The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)

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IN CONTEXT

FOCUS

Indianism/Indianismo

BEFORE

1609 Garcilaso Inca de la Vega, son of a Spanish conquistador and an Incan princess, writes Comentarios Reales de los Incas, a prose work about Incan traditions and customs, and Spain’s conquest of Peru.

1851 Brazilian poet Gonçalves Dias publishes one of the most famous poems of the Indianism movement, I-Juca-Pirama, about a Tupi warrior. The title is in Tupi and means, “He who must die that is worthy to be killed.”

1856 A Confederação dos Tamoios is published. An epic poem about the Tupi people by Brazilian poet and playwright Gonçalves de Magalhães, it was commissioned by Brazilian Emperor Pedro II.

Indianism was a literary and artistic movement in mid-19th-century Brazil, in which writers and artists showed the country’s indigenous people, the Indians, in a heroic light.

Two main factors contributed to Indianism. First, Brazil had only recently gained independence from Portugal (in 1821–24), so authors were expressing the idea that their new nation was one in which tribes and Europeans were united and equal. The second factor was the arrival in Brazil of Romanticism from Europe, which cherished the indigenous people for their perceived innocence and spiritual purity (views that derived from the 18th-century sentimental vision of the “noble savage”).

Romantic idealism

José de Alencar (1829–77) is regarded as the father of the Brazilian novel, and The Guarani first brought him to the attention of the public. Set in 1604, it tells the story of an early settler whose daughter, Cecilia, has a suitor but instead falls for Peri, the Guarani Indian of the book’s title. Peri is an idealized creation, exotic yet noble, who abandons his tribe and approves of Christian teachings.

Alencar’s inclusion of native vocabulary, such as terms for flora and fauna, was seen as scandalous by the Portuguese literary establishment, but it freed Brazil’s literature to develop in its own way. Highly romantic and lyrical, The Guarani is still taught in Brazilian schools today.

"They were brave, fearless men, uniting with the resources of civilized man, the cunning and agility of the Indian."


The Guarani

See also: The Last of the Mohicans • The Gaucho Martín Fierro