In the 1920s and ’30s Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast was the scene of a drama to match that of England’s Robin Hood, or – even more similar – that of Jesse James and his gang. A man named Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, better known to history as Lampião, and a desperate band of outlaws rode wild over the countryside. To this day some Brazilians see them as little more than common bandits, while others see them as popular heroes.
From 1936 to 1937 a Brazilian filmmaker was given unprecedented access to Lampião’s gang. The resulting documentary is an amazing look into the life of the cangaçeiros (name given to the outlaw gangs of Northeast Brazil).
In the video you can see scenes from everyday life, including worship, capture and preparation of cattle for food, the women of the camp (Lampião’s famous common-law-wife Maria Bonita can be seen), and Lampião himself (wearing his famous circular sunglasses). There is even a simulated battle. One thing that jumps out to the American viewer is the similarity, in many respects, to images we are accustomed to seeing from the Old West.
Lampião was killed a year after this footage was taken. The Brazilian government at the time was not pleased with the image the footage presented of Brazil, and censored it. It has only seen the light of day in recent years.
Go back in Brazilian history with our Throwback Thursday posts.