In October of 1914 Francisco Pires visited the headquarters of the 58th Battalion camped near Curitibanos, Santa Catarina (Fig. 1). There was a war on, and the 58th was a small part of the 7,000 man federal army force currently fighting some 20,000 millenarian rebels in the Contestado region of southern Brazil (so named because both the states of Santa Catarina and Parana contested jurisdiction over the area). Pires, a local landowner of some means, visited the headquarters because officers wished to contract local civilians to fight alongside regular army troops. Pires employed several tenant farmers (agregados), and he now offered their services to the 58th. In return the army would pay each civilian a daily wage plus rations, both of which were to be distributed, it seems, by the landowner.(1)
[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
On the morning of 12 October 1914, Pires was in the camp commander's office; outside, soldiers hoisted the Brazilian flag and the military band played the national anthem. Reportedly, Pires jumped from his seat, raced to the window, and asked `What's going on out there?' After the officers explained the reveille formation, Pires confessed that he had never seen the Brazilian flag, nor heard the national anthem, this some 25 years after their adoption following the declaration of the Republic.(2)
If the Pires story is true it graphically reminds us of the de facto limits to nation and state in the Brazilian Old Republic. If true, nationalism, an `emotional and subjective, not rational and objective' phenomenon meant little in the Contestado.(3) At the very least, symbols thought crucial to the legitimacy of the Republic, the flag, the national anthem, made precious little impact on daily life in the interior.(4)
Of course, it is possible that the Pires incident never happened. Here, however, the messenger is as important as the message. Reporting the incident was Herculano Teixeira d'Assumpcao, a lieutenant in the 58th Battalion. Perhaps he exaggerated. Maybe Pires had seen the flag, but never this type of military ceremony. Nevertheless, d'Assumpcao obviously thought such a story credible. Readers of his 1917 memoirs of the war were unlikely to dismiss the incident as a preposterous fabrication. Indeed, they probably accepted it as dramatic proof of how far removed the Contestado was from `civilised' Brazil. Either way, d'Assumpcao's account highlights the limits of the `imagined political community' (the nation) and of nationalism beyond the country's main urban centres.(5)
Readers of d'Assumpcao's memoirs no doubt interpreted the Pires incident as one more painful event in the more than two decades of political and social unrest that marked the consolidation of the Republic. In the political sphere civilians consolidated their control in 1894 only after the forced resignation of founding president Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, the `iron rule' of Marshal Floriano Peixoto, and the election of the civilian Prudente de Morais. Civilian rule was then furthered by the negotiated end of a monarchist naval revolt in Rio de Janeiro, and the related secessionist rebellion in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.(6)
In especially dramatic fashion the consolidation of the Republic continued with the 1897 repression of the massive millenarian rebellion of Antonio Conselheiro in the Brazilian northeast. This rebellion, so impressively described by Euclydes da Cunha, first in newspaper reports and then in his classic book Os Sertoes, shocked white, urban Brazilians with racist descriptions of dark-skinned, illiterate, rural inhabitants. Then, in 1912, a similar millenarian rebellion, the Contestado Rebellion, once again forced a massive federal intervention to defend the Republic.(7)
A case study of this last rebellion drives home the assertion that Republican consolidation was a long and difficult process in Brazil. Twenty-five years after the declaration of the Republic the isolation of the Contestado region shocked those sent to repress the peasant rebellion. Beyond an apparent lack of national identification, army officers also faced the physical aspects of the region's isolation: rugged mountains bereft of roads or even trails, no bridges, and no maps of the region when the military campaign of 1914 began. Suddenly, issues of nation and nationalism joined with questions concerning the effectiveness of the state's presence in the region. What was Brazil, and what constituted the nation?
The Contestado Rebellion highlights not only the consolidation of Republican rule, but also provides an important opportunity to discuss the broad issues of state and society in the context of a specific event during the Old Republic. The rebellion itself was a serious affair, involving tens of thousands of mostly peasant rebels who first defeated state police forces from Parana and Santa Catarina, and then fought the Brazilian army for more than a year. The rebellion was largely a reaction to the displacement of locals caused by the constuction of a US-owned railroad, and by the rapid European colonisation of parts of the Contestado.(8) As we shall see, the armed repression of the rebellion was an impressive act of central state intervention at a time, supposedly, of extreme federalism and states' rights in Brazil.
Furthermore, a detailed examination of the changing relationship between state and society in the Contestado shows that state intervention was not a one-way affair. Just as representatives of the central state acted on the Contestado, so too did the region `act' on those in charge of the intervention. On one level this meant that local notables scrambled to turn a now dramatically expanded state presence to their advantage, thereby involving central authorities (the military) in myriad local disputes over land, wealth, and power. On another level, the daily experience of repressing the rebellion encouraged the development of an increasingly obvious, well-stated, nationalist and interventionist rhetoric among army officers of both the junior and senior ranks.
It is precisely the opportunity to examine such a combination of local and national events and interests that makes the Contestado such an intriguing case study. The first part of this article presents key examples of the kinds of local-outsider exchanges born of a campaign in which thousands of soldiers and hundreds of officers spent months fighting an elusive enemy. Much time was spent opening roads, securing communications links, and negotiating with local officials and suppliers. Much time was spent, that is, negotiating the specifics of this particular central state intervention in rural Brazil.
These daily events and negotiations over sometimes seemingly mundane and unimportant activities nevertheless weighed heavily on the minds of outsiders sent to smash the rebellion. The second part of this article looks at how a core of Contestado officers drew larger lessons from their experiences in the countryside, lessons that contributed to a growing military push for major socioeconomic reforms in Brazil. Thus, as we shall see, the Contestado provides another important example of the impact of rural experiences in shaping officer thought in Old Republican Brazil.(9)
The Army as Outsider in the Contestado
It is not an exaggeration to speak of the Brazilian army's presence in the Contestado as an invasion by outsiders. Faced with the rebel victory over civil and state police forces in September, 1914, the federal government sent General Fernando Setembrino de Carvalho with 7,000 soldiers to repress the rebellion. The soldiers were armed with machine guns and cannons; the army even experimented with airplaines to scout rebel positions. Central government troops had operated in the Contestado before, when they fought there in both the Farroupilha (1835-1845) and Federalista (1893-1895) rebellions. But those struggles had involved mainly outsiders (gaucho forces from the neighbouring state of Rio Grande do Sul versus forces loyal to the central government) who happened to meet on the planalto of the Contestado.(10)
Setembrino's arrival in late-1914 thus signalled the first lengthy and effective large-scale central state presence in the history of the Contestado. It was the first such presence because during the Empire, when government was at least formally centralised, a scant population and physical isolation meant officials largely ignored the region.(11) Then, the decentralisation that accompanied the birth of the Republic meant that local landowners, and not bureaucrats, became representatives of the state. Independent state officials appointed directly by the central government were a rarity before the army invasion.(12)
The massive army presence in the Contestado meant a qualitatively different central state presence in an area long ignored by urban, `civilised' Brazil. On a rudimentary yet highly symbolic level this meant the first need was to draw an official map of the region. Equally impressive is the fact that by late 1914 there were more federal troops in the region than the total number of residents of the Contestado in 1851. To connect military fronts, soldiers hacked new trails through the forest. Supply trains and new communications networks joined previously isolated settlements and ranches. In theory, military strategists had supported Contestado railroad construction as a way to speed troops to the border in case of war with Argentina. In reality trains sped troops to battles with an internal enemy.(13)
Military intervention in the Contestado was thus a case of state building on the most basic of levels. First, roads had to be built, bridges constructed, maps drawn, and telegraph wires strung before the rebels could be defeated. In fact, this complete lack of basic infrastructure forced General Setembrino de Carvalho to adopt a scorched earth policy and war of attrition instead of the full-scale frontal assault those in the cities demanded.(14) Thus, intervention in the interior meant something quite different from the `salvationist' interventions in Brazilian capital cities. Military intervention, say, in Salvador, Bahia, in 1912 was an urban affair where the goal was to capture the fruits of local power which were themselves the historic product of existing …