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The Devil in the Brazilian Backlands


This dissertation explores representations of the Devil in the narrative of Canudos through the lenses of Euclides da Cunha's classic Os Sertões (1902), the second manuscript of Antônio Conselheiro (1897), and the religious guidebook Missão Abreviada (1859). To understand the motivations of the Brazilian backlanders (sertanejos) to engage in the Battle of Canudos (1896-1897), one has to consider the role of the Devil in this battle. Conselheiro's followers believed that the apocalypse was approaching and that they were fighting the demoniacal forces of the republicans in order to save their souls.

This study starts by presenting the religious background of the sertanejos, their mysticism and their oral tradition, which includes tales about the return of D. Sebastião and myths rooted in the European tradition. It then analyses the teachings of Conselheiro and the importance placed on the role of the Devil as a threat to losing one's soul forever.

Conselheiro's followers were victims of the fanaticism of their leader and of the extreme forces of the Brazilian military which resulted in the decimation of Canudos and the death of over ten thousand people. By drawing an argument based on Euclides da Cunha's observation of events in his field notes, newspaper articles, and in Os Sertões, this study defends that Canudos was not the idealized community portrayed by many, but was instead a place under the theocracy of a fanatic leader. The last section of this dissertation frames Conselheiro's dominance of his subjects in Foucault's theory of the povouir pastoral (pastoral power of the priest). This study aims to contribute to the body of research on Canudos to an English speaking audience.

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