Hamlet of Canudos Lures Curious Visitors and the Big Screen

Talk of The Town

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Over the years, Canudos - home a century ago to Antonio Conselheiro's religious community - has attracted a steady stream of historians, journalists, authors, and tourists. Many visitors stop to talk to the town "stars" - the children of survivors of the massacre who remember minute details of the war learned from their parents and grandparents.

Joao Ernesto Santana comes to life when he tells stories about his Uncle Francisco, who survived because he was sent to look for food before the town fell to the Army.

"They called him Big Chico and he killed a lot of soldiers," Mr. Santana says. "Before each battle, he would say 'Let's get them for our father Conselheiro.' "

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"My mother told me about the war, because God wanted someone left to tell the story," says Julia de Jesus de Guerra. "If they had all died, how would we know what really happened?"

The Canudos saga has fascinated storytellers of all kinds. In 1981, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa wrote one of the great works of Latin American literature based on it, entitled "The War of the End of the World." He also wrote a screenplay for Paramount in which actor Jack Palance was to play Conselheiro, but the movie was never made. Now, the blockbuster Brazilian feature film, "The War of Canudos," premieres nationwide on Oct. 3.

"If Brazilian cinema was as prolific as American, the Canudos war would have the same importance [for us] as the Vietnam War has for Americans," says journalist Pedro Butcher.

Indeed, the entire town of Canudos showed up for a sneak preview of the film on Sept. 25.

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