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Canudos, religion and rebellion in 19th-century Brazil

Diogo L. Pinheiro

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place South America » Brazil

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899

Key-Topics army, communalism, rebellion, revolution, rural

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00301.x


Canudos was the name of the abandoned farm where Antǒnio Vicente Mendes Maciel (1830–97), popularly known as Antǒnio Conselheiro (the Counselor), and his followers settled in 1893. It is now associated with the massacre of Belo Monte, the most brutal event of the early days of the Brazilian republic, which had been established in 1889. Though the exact figures are the subject of some historical controversy, at least 15,000 people were killed by the army, many of them after their capture. This event had a profound impact on Brazilian self-identity and inspired one of the greatest novels of lusophone literature, Os Sertões , by Euclides da Cunha (1866–1909). The official version of what transpired in Canudos described Antǒnio Conselheiro as a religious fanatic who was staunchly opposed to the recently established republic and who used his charisma to attract thousands of uneducated peasants to the village he created. Recent historiography has called this into question, and there exist different definitions of the events at Canudos, which have been called a war, a revolt, and a massacre at different points in time by different people. Brazil underwent significant changes in the last quarter of the nineteenth century which were particularly severe for those living in the sertão , the arid backlands of the Brazilian Northeast. The period was marked by economic recession and significant ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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