Contestado Rebellion, which pitted some 25,000 millenarian rebels against two-thirds of the Brazilian army (7,000 men) between 1912 and March 1916, was the last of three great millenarian movements (along with rebellions at Canudos and Juazeiro) that shook Brazil at the turn of this century. The rebellion was fought in the contested border region between the Brazilian states of Paraná and Santa Catarina ("the Contestado"). Rebels who followed the teachings of the "prophet" José Maria created "holy cities" for believers, attacked skeptics, and called for the return of the Brazilian monarchy (overthrown in 1889). An army scorched-earth campaign eventually starved the rebels into submission.
Rapid socioeconomic change at the beginning of the twentieth century prompted the rebellion. Before that time small-scale cattle ranching dominated the Contestado economy. Landowners secured their large, undefined holdings via usufruct land grants to Agregados (combination ranch hands and sharecroppers). An unequal, yet reciprocal, relationship developed between landowners and agregados, one maintained not only by material exchanges but also by the establishment of ritual kinship ties between the landowner, the agregado, and the latter's family.
But turn-of-the-century colonization projects and railroad construction transformed life in the Contestado. Between 1890 and 1912 thousands of new European immigrants colonized lands donated by state governments. In 1906 the American-owned Brazil Railway Company began construction of the first railroad through the region, at the same time promoting the colonization of thousands of hectares of Contestado land it had received as part of a federal government concession. Local landowners subsequently sold large portions of their holdings because of the booming real estate market, thereby dispossessing their agregados and their families.
The actions of "faceless" North American capitalists and local landowners threatened peasant subsistence in the Contestado. What emerged was not only a material crisis but also a spiritual crisis of values, for the profit-hungry landowners, the godfathers of agregados and their families, had broken their religiously sanctioned subsistence guarantees. By calling for landowners and peasants to live together in holy cities the millenarian movement led by José Maria promised to heal both the internal crisis of values and the material threat of peasant subsistence. It was this powerful dual message that fueled and inspired one of the largest popular rebellions in the history of Brazil.
Duglas Teixeria Monteiro, Os errantes do novo século (1974).
Maria Isaura Pereira De Queiroz, O messianismo no Brasil e no mundo, 2d ed. (1976).
Bernard J. Siegel, "The Contestado Rebellion, 1912–1916: A Case Study in Brazilian Messianism and Regional Dynamics," in The Anthropology of Power, edited by Raymond D. Fogelson and Richard N. Adams (1977), pp. 325-336.
Maurício Vinhas De Queiroz, Messianismo e conflito social, 3d ed. (1981).
Patricia Pessar, "Unmasking the Politics of Religion," in Journal of Latin American Lore 7, no. 2 (1981): 255-278.
Todd A. Diacon, Millenarian Vision, Capitalist Reality: Brazil's Contestado Rebellion, 1912–1916 (1991).
Todd A. Diacon