domingo, 23 de setembro de 2012


Para os países que falam (Inglês)

Translator’s Introduction

It is no surprise that the French group of revolutionary outlaws, Os Cangaceiros, would take an interest in millenarian revolt since their namesakes in Brazil fought side by side with millenarian rebels on more than one occasion. And such an interest is no mere whim. During the Middle Ages, revolt almost always expressed itself in millenarian language in the Western world, and such expressions continued, though increasingly less frequently, into modern times. Thus, those of us who are interested in understanding the ways in which the spirit of revolt develops in individuals and in larger groups of people could perhaps learn something from examining millenarianism in its various forms.

In Prophets and Outlaws of the Sertão, Georges Lapierre[1] tells the story of two movements of revolt in northeastern Brazil whose activities often intertwined. On the one hand, there were several millenarian movements involving dispossessed peasants, rural migrant workers, and urban poor. On the other hand, there were the cangaceiros, individuals whose acts of revenge against a very visible ruling class and its lackeys had driven them to live as outlaws and who joined together in bands called cangaços to wage their battle against a social order to which they were neither willing nor able to belong.

Map of the Empire of Brazil in the nineteenth century –

For me, the most interesting aspect of this historical tale lies in the comparisons and contrasts that can be made between these two very different ways of rebelling that manifested themselves in Brazil as the 19th century moved into the 20th century.

Though Georges Lapierre’s account mentions several millenarian movements in Brazil during that period, he only goes into any detail about two of them: the one that gathered around Antonio Conselheiro (Antonio the Counselor)[2] and the one that gathered around Father Cicero. In my opinion, the former is far more interesting, because it was truly a movement of millenarian revolt, whereas Father Cicero’s movement, regardless of any apocalyptic or millenarian language it may have used, was essentially just a movement of social reform[3]. The very fact that its leader was able to maintain a possession in the church hierarchy and gain a significant in the state hierarchy shows that neither revolt nor the bringing of the millennium had any real significance in his activities. He was merely seeking to bring his concept of a christian social morality into the existing social order.

Conselheiro, on the other hand, had a true hatred of the existing social order, and firmly believed that its end was at hand. Being a true believer, he was convinced that god was about to rain his wrath down upon the ruling order and bring a holy kingdom of real equality to the earth, one with neither state nor property, where the entire world would be equally accessible to all. Such a vision was bound to attract many of the dispossessed. Conselheiro’s vision was apocalyptic, but also a vision of action. If the movement that gathered around him ended up forming a “holy city” (Canudos), a commune in which to begin the new way of living, it was also prepared to fight the ruling powers. That battle, however, took a form quite typical of a particular sort of millenarianism. It was a defense of the holy city that was based on trust in a supernatural intervention.

Cangaceiros – Ronald Guimarães –

The cangaceiros, on the other hand, were not religious. They were simply outlaws, driven to leave society behind after taking revenge on someone from the ruling class or one of its lackeys for some humiliation. Like the millenarian rebels, they were from the poor, dispossessed classes. But the path they chose for their revolt was different, reflecting a personal humiliation they pushed them to attack, rather than a more general humiliation. Lacking the faith of the millenarians, they built no utopian communal “cities”, choosing rather to roam the countryside, attacking the rich and raiding cities. When their raids on cities were successful, they often expressed a type of utopian vision as well, throwing huge drunken feasts with music and dancing, often giving away some of what they had stolen. But they sought no permanence and faded back into the countryside to wander.

I find the sympathy of the cangaceiros  for the millenarian movements of their time interesting because their way of life in their world seems to parallel that of the Free Spirit movement of the middle ages. The Free Spirits are often described as millenarians, but their millenarianism was distinctly different from that of Conselheiro, Thomas Münzer, the Münster millenarians and most other millenarian movements. The distinction lies in the fact that the Free Spirits did not see the millennium as something that was going to come soon, but as something that already existed within them. Their perspective was not apocalyptic — aiming toward a future end of the world — but rather based in the immediate present. This is why the Free Spirit, while still using religious language, actually attacked the foundations of religion: dependence on an external supernatural power, hope in a heavenly future, faith in an external source of salvation. Quite rightly, the Free Spirits declared themselves to be greater than god, and apparently lived as vagabond outlaws… much like the cangaceiros. Their perspective left no room for passivity, because they had chosen to be the creators of their own lives.

Drawing depicting Antonio Conselheiro and disseminated via newspapers and books in southern Brazil in the late nineteenth century –

The millenarians of Canudos and Münster, and the followers of Thomas Münzer certainly expressed a more active — and downright fierce — form of apocalyptism. They were ready to fight to the death for their future millenarian dream. But this willingness was based on the delusions of faith and hope — faith in a supernatural savior; hope in divine intervention. Thus, they are not so different from groups like the Branch Davidians in Texas — groups made up largely of the poor, waiting for the apocalypse and ready to defend themselves to the death if necessary. But the fact is that apocalyptism is far more often passive, precisely because it hopes in an external intervention. This is true whether or not it is religious in nature. We are currently living in a period in which apocalyptic thinking is rampant even among people with no religious belief. Whether it takes the form of paralyzing fears of massive plagues and disasters or idealized dreams of a collapse that will do away with the technological and bureaucratic horrors of the present, it doesn’t ever seem to lead to active revolt. The fears, when they manage to get past their paralysis, tend toward the desperate grasping at any action the might “give us more time”, and such desperation sees any sort of anarchist revolutionary and utopian practice — especially one that is live here and now — as a hindrance to this acceptance of any action that works — because such a practice rejects all litigation, all legislation, every form of working through the ruling order… And the apocalyptic hopes for a collapse have always tended to move people toward a mere survivalism, a “practice” that is nothing more than an accumulation of skills in the hopes of being the most fit to survive in the post-collapse world. In my opinion, a small and shabby vision.

Millenarian revolt is interesting mostly because when millenarian perspectives actually led to revolt, to one extent or another, those involved had begun to recognize that they themselves had to act to realize their own liberation. Its limits lie precisely in the continued reliance on a supernatural force to guarantee this. As long as this faith remained, millenarians tended to paint themselves into corners, creating small utopian settlements that they defended with courage and ferocity, but that ended up as their graveyards. But a few, like the Free Spirits, seem to have gotten beyond faith and hope, beyond dependence on a supernatural power to uphold them. And it is interesting that their practice becomes much more that of the outlaw who doesn’t settle down, but remains on the move, thecangaceiro, who may perhaps develop a revolutionary perspective, and thus learn to aim all the more clearly.

Continuaremos quarta-feira

Source of information

Extraído do blog "Tok de História" do historiógrafo e pesquisador do cangaço: 
Rostand Medeiros

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