Brazil is the largest country in both South America and the Latin American region. It is the world’s fifth-largest country, both by geographical area and by population. It is the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world, and the only one in the Americas.
The word “Brazil” comes from brazilwood, a tree that once grew plentifully along the Brazilian coast. In Portuguese, brazilwood is called pau-brasil, with the word brasil commonly given the etymology “red like an ember”. As brazilwood produces a deep red dye, it was highly valued by the European cloth industry and was the earliest commercially exploited product from Brazil. Throughout the 16th century, massive amounts of brazilwood were harvested by indigenous peoples (mostly Tupi) along the Brazilian coast, who sold the timber to European traders (mostly Portuguese, but also French) in return for assorted European consumer goods.
The official Portuguese name of the land, in original Portuguese records, was the “Land of the Holy Cross” (Terra da Santa Cruz), but European sailors and merchants commonly called it simply the “Land of Brazil” (Terra do Brasil) on account of the brazilwood trade. The popular appellation eclipsed and eventually supplanted the official Portuguese name. Early sailors sometimes also called it the “Land of Parrots” (Terra di Papaga).
One of the earliest human remains found in the Americas, Luzia Woman, were found in the area of Pedro Leopoldo, Minas Gerais and provide evidence of human habitation going back at least 11,000 years. The earliest pottery ever found in the Western Hemisphere was excavated in the Amazon basin of Brazil and radiocarbon dated to 8,000 years ago (6000 BC). The pottery was found near Santarém and provides evidence that the tropical forest region supported a complex prehistoric culture.
Brazil occupies a large area along the eastern coast of South America and includes much of the continent’s interior, sharing land borders with Uruguay to the south; Argentina and Paraguay to the southwest; Bolivia and Peru to the west; Colombia to the northwest; and Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and the French overseas department of French Guiana to the north. It shares a border with every South American country except Ecuador and Chile. It also encompasses a number of oceanic archipelagos.
Brazil has a dense and complex system of rivers, one of the world’s most extensive, with eight major drainage basins, all of which drain into the Atlantic. Major rivers include the Amazon (the world’s second-longest river and the largest in terms of volume of water), the Paraná and its major tributary the Iguaçu (which includes the Iguazu Falls), the Negro, São Francisco, Xingu, Madeira and Tapajós rivers.
The climate of Brazil comprises a wide range of weather conditions across a large area and varied topography, but most of the country is tropical. According to the Köppen system, Brazil hosts five major climatic subtypes: equatorial, tropical, semiarid, highland tropical, temperate, and subtropical. The different climatic conditions produce environments ranging from equatorial rainforests in the north and semiarid deserts in the northeast, to temperate coniferous forests in the south and tropical savannas in central Brazil. Many regions have starkly different microclimates.
Brazil’s large territory comprises different ecosystems, such as the Amazon rainforest, recognized as having the greatest biological diversity in the world, with the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado, sustaining the greatest biodiversity. In the south, the Araucaria pine forest grows under temperate conditions. The rich wildlife of Brazil reflects the variety of natural habitats. Scientists estimate that the total number of plant and animal species in Brazil could approach four million, mostly invertebrates.
Larger mammals include carnivores pumas, jaguars, ocelots, rare bush dogs, and foxes, and herbivores peccaries, tapirs, anteaters, sloths, opossums, and armadillos. Deer are plentiful in the south, and many species of New World monkeys are found in the northern rain forests. Concern for the environment has grown in response to global interest in environmental issues. Brazil’s Amazon Basin is home to an extremely diverse array of fish species, including the red-bellied piranha. Despite its reputation as a ferocious freshwater fish, the red-bellied piranha is actually a generally timid scavenger. Biodiversity can contribute to agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries extraction. However, almost all economically exploited species of plants, such as soybeans and coffee, or animals, such as chickens, are imported from other countries, and the economic use of native species still crawls. In the Brazilian GDP, the forest sector represents just over 1% and fishing 0.4%.