Luso-Tropicalism

   An anthropological and sociol ogical theory or complex of ideas allegedly showing a process of civilization relating to the significance of Portuguese activity in the tropics of Africa, Asia, and the Americas since 1415. As a theory and method of social science analysis, Luso-Tropicalism is a 20th-century phenomenon that has both academic and political (foreign and colonial policy) relevance. While the theory was based in part on French concepts of the "science of tropicology" in anthropology, it was Gilberto Freyre, an eminent Brazilian sociologist-anthropologist, who developed Luso-Tropicalism as an academic theory of the unique qualities of the Portuguese style of imperial activity in the tropics. In lectures, articles, and books during the period 1930-60, Freyre coined the term Luso-Tropicalism to describe Portuguese civilization in the tropics and to claim that the Portuguese, more than any other European colonizing people, successfully adapted their civilization to the tropics.
   From 1960 on, the academic theory was co-opted to lend credence to Portugal's colonial policy and determination to continue colonial rule in her large, remaining African empire. Freyre's Luso-Tropicalism theme was featured in the elaborate Fifth Centenary of the Death of Prince Henry the Navigator celebrations held in Lisbon in 1960 and in a massive series of publications produced in the 1960s to defend Portugal's policies in its empire, the first to be established and the last to decolonize in the Third World. Freyre's academic theory and his international prestige as a scholar who had put the sociology of Brazil on the world map were eagerly adopted and adapted by the Estado Novo. A major thesis of this interesting but somewhat disorganized mass of material was that the Portuguese were less racist and prejudiced toward the tropical peoples they encountered than were other Europeans.
   As African wars of insurgency began in Portugal's empire during 1961-64, and as the United Nations put pressures on Portugal, Luso-Tropicalism was tested and contested not only in academia and the press, but in international politics and diplomacy. Following the decolonization of Portugal's empire during 1974 and 1975 (although Macau remained the last colony to the late 1990s), debate over the notion of Luso-Tropicalism died down. With the onset of the 500-year anniversary celebrations of the Portuguese Age of Discoveries and Exploration, beginning in 1988, however, a whiff of the essence of Luso- Tropicalism reappeared in selected aspects of the commemorative literature.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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