Os Sertões (translated
as Rebellion in the Backlands) (1902) is a
book written by the Brazilian author Euclides da
Cunha. Mixing science and literature, the author
narrates the story of a war that happened in the end
19th century, in Canudos, a settlement of Bahia's
backland, an extremely arid region where, still now,
struggles against poverty, drought and political
corruption continue. During the war (1893-1897)
against the republican army, the sertanejo’s (backland’s
inhabitant) settlement was commanded by a messianic
leader called Antonio Conselheiro.
theories like the positivism and social Darwinism
from the end of the 1800s, Cunha discussed the
forming of a new Brazilian Republican nation and
also its racial composition and its promising future
of progress and civilization.
The book is originally divided into three parts:
1. “A Terra” (the land): portrays of the
northeastern backland and the war scenario.
2. “O Homem” (the man): exposes the land’s
inhabitants and their race composition, explaining
the individual by its phenotype and emphasizing the
opposition between the coast and the backland’s men.
3. “A Luta” (the War): narrates the conflict
between the Republican army and the sertanejos who,
despite been considered “racially degenerated”,
succeed in winning many battles, even though they
lost the war.
Throughout the book, Euclides seems to have
sympathy for the oppressed sertanejos and to doubt
about the progress and modernity of Republican
ideals. Actually, Os Sertões is still considered one
of the most important works from this historical
period, an effort to represent the Nation as a
totality. Despite its outdated scientific and
historical ideas, Cunha's book is still valid
because of its literary language and as a
representation from the intelligentsia’s ideals in
the end of the 19th century Brazil
In 1981, a version of the same story was
rewritten by Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa as The War of the End of the World.
To be completely honest, we must state that
Euclides da Cunha, as a man of his time, was also
heavily influenced by Naturalism and its Darwinian
proponents. Os Sertões characterised
the coast of Brazil as a chain of civilisations
while the interior was more primitively influenced.