The Brazilian State Shaped Like a Lady

 “Paula” is the emblem of the western world's most populous sub-nation

Sao Paulo is the only one of Brazil’s 26 states to include a map of the entire country on its flag; the Paulista state motto exhorts its citizens to Let great things be done for Brazil. And yet, Sao Paulo State historically harboured a more persistent regionalist, and even separatist sentiment than any other Brazilian state.


Sao Paulo is the richest, most populous state of the Brazilian federation. It is also the West’s most populous sub-national entity (*). At over 42 million inhabitants, Sao Paulo would rank 31st out of the world’s 223 independent countries, just behind Tanzania and right in front of Argentina. It would be the fifth most populous nation of the Americas (after the US, what would be left of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia). According to some reckonings (**), the eponymous state capital with its 11 million inhabitants is the biggest city in the Western world.

Population size isn’t the only thing that matters, though. Even back in 1842, when still very sparsely populated, Sao Paulo demonstrated the go-it-alone streak in its character by rebelling against the Emperor. The Paulistas expressed this streak politically by their adherence to the PRP (Partido Republicano Paulista), founded in 1873 to advocate the overthrow of the Empire in favour of a republican system.

When the republic of Brazil was eventually proclaimed in 1889, the PRP got its hands firmly glued to the levers of Brazil-wide power, which it shared with the PRM, from neighbouring Minas Gerais state. The arrangement saw the PRP and the PRM divvy up the presidency and political influence in the capital Rio de Janeiro. It was a cohabitation known as cafe com leite (‘coffee with milk’), as Sao Paulo’s economy was based on the former, Minas Gerais’ on the latter commodity.

This map celebrates Sao Paulo’s separateness from the rest of Brazil by portraying it anthropomorphically. The unnamed lady – let’s call her Paula – thus serves as Sao Paulo’s very own version of France’s Marianne or the UK’s Britannia: a symbolic female as allegory of the state’s unique history, territorial homogeneity and separate future. One could say it does so better than the French or British figureheads, as ‘Paula’ actually coincides with the borders of her state.

The emblematic female wears the state flag in her hair, but the slogan is not the one referred to earlier. It reads Everything for Sao Paulo. It would be interesting to learn how the PRP managed to balance the inherent separatism of its regionalist agenda with the demands – and the benefits – of its share in federal governance. Or maybe it didn’t, in the long run. For the PRP/PRM cohabitational system collapsed in the early 1930s, with the power-grab of Getulio Vargas, who abolished both parties and went on to establish a populist, authoritarian Estado Novo. The more regionally inclined elements in Sao Paulo State opposed this evolution. Incipient rebellion turned to inchoative secession in 1932, but the so-called Paulista War was crushed by federal troops in a few months’ time.

Many thanks to Vinicius Morello for sending in this map. For another state shaped like a lady, see #473.

Strange Maps #471

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

(*) Only if one excludes England, the grounds for which are somewhat debatable (i.e. England’s historic and demographic importance for the UK is such that it is more than a mere ‘sub-nation’).

(**) the ones that exclude the suburbs.

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.