
cafua – a pit.
cafuche – The brother of a zombie or ghost.
cafundó – A far away place not easy to get to.
cafuné – to tenderly run your fingers through someone’s hair. (this is one of the most unique words in Portuguese. It has no English equivalent. )
cafungá – shepherd of livestock.
calombo – ailment, sickness.
calumbá – a plant.
calundu – a bad mood.
camundongo – rat.
candomblé – an Afro-Brazilian religion.
carimbo – a stamp made of rubber.
cassangue – A group of black people from Africa.
chuchu – a fruit.
cumba – strong.
cumbe – settlement in Angola.
dendê – a fruit from the dendezeiro tree, can also be made into an oil. Dendê oil is an extremely common element in Brazilian cooking, particularly in the Northeast.
diamba – marijuana.
efó – a type of stew with shrimp and herbs.
exu – an African god.
fubá – corn flower.
guandu - a type of bean.
inhame – yam
Iemanjá – the African goddess of water.
iorubano – a resident or native of Ioruba (Africa).
jeribata – alcoholic beverage.
jeguedê – an African dance.
jiló – a sour green fruit.
jongo – another word for samba.
libambo – a drunk.
lundu – an African dance.
macumba – Afro-Brazilian religion.
máculo – spot, stain
malungo – a title that the African slaves gave to each other if they were brought on the same ship to Brazil
marimba – a fish.
maxixe – a gherkin (a green fruit)
miçanga – varied glass shells
milonga – guitar music
mandinga – sorcery, witchcraft
molambo – a piece of wet cloth
mocambo – very poor housing.
moleque – a young kid.
muamba – contraband.
mucama – an African slave.
mulunga – a tree.
muxongo – a kiss, or display of affection.
maassagana – where two rivers join in Angola.
ogum or ogundelê – the African / Afro-Brazilian God of war.
oxala – the ”white deity” known in both Brazil and Nigeria, Africa
orixá – diety originally from Candomblé, each one represents a Catholic saint.
quilombo – safe havens for runaway slaves in Brazil.
quimbebé – A drink made of fermented corn.
quimgombô – okra.
quizília – fret, bother, inconvenience.
samba – Afro-Brazilian dance and music.
senzala – The housing of the African slaves.
tanga – cloth that covers from the lower abdomen to the thighs.
urucungo – musical instrument.
vatapá – a type of food famous in Bahia.
xendengue – skinny,thin.
zambi or zambeta – someone bowlegged
zumbi – zombie.