The historical personages of Rebellion in the Backlands are not developed or viewed from inside as are characters in a novel. Cunha often gives only their names, and even then he shows an aristocratic bias by naming only officers or leaders: The troops and common folk remain anonymous. The most prominent leaders, however, are accorded elaborate analytical introductions.
Cunha devotes his most complete analysis to Antonio Conselheiro, whom he views as a perfect embodiment of the backlands mentality. Coming from a powerful family previously involved in a bloody feud with a rival family, Antonio Maciel seems born to the pattern of violence endemic to the lawless backlands. Yet the crucial event of his life is a personal blow: When he is a young man, his wife deserts him for a policeman, which seems to leave Antonio Maciel permanently deranged. He begins wandering the backlands roads, eventually adopting the life and appearance (flowing beard, blue tunic, and staff) of an early Christian ascetic. Impressionable and superstitious, the backlands population soon accepts him as Antonio Conselheiro, whose confused message is heard as the wisdom of God. The power which this following gives him makes the Counselor a walking time bomb whose fuse is only shortened by religious and civil persecutions. Primarily important as the rebellion’s instigator, the Counselor gradually fades into the background, dying during Canudos’ last days either from dysentery...
(The entire section is 450 words.)