Last updated: 3 november, 2009 - 14:29 GMT

Black in Brazil: a question of identity

a crowd of people in the streets of rio celebrating

The Brazilian census board says that the black population in Brazil will outnumber the white population this year for the first time.

This means there are more people of African descent in Brazil than in any country outside of Africa itself, making Brazil second only to Nigeria in terms of its black population.

But rather than any real increase in population sociologists are attributing this to a growing number of people who are categorising themselves as black and mixed race when they fill in the census form.

Brazil has a very particular ethnic mixture, which includes the descendants of indigenous Aymara Indians, white European settlers and black slaves from Africa.

Does that mean people are confused about their racial identity?

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Sergio Pena is the Director of the "Gene" Laboratory, in Belo Horizonte in Brazil.

He has compiled several genetic studies on the origins of the Brazilian population.

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Jose Jorge de Carvalho, an anthropologist from the University of Brasilia, told the World Today what is generally meant by 'black' in Brazil.

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Over the centuries millions of slaves were brought to Brazil, and it was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888.

One legacy of the slave era is 'Capoeira', a kind of martial art which slaves used to disguise as a dance, and which has been passed down from generation to generation.

The BBC's Gary Duffy, has heard two very different views of what Capoeira means to Brazilians.

One a black Capoeira teacher in the city of Salvador, which was one of the main points of entry for slaves into Brazil, the other a white student who takes time out from her studies for Capoeira classes in Sao Paulo.

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First broadcast 2-3 November 2009

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