midday, October 5, 1897, the Brazilian town of Canudos
lay in ruins. The great temple was rubble, the houses were ashes,
of mutilated bodies lay around and the stench of blood and smoke filled
ended the rule of the Jacuncos, religious
fanatics dedicated to the overthrow of the Brazilian republic who
to the edge of anarchy.
leader of the cult, Antonio Vicente Mendes Maciel,
was born in 1842 in Quixeramobim on the Sertao
plateau in Brazil
and grew up there.
a youth Maciel kept largely to himself and
became a cashier. At 15 he became infatuated with a prostitute and they
married a year later.
the honeymoon the girl returned to prostitution.
She left the house for days at a time, threw tantrums when criticized
her husband, and eventually eloped with a policeman.
retreated into the wilderness, lived a solitary life for ten years, and
gradually convinced himself he had a special mission from God.
he returned to civilization – to the Brazilian state of Bahia. Maciel
was now a combination of wild-man and prophet, shouting religious
of superstitious people, mostly Indian and Negro ranch workers, began
follow him. Maciel ordered them to call
For the next ten years he roamed the plateau, begging, singing and
meetings. Many followers compared him to God. He declared the world
end in 1900 and only his disciples would survive.
Brazilian monarchy was abolished in 1889 but the transition to republic
proved difficult. There was economic recession, drought and social
The capital of Bahia, Salvador,
was inundated with freed slaves, immigrants and unemployed. It was a
where thousands looking for a better life found Conselheiro’s
the end of the world at hand Conselheiro's
disciples concluded man-made laws were irrelevant. They wallowed in
celebrations and orgies, singing hymns by day and sharing the women by
Roman Catholic Church denounced Conselheiro
but failed to redirect him to the straight and narrow.
preached against the evils of the new Republic, advocated a restoration
of the monarchy, and told his followers, now called "Jaguncos",
that they must destroy the republic.
Republican Government in Rio
de Janeiro sent 200 soldiers and police to
him and end the threat that he posed.
the soldiers advanced the Janguncos retreated
and the soldiers then charged. The Jagunco
ranks separated revealing cavalry to their rear. The cavalry and
collided and the latter were slaughtered.
now led his horde of followers into the jungle. At a river bank
by high rocky walls and approachable by a narrow pass they constructed
a religious community, houses of palms and cane, and settled. A network
of trenches guarded the approach from the pass. The town was
the people housed Conselheiro demanded they
construct a huge stone temple. As the work progressed, criminals and
from far and wide flocked to this new "Zion"
and swelled the numbers.
a peak of 35,000 people in 1896 Canudos
was the second largest town in Bahia
after the state capital. It had schools, reportedly suffered very
crime, and by hard work the surrounding land was made agriculturally
now demanded building materials from a nearby town but the mayor
The mayor appealed to the Government which sent 100 soldiers to destroy
the rebels and capture their leader.
the soldiers approached Canudos a thousand
waiting Jaguncos arose from the jungle
and, shouting psalms and songs, they massacred them. A few survivors
it to the town of Janzeiro
and told of the slaughter.
report was telegraphed to Rio
de Janeiro. At the time there was a wave of
against monarchist newspaper publishers several of whom had sent funds
to Conselheiro. With a serious rebellion
apparently in the making the Government feared a monarchist plot and
sent a force of 600 trained soldiers
too the Jaguncos largely butchered in an
ambush. Fleeing stragglers were cut down by Conselheiro’s
cavalry for days afterwards.
government next sent Brazil's
most famous soldier, General Antonio Cesar, with a force of 1,300
reached Canudos, found it empty, and occupied
a crescendo of psalm singing arose from all sides, Conselheiro
appeared at the temple, and thousands of Jaguncos
in concealed trenches opened up with rifle fire.
troops fell and died in hundreds, including their General. Again
Government now took the matter very seriously and sent the flamboyant
Arthur Oscar with 5,000 men and a number of one-ton Whitney guns.
March 1897 the previous episode repeated itself: Colonel Oscar's troops
captured Canudos whereupon concealed Jaguncos
rose up on all sides and fired rifles until heaps of dead littered the
troops fought one engagement after another, day after day, as they
through the jungle.
June 1897 the Government sent 10,000 troops led by the Secretary of
Marshall de Bittencourt, along with machine
guns and Krupp artillery.
prolonged bloody siege began in July. De Bittencourt
offered Conselheiro a truce, which was rejected.
October the troops stormed Canudos. In a
four-day inferno of smoke, massacre and fire thousands of troops became
casualties. But the Jaguncos were wiped
out – any men who tried to surrender had their throats
became ashes and the temple rubble. Only 150 children and women
head was cut off and paraded on a stick.
so ended the threat to the BrazilianRepublic.
The victorious Marshall de Bittencourt died
a month later, stabbed to death protecting the president in an