Candomblé and the Brazilian jeitinho

Term Paper, 2007

11 Pages, Grade: PhD


Brazil has been through several identity crises throughout its history. The question “who are we?” has permeated the national intellectual production in various moments. Macunaima, a hero of no character created by Mario de Andrade, is born out of the need for a new definition of what the Brazilian identity meant, which was a much debated theme throughout the 1920s, when a new wave of immigration contributed to a changing state of the nation. Rumors described the superiority of foreign workers. Some historians explained that the Brazilian people had inherited the lack of interest in work from the slaves and the laziness from indigenous people. This scenario contributes to the perception that the “jeitinho” was a national characteristic.

The institutionalization and perhaps the most aggressive illustration of this Brazilian value happened in the 1970s, in a TV commercial of a cigarette brand. Nationalism was thought of in different parameters than in the 1920s. There was a Brazilian pride and a megalomania created by the dictatorship. The ad shows World Cup champion Gerson striking his most famous quotation: “You like to take advantage of everything, right?” The interpretation was not pejorative at the time, but it later became a law. “For that time it was an extremely spread jargon. The commercial used an identity element that was part of the popular imagination,” asserts Maria Izilda Matos, historian and researcher of the bohemia. “The Gerson law worked as another element in the definition of national identity and the most explicit symbol of our ethics or lack of it.”[1]

Jeitinho: the Brazilian way of life

“American historian Robert M. Levine, director of Latin American Studies at the University of Miami, has once commented that Brazilians are a kind of people who "pride themselves on being especially creative in their array and variety of gambit suitable for bending rules." Actually, they pride it so much that they have even elevated the bending of legal norms to a highly prized institution: the jeito or jeitinho.”[2] Jeitinho is a typical Brazilian way of social navigation, where one makes use of certain resources, such as emotional and familiar ties, to obtain special favors and advantages for him/herself, or another person. In the book Dando um jeito no jeitinho[3], professor Lourenço Stelio Rega defines jeitinho as how one manages to find a way out of difficult and unpleasant situations, which are usually hard to be dealt with. Lourenço explains that the jeitinho does not always have a negative connotation, and that it has three main characteristics: it is creative, conciliating, and it has a partnering function.

In a recent article that aimed at explaining the Brazilian jeitinho, professor Augusto Zimmermann wrote: “A term that can be roughly translated as a "knack" or a "clever dodge", jeito, explains the historian Joseph A. Page, "is a rapid, improvised, creative response, law, rule, or custom that on its face prevent someone from doing something." As such, however, it always involves a conscious act of breaking formal rules so as to "personalize a situation ostensibly governed by an impersonal norm."[4] The article goes on to say that according to Fernanda Duarte, jeito"is inherently personalistic. It requires a certain type of 'technique' involving the conscious use of culturally valued personal attributes (e.g.: a smile, a gentle, pleading tone of voice); it seeks short-term benefits; it is explicitly acknowledged and described by Brazilians as part of their cultural identity... So deeply entrenched is this practice in Brazil that it has become intertwined with constructions of Brazilianess".

This Brazilian specificity has been illustrated as a value of many characters of the Brazilian popular culture, such as Pedro Malasarte, deeply rooted in Brazilian popular folklore through the book Malasaventuras, written by Pedro Bandeira. It is said that the jeitinho has also been used by the people of the country in many different times of their history. When Africans were taken to Brazil as slaves, for instance, they were prohibited of practicing their rituals and martial arts. Not being able to confront the powerful senhores de engenho, their masters, the slaves continued practicing the capoeira camouflaged as a dance, and worshiping their orix á s, camouflaged as Christian saints.


[1] Lei de Gerson. IstoE Magazine, Nº 1578 – 29 de dezembro de 1999: on 02/08/2007.

[2] Zimmermann, Augusto (2006) Jeitinho, Brazil's Creative Way to Break the Law and Feel Virtuous About It. Brazzil Magazine: on 11/10/2006.

[3] Rega, Lourenço S (2001) Dando Um Jeito No Jeitinho. Sao Paulo: Mundo Cristão.

[4] Zimmermann, Augusto (2006) Jeitinho, Brazil's Creative Way to Break the Law and Feel Virtuous About It. Brazzil Magazine: on 11/10/2006.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Candomblé and the Brazilian jeitinho
The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development  (NYU)
Cross-Cultural Studies of Socialization
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
471 KB
This paper argues that Candomblé, considered one of the most important religions in Brazil, has helped in spreading the jeitinho throughout Brazilian culture.
Candomblé, Brazilian, Cross-Cultural, Studies, Socialization
Quote paper
Rafael Parente (Author), 2007, Candomblé and the Brazilian jeitinho, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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