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Sentencing Canudos

Subalternity in the Backlands of Brazil

Adriana Michele Campos Johnson

Publication Year: 2010

In the late nineteenth century, the Brazilian army staged several campaigns against the settlement of Canudos in northeastern Brazil. The colony’s residents followed a man known as Antonio Conselheiro (“the Counselor”), who promoted a communal existence free of taxes and oppression. To the fledgling republic of Brazil, the settlement represented a threat to its system of government. Estimates of the death toll range from fifteen thousand to thirty thousand. Sentencing Canudos presents an original perspective on the hegemonic intellectual discourse surrounding this monumental event in Brazilian history. Adriana Michele Campos Johnson offers a close examination of nation building and the silencing of other voices through the reinvisioning of history. Looking primarily to Euclides da Cunha’s Os Sertões, which has become the defining—and nearly exclusive—account of the conflict, she maintains that the events and people of Canudos have been sentenced to history by this work. Johnson investigates other accounts of Canudos such as local oral histories, letters, newspaper articles, and the writings of Cunha’s contemporaries in order to strip away political agendas.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Illuminations: Cultural Formations of the Americas


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. v

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p. vii

I want to thank, first, Alberto Moreiras for the rigor and generosity of his mentorship and for pushing me to take intellectual risks. Thank you to John French, who asked the tough questions that put my work on da Cunha on this track and for alerting me to the Quebra-Quilos revolts. This project would not be what it is if it were not for Antonio Olavo, who opened up a different vision of Canudos for me by pointing me in the direction ...

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pp. 1-11

The title of my book owes something to Homi Bhabha’s suggestion that “it is from those who have suffered the sentence of history—subjugation, domination, diaspora, displacement—that we learn our most enduring lessons for living and thinking.”1 The notion of “suffering the sentence of history” sounds a double register. Legally, a sentence is the imposition of punishment following a judgment of condemnation. ...

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Chapter One: The Voice of Others

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pp. 12-44

Euclides da Cunha was perhaps the first to voice the kernel of what was to be the canonical and largely celebratory interpretation of his relationship to Canudos.1 In a letter to his friend Francisco Escobar in early 1902, da Cunha presented Os sertões as an “avenging book”: “And yet, however it may be, I am heartened by the ancient conviction that the future will read it [the book]. That is what I want. ...

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Chapter Two: A Prose of Counterinsurgency

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pp. 45-77

The various biographical accounts of Antônio Conselheiro—also known as Antônio dos Mares, Santo Antônio Aparecido, Santo Conselheiro, and Bom Jesus—differ as to details of his early life (e.g., date of birth, his relationship with his wife, and the date he left Ceará for Bahia). Most stories concur, however, on the following points. ...

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Chapter Three: The Event and the Everyday

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pp. 78-104

The myth of Canudos had the city founded out of nothing, a Troy arising from thin air in the middle of nowhere: the very materialization of rupture. Envisioned and portrayed as the refuge of criminal elements such as jagun

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Chapter Four: Os Sert

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pp. 105-137

Da Cunha enters the discussion of Canudos after the defeat of the Moreira César expedition, July 17, 1897, with an article entitled “A nossa vendéia,” in which he prefigures Canudos through Victor Hugo’s novel on the Vendée peasant revolt against the postrevolutionary French republic.1 Because of this article, O Estado de São Paulo sent him to cover the last expedition. Public discourse ...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 138-162

In A imitação dos sentidos, Leopoldo Bernucci notes that although works such as Afonso Arinos’s Os jagunços, Dantas Barreto’s Ultima expedição a Canudos, Alvim Martins Horcades’s Descrição de uma viagem a Canudos, César Zama’s Libelo republicano, and Manoel Benício’s O rei dos jagunços had addressed the military campaign and Antonio Conselheiro’s messianic movement before ...

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pp. 163-173

I have used the term sentencing to keep visible the relationship between power and representation. Those who have been sentenced to history have been inscribed in history, overtaken by it, condemned to take part in it, turned into its subjects. If power relations are (mis)translated into epistemological structures so that condemnations (one sort of sentence) become descriptions ...


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pp. 175-206


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pp. 207-222


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pp. 223-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977650
E-ISBN-10: 0822977656
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822961239
Print-ISBN-10: 0822961237

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Illuminations: Cultural Formations of the Americas
Series Editor Byline: John Beverley and Sarah Castro-Klaren, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794925544
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sentencing Canudos

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Canudos (Euclides da Cunha, Brazil) -- Historiography.
  • Brazil -- History -- Canudos Campaign, 1893-1897 -- Historiography.
  • Canudos (Euclides da Cunha, Brazil) -- In literature.
  • Cunha, Euclides da, 1866-1909. Sertões.
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