O cangaço

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  • Publicado : 13 de febrero de 2011
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Mariana Rebuá Simões

Latin American History through Film

O Cangaço- The Rise and Reign of Social Banditry in Northeast Brazil

Introduction- Setting the Stage for the Rise of the Cangaceiro

In the interior northeastern region of Brazil, poverty, isolation, and droughts plague the land. Here the sun baked earth and desert-like conditions have made it difficult for its inhabitants tolive off the land. Entire families of retirantes or nomads travel around the region in search of water, only settling down during the brief rainy season and then picking up and moving again once the rivers have dried. One such group of wanderers turned banditry into a way of life as a means of surviving the harsh conditions of the region. They became known throughout the rest of the country as thecangaceiros. These nomadic bandits traveled around the northeastern backlands of Brazil ransacking and terrorizing small towns in the region’s interior most predominately from 1870 to 1940. The cangaceiros resisted poverty by using violence, mayhem and terror to achieve a heroic stance against authority and ultimately avenge the sorrows of their own miserable existence within backward northeasternsociety.

The rise of the cangaceiros was a direct response to the birth and growth of the interior northeastern region of Brazil. As a result of the scarcity of natural resources and the wealthy cattle-rancher’s monopoly over productive land, the majority of the population was forced into an impoverished existence. Brazilian cinema on northeastern Brazil provides a dynamic vehicle for thestudy of northeastern culture and the cangaço. These films vividly set the stage for the poverty stricken region that shaped and brought into existence the figure of the cangaceiro. Most importantly, they draw a connection between the cangaceiro’s use of violence and the backward nature of the larger governmental and societal norms that characterized Brazil during the late seventeenth century. Thefilms “Vidas Secas,” “O Auto da Compadecida,” “Black God, White Devil,” and “O Cangaceiro” provide a physical and interactive backdrop for exploring the rise of the cangaceiro, and the direct social forces that motivated them to become bandits. Finally, the films reflect how the rural poor both feared these outlaws for their criminal activity, and praised them as heroes for combating the socialinjustices society committed against the northeastern poor.

The economic and social framework of northeastern Brazil in the 1800s defined the rise of the cangaceiro in the latter half of the century. Since the 1600s and during the entire colonial period, Brazil’s main exported crop had been sugar. The production of sugar, which was carried out under enslaved labor, continued to boom all overBrazil in the early eighteenth century and still held its rank as the largest exported product in the country. A study done in the 1980s showed that from 1821 to 1830 sugar made up 30.1 percent of all Brazilian exports.[i] As the sugar economy grew, there was a sudden need for the occupation of new territory which led to various expeditions to the hinterlands of the northeastern region; this regionbecame known as the sertão.

The need to conquer the interior in the name of expanding sugar production led instead to the creation of new channels of economic subsistence that did not involve the production of sugar at all. These expeditions into the sertões resulted in the slow expulsion of the indigenous population that inhabited the region and established in its place a new societycomplete with its own export driven economy. As the white conquerors made their way into the sertão they brought with them horses and cattle and the introduction of these animals led to the growth of an entire culture of cattle-ranching. Historians today refer to the northeastern backlands of Brazil in the early 1800s as the “leather civilization” because it was through the production and export...
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