Euclides da Cunha

Euclides da Cunha
Euclides da Cunha

Euclides da Cunha was born on January 20, 1866, at Santa Rita do Rio Negro, near Cantagalo, close to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the eldest son of Manuel Rodrigues Pimenta da Cunha and Eudóxia Moreira.

When the boy was three years old his mother died, and the family moved to Teresópolis and then went to stay with relatives in Rio de Janeiro. He attended Aquino College, where he studied under Benjamin Constant, an important republican historian.

In 1886 he attended the Escola Militar da Praia Vermelha, a military school in Rio de Janeiro, then the capital of the country. Two years later he took part in a protest during a visit by Tomás Coelho, the minister of war in the last conservative cabinet under the Brazilian monarchy, which ended in the following year.

On December 11, 1888, for his role in the protest, he was expelled. Through the efforts of Major Solon Ribeiro, a prominent republican, and others, there was an amnesty for those who had protested against the emperor, and da Cunha was readmitted to the military school. He graduated in the following year and was commissioned second lieutenant. In that year he also married Ana, the daughter of Ribeiro.

In 1891 da Cunha went to the Escola de Guerra (War School) and was quickly promoted to first lieutenant. He then worked as a military engineer in the Brazilian army but left to study civil engineering, although he was soon working as a journalist.

In 1896–97 he went, on behalf of the magazine O Estado de São Paulo, with the army to Canudos, a village in Bahia state in eastcentral Brazil, where Antônio Vicente Mendes Maciel "Conselheiro" ("the Counselor") and his supporters had established their own "empire."

Some 30,000 people moved to Canudos with the promise of freedom for escaped slaves and impoverished Indians. The Conselheiro also promised the return of the Portuguese late medieval king, Sebastian.

There were five army expeditions over three years to Bahia in what became known as the War of Canudos. It took three generals, 19 guns, and 10,000 men to conquer the place, with the rebels fighting to the death for their messianic leader. Da Cunha's first article on the rebellion had been published in March 1897 as "A Nossa Vendéis"; this led to his becoming a reporter attached to the general staff.

He spent the period from August 7 to October 1, 1897, writing about what he saw in the rebellion and the subsequent reprisals. This was to form the basis of his historical narrative, Os Sertões (1902), the first major work that championed the rights of Brazil's Indians.

On September 21, 1903, da Cunha was elected to the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters). On December 13 of the same year he established the Instituto Histórico e Geográfico (Historical and Geographic Institute).

In 1907 da Cunha was appointed to head a commission to deal with problems in Amazonia, and he spent December 1904 and much of 1905 traveling down the Amazon. In early 1909 da Cunha was appointed chairman and professor of logic at the Colégio Pedro II, a public secondary school in Rio de Janeiro.

Euclides da Cunha was a keen amateur geographer and geologist and spent the last years of his life visiting remote parts of Brazil and writing about the Indian tribal people he met. He also was influenced by the Darwinian aspects of naturalism. He was the author of Contrastes e confrontos (Contrasts and confrontations, 1907), and Peru versus Bolívia (1907).

On August 15, 1909, da Cunha was killed in a duel by a young army lieutenant, Dilermando de Assis, who was having an affair with his wife. He died at Piedade, Rio de Janeiro. He is commemorated by the Brazilian education department, and in August each year they observe a Semana Euclideana (Euclides Week) in his honor. The Euclides da Cunha Foundation in Brazil commemorates the historian and the role he played in the education system.