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Overture - A method to create visibilities of the Amazon territory

Euclides da Cunha (1866-1909) became a famous writer when in 1904 lead a diplomatic mission in the Amazon region of upper Purus river. His first acclaimed novel, Rebellion in the Backlands (Os Sertoes),  narrates the history of Canudos civil-war (1893-1897). This violent conflict, organized by the national forces,  massacred the impoverished people living in Bahia arid region in a commune. 

Cunha's next project was to write about the Amazon and explore the mix of science and literature to show the contradictions between progress interventions, civilization missions, and the nationalization of the Amazon. To be part of the Brazilian-Peruvian diplomatic mission as an official cartographer would later finance his next novel. 

He was also a former military engineer, where his task at the mission in the Purus river was to collect information about the natural resources in the region and border limits with Peru.


According to Roberto Ventura: "Euclides consulted travel reports, administrative reports, and maps of previous expeditions. He read Humboldt, Martius, Spix, Agassiz, Bates, Chandless, Tavares Bastos, Sousa Coutinho, and Soares Pinto before plunging into the darkness of the unknown. He studied, above all, the report of the expedition to the same region, made by the Englishman William Chandless in 1861. This confrontation with nature is mediated by the reading of chroniclers and travelers, with their fantastic and fabulous visions, and the deciphering of cartographers, whose geography was confused with mythology. Euclides projected images and notions about the Amazonian environment and the rainforest, provided by the explorers, who did not adjust to the emotions and sensations caused by the observed reality. He rectified these visions until he formed his own concept of the Amazon as 'lost paradise',the incomplete page of Genesis whose creation had not yet been completed”.

 Ventura, R.,1995. Visões do deserto: selva e sertão em Euclides da Cunha. História, Ciências, Saúde-Manguinhos, 5, 133-147. 

Cunha died in 1909 not completing the book in a single novel, but it was launched later as 'The Amazon: Land without History'.  

“Such is the river, then, and such its history: tumultuous, disorganized, incomplete.

The wild Amazonian region has always had the gift of impressing far off civilization. From the earliest years of the colony the most imposing of expectations and the most solemn of pastoral visits have sought its unknown lands preferentially. To it have come the most venerable bishops, elegant captains, and lucid scientists. From the tilling of a soil to cultivate exotic crops to developing the aborigine to raise him to the highest destiny, the distant metropole outdid itself in efforts to open up this land that above all others would compensate it for the lost, prodigious India” (p.9).

“Americans have defined railroad engineering in this concise and irreducible formula: the art of making a dollar earn the highest possible interest” (p.84).


“To its collective psychology today the Amazon should refer back, in its entirety, to the old dolorous aphorism created by Barleaus in colonial times to describe its excesses: “Away from the equator I never sinned” (p.12).

“The rubber tapper – I do not mean the wealthy owner but rather the actual practitioner subject to the realm of the paths along which he harvests – engages in a  portentous – anomaly: he is the man who toils in order to enslave himself” (p.12).

  da Cunha, E. 2006, The Amazon: Land without history. Oxford University Press. 

In the performance project we used Euclides text to explore the contrasts  towards the pacified idea of Landschaft from Humboldt, the colonial paradise image of the Amazon and the exploitation of land and workers under the rubber business. The nationalization process of the Amazon by the Brazilian government it is one of the elements we take further in each Landschaft. 

Euclides da Cunha - ruptures and Landschaft

© Photo by Michele Louise Schiocchet. 

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