Peasant Autonomy
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Story 95

North-east Brazil – 1938

Father Sebastião

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Rosanetur)

North-east Brazil.

“I can see a lush green land, the horses are eating flowers, and the children are drinking out of rivers filled with milk.” Father Sebastião can preach marvellously. Old men and women with weathered faces look up to him with big, amazed, and joyful eyes. There are also young people and small children, all poor peasants.
Manuel is one of the followers of Sebastião. He had a small shack with a little kitchen garden and was a cow herder. He kept watch over twelve cows of don Moraes, a rich farmer, and a few of his own. In a blind rage, Manuel has killed don Moraes, when he wanted to blame him for the death of two of Moraes' cows, who had been bitten by snakes. Don Moraes bullied him, shouted that he had the law at his side, and lashed him with his whip, when he answered back in a way Don Moraes didn’t like. Thereupon, Manuel pulled out his machete. Since then, he is on the run, together with his wife Rosa.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Mariana Leme)

North-east Brazil.

Luckily, Manuel and Rosa came upon the group headed by father Sebastião. The group lives on Monte Santo, the holy mountain, and travels from time to time singing and praying through the land, like in a procession. When their needs are great and the believers happen upon isolated houses of the rich, they invade it, kill the occupants, and take anything they can use.

One day when it is storming, father Sebastião shouts that tomorrow will be the big day, that it will rain golden coins, and that all pure souls will be taken to the new Holy Land. Manuel has also taken up prophesying about a wonderful island in the midst of the sea, where they will all go together, when God will set the old world on fire. Rosa doesn't trust it. “Manuel, this is a dream, it is not true, wake up. Let us leave. Soon the soldiers will come.” Manuel shouts at Rosa that she is possessed by the devil, and that all unbelievers will die.

Alas, Rosa's foreboding turns out to be too true. Next morning, a squad of soldiers attacks the worshippers and kills most of them. Those who are able to escape, join one of the various cangaços, roaming gangs of peasant bandits.


In his impressive movie Black God, white devil (1964) the Brazilian director Glauber Rocha brings the cangaços from the folk tales to life.

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= the next page: Underground resistance - a village South of Nanjing, China – 1938, story 96.
= the Table of contents, story 95.