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MLN 121.5 (2007) 1148-1168

Colonial Captivations:
Textual and Cinematic Representations of Captivity in Brazil and Chile
Lisa Voigt
University of Chicago

Historical episodes of nonviolent contact, or of an "inverted conquest" whereby a European explorer is held captive by Amerindians, have captured the attention of cinematic publics in several nations of the Americas, from the U.S. films based on the tale of Pocahontas and John Smith (Disney's Pocahontas and Pocahontas II: Voyage to a New World [1995 and 1998], Terrence Malick's The New World [2005]) to Nicolás Echevarría's Cabeza de Vaca (Mexico, 1991) and Luis Alberto Pereira's Hans Staden (Brazil, 1999), each inspired by autobiographical accounts of captivity from the colonial period. The latter two films evince the continuing popularity and symbolic malleability of the Spaniard Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación [Account] (1542), which relates his decade-long travels and travails across North America, and the German Hans Staden's Warhaftige historia [True History] (1557), describing his nine-month captivity among the Tupinambá Indians of Brazil.1 The emphasis placed by these two films on the subordinate and powerless role of the European protagonist with respect to the indigenous peoples that he encounters shed an anticipatory critical light on the quincentennial celebrations of the "discovery" in the year following the films' releases in their respective countries.

Other directors have recently found inspiration in narratives of happier captivities among Amerindians during the colonial period: Chile's Cristián Sánchez, whose Cautiverio feliz [The Happy Captivity] (1998) portrays the Araucanian captivity of the Chilean creole Francisco [End Page 1148] Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán in the seventeenth century, and Brazil's Guel Arraes, whose Caramuru: A Invenção do Brasil [Caramuru: The Invention of Brazil] (2001), like Hans Staden, commemorates the Brazilian quincentennial with a sixteenth-century tale of captivity among the Tupinambá, this time of the Portuguese castaway Diogo Álvares in Bahia. Unlike Cabeza de Vaca and Staden, Pineda and Álvares are particularly well treated by their captors, with whom they establish friendly or amorous relationships; whereas Pineda ultimately returns to his home society, Álvares rises in status among the Tupinambá tribe, marries an indigenous "princess," and adopts Brazil as his new homeland. Both directors have claimed a similar function for their films as re-imagining national origins and identities, although they differ significantly in terms of both cinematic style and what they choose to represent of their captives' experiences, particularly with respect to their sexual relations with Amerindian women. In what follows, I elucidate these differences by addressing the films' relationships to their colonial source-texts: Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán's own Cautiverio feliz y razón individual de las guerras dilatadas de Chile [Happy Captivity and Individual Reason for the Prolonged Wars of Chile] (completed 1673) and José de Santa Rita Durão's Caramuru: Poema Épico do Descobrimento da Bahia [Caramuru: Epic Poem of the Discovery of Bahia] (1781). I argue that the possible comparisons—between the films, and between the films and their colonial intertexts—are mutually illuminating, serving together to complicate the nationalist readings frequently granted to colonial captivity narratives. After outlining Pineda's and Durão's induction into the colonial canon, I discuss the filmmakers' and the authors' strategies in recounting the captivity. I then compare the films' portrayals of sexual relations between the captives and Amerindian women. Rather than evaluating the films according to the fidelity of their adaptations, I explore the rather ironic consequences of their different approaches to the colonial texts, particularly with respect to their reproduction or revision of the authors' Eurocentric perspectives.

Both Pineda y Bascuñán's Cautiverio feliz and Santa Rita Durão's Caramuru have long been associated with the origins of a national canon and the expression of a national identity, which suggests their appeal to filmmakers seeking, in their own words, to "comemorar nossa nacionalidade . . . celebrar o nascimento do Brasil" ["commemorate our nationality . . . celebrate the birth of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6598
Print ISSN
0026-7910
Pages
pp. 1148-1168
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-05
Open Access
No
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