- Quebra-Quilos and Peasant Resistance: Peasants, Religion, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Brazil by Kim Richardson
Kim Richardson's Quebra-Quilos and Peasant Resistance examines the origins, causes and course of the Quebra-Quilos revolt which took place in 1874 and 1875 in the northeastern Brazilian provinces of Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, and Rio Grande do Norte. The revolt began with peasant attacks on market towns in the interior of Paraíba that had adopted the metric system and spread to [End Page 261] neighboring provinces, expanding to include popular support for the Church in the unfolding "Religious Question" of 1873-1874, and popular resistance to an 1874 law modernizing military recruitment. While traditional interpretations of the revolt have focused on the importance of the religious question, the law of recruitment, and ongoing political conflict between liberals and conservatives, Richardson focuses on economic factors as the primary causes of the revolt, including a cyclical economic downturn in the 1870s, the longer-term decline of the region's sugar economy, and the imposition of new municipal and provincial taxes.
In the introduction Richardson frames his analysis with E.P. Thompson's notion of moral economy, arguing that for northeastern peasants "the government—local, provincial, and imperial—was held to be the cause of the current crisis" (p. 2). Richardson thus strives to "give voice to the voiceless" through an examination of government correspondence, judicial records, police proceedings, ecclesiastical records, and newspaper accounts of the revolt. Richardson locates his work in relation to Hamilton de Mattos Monteiro's and Richard Graham's studies of the politics of the second empire, however he does not differentiate his own approach from Monteiro's work on the revolt itself nor Armando Souto Maior's and Roderick Barman's treatments of the revolt, both of which emphasize economic causes and popular grievances. In chapter one Richardson provides a detailed narrative overview of the revolt, analyzing each popular uprising according to peasants' motivations (taxes, the metric system, military recruitment, and religion), and discusses the revolt's lack of overall leadership.
Richardson then turns to a more detailed analysis of causes. Chapter two examines the economic context of the revolt, especially the declining profitability of sugar production, changing demands for land and labor due to cotton production, and increased municipal and provincial tax burdens. Richardson effectively shows how decreasing government revenues from exports led to a desperate implementation of new taxes, some fourteen in Pernambuco alone from 1863 to 1869, to support municipal and provincial budgets. These new taxes threatened peasant livelihood and were a fundamental cause of the revolt. Here Richardson focuses on general economic factors rather than the ways in which individual peasants were impacted by larger economic forces or how economic concerns drove them to participate in the revolt.
Chapter three examines the role of church-state conflict in the revolt, focusing on the ways in which popular support for the Church as the Religious Question unfolded provided a moral justification for participation in the revolt. Here Richardson takes a different approach than Todd Diacon and argues that the symbols of "material crisis" such as taxes and metric standards, rather than perceived threats to traditional religious practices, remained the focus of peasant protest. Richardson provides a detailed history of the conflict between the Brazilian state and the Vatican over precedence in religious and church matters and the role of Jesuit and Capuchin priests in the revolt. He argues that while [End Page 262] economic factors were paramount, that "religious reasons gave the peasants moral incentive to resist its payments and break the law" (p. 49). He further finds substantial evidence of peasants' religious motivations in police records and trial transcripts—the hated imposto do chão (a market tax), for example, was commonly referred to as the "Masonic law."
In chapter four Richardson examines popular resistance to the Recruitment Law of 1874, arguing that peasants showed their opposition to involuntary military service by destroying tax and notorial records that were used to identify potential recruits. While...