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Canudos




Canudos was a utopian, millenarian settlement of dispossessed peasants and former slaves that grew up around Antonio Conselheiro (“The Counselor”) in the last quarter of the 19th century in the arid “backlands” of the northeast Brazilian state of Bahia. Possessed of a benign charisma, the Counselor promised—during an era of economic catastrophe—an end to poverty, hunger, and drought in a New Jerusalem that banished distinctions of rank and the evils of private property. By 1897, the population of Canudos numbered 30,000, making the communitarian theocracy the second largest city in the province. For a few years, it prospered, with property held in common and money and alcohol banned. Businessmen moved in and set up a thriving leather trade with the coast. Conselheiro was not a fanatic, self-aggrandizing leader. He preached and built churches. His apostles took care of administering a community in which race and class did not matter. Thus, Canudos was not a cult. The Brazilian state moved against the New Jerusalem when the largest landowner in Bahia claimed that Canudos stood on his property. The Brazilian army besieged the town, leveled it, killed most of the defenders, who fought to the last, cut the throats of all the male prisoners, sold the women and girls to brothels on the coast, and sent Conselheiro’s head to the capital, Salvador, where doctors studied the skull for abnormalities before sending it to a museum. (Awl, 4/26/13) [IT 5.1 2014]