Cultura Brasileira - Apoio Gratuito ao Estudioso e ao Pesquisador desde 1998

A few words about Euclides da Cunha and his masterpiece "Os Sertões" - "Rebellion in the Backlands"



         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.

Influenced by 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 Despite its outdated scientific and historical ideas, Cunha's book is still valid because of its literary language and as a representation from the intelligentsia’s ideals in the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.



  • January 20, 1866, Euclides da Cunha was born in Cantagalo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he lived until he was three years old.
  • 1886 - Attended Escola Militar da Praia Vermelha, a military school in Rio.
  • 1888 - Expelled from the military school, due to his participation in an act of protest during a visit of the Brazilian War Minister, Tomás Coelho, who was a member of the last Conservative cabinet of the Brazilian monarchy.
  • 1889 - Admitted again to the Escola Militar.
  • 1891 - Admitted to the Brazilian War School (Escola de Guerra).
  • 1896 - Discharged from the Army in order to dedicate himself to studying civil engineering.
  • 1897 - Accompanied the Army in the Campanha de Canudos, against a rebellious group of peasants under the leadership of Antonio Conselheiro. Between 7th of August and 1st of October, he was in the hinterland, as war correspondent for the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.
  • 1903 - Elected to the 7th Chair at the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters).
  • 1903 - Established the Instituto Histórico e Geográfico, the Historical and Geographic Institute
  • 1909 - Admitted as chairman and professor of Logic at the Colégio Pedro II, a public secondary school in Rio.
  • August 15, 1909 - Killed in a duel, by a young Army lieutenant, who was the lover of his wife, in Piedade, Rio de Janeiro.


His most important published Works

  • 1902 Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands)
  • 1907 Contrastes e confrontos, lit. Contrasts and Confrontations
  • 1907 Peru versus Bolívia
  • 1939 Canudos, diário de uma expedição - news articles published in the periodical O Estado de São Paulo
  • 1967 Canudos e inéditos - news articles published by the periodical O Estado de São Paulo




Books of Interest

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