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The Cabanagem Rebellion

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The Cabanagem Rebellion ravaged the region around Belém for sixteen months between January 1835 and May 1836, in the uncertain years following Independence and the abdication of Pedro I. What started as a power struggle among Brazil’s new rulers rapidly became a revolt of the poor against racial injustice: the cabanos were mostly black and Indian or mixed-blood settlers who lived in relative poverty in cabaña huts on the flood plains and riverbanks around Belém and the lower Amazon riverbanks. Following years of unrest, the pent-up hatred of generations burst in August 1835. After days of bloody fighting, the survivors of the Belém authorities fled, leaving the cabanos in control. In the area around the city many sugar mills and fazendas were destroyed, and their white owners put to death. Bands of rebels roamed throughout the region, and in most settlements their arrival was greeted by the non-white populations spontaneously joining their ranks, looting and killing.

The rebellion was doomed almost from the start, however. Although the leaders attempted to form some kind of revolutionary government, they never had any real programme, nor did they succeed in controlling their own followers. A British ship became embroiled in the rebellion in October 1835, when it arrived unwittingly with a cargo of arms the authorities had ordered before their hasty departure a couple of months previously. The crew were killed and their cargo confiscated. Five months later, a British naval force arrived demanding compensation from the rebels for the killings and the lost cargo. The leader of the cabanos, Eduardo Angelim, met the British captain and refused any sort of compromise; British trade was now threatened, and the squadron bombarded and blockaded Belém. In May 1836 a force of 2500 Brazilian soldiers under the command of Francisco d’Andrea drove the rebels from Belém. Mopping-up operations continued for years, and by the time the Cabanagem Rebellion was completely over and all isolated pockets of armed resistance had been eradicated, some 30,000 people are estimated to have died – almost a third of the region’s population at that time.

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