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Bandit King: Lampiao of Brazil by Billy Jaynes Chandler
ISBN: 0890961948
ISBN13: 978-0890961940
Author: Billy Jaynes Chandler
Book title: Bandit King: Lampiao of Brazil
Other Formats: azw docx rtf lrf
Pages: 276 pages
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press (June 1, 2000)
Language: English
Size PDF version: 1511 kb
Size ePub version: 1766 kb
Size fb2 version: 1146 kb
Category: Americas

What Jesse James was to the United States, Lampião was to Brazil, and then some. With a band that at times numbered a hundred or more, this notorious bandit confronted state armies on more than equal terms and cowed political bosses, virtually dominating large sections of his native northeastern backlands during the 1920s and 1930s. Although Lampião was often brutal and merciless, his occasional acts of compassion, together with his exploits, have made him a folk figure in Brazil.Based on contemporary news accounts, archival materials, and extensive interviews by the author, this book presents the first systematic and reliable account of the famed desperado.Examining Lampião’s career from his boyhood in Pernambuco to his death at Angicos, Chandler sorts fact from fiction and places the bandit in the context of the backlands, where in the early part of this century becoming a cangaceiro (bandit) was as natural and attractive to the son of a tenant or small farmer as taking a degree in law or medicine was for the sons of the Recife or Salvador elite. Chandler sees Lampião and other cangaceiros as the inevitable products of a lawless society in which frontier conditions reminiscent of the American West persisted far into the twentieth century.

Books reviews
"Greatest" is a mixed compliment, since many bandits are violent, even sadistic sociopaths. But most bandits' careers lasted one, two, perhaps three years at most before being snuffed out by the (so-called) forces of law and order. But Lampaio (Virgulino Ferreira) was a successful bandit for 16 years, from 1922-38 in Northeast Brazil, a drought-prone region of great poverty and inequality that was long a fertile breeding ground for banditry. By that standard alone, he surely was one of the greatest. He was extremely shrewd and resourceful, and one reason for his longevity was that he avoided clashes with armed opponents whenever possible, though he could fight well when he had to.

Chandler superbly recreates the life and times of Lampiao, and due to the timing of his investigations this effort is unlikely to be surpassed. His 1970s research led him to many people who knew or encountered Lampaio, and his oral data becomes more valuable with each eyewitnesses' passing. Chandler also uses a wide range of other sources, including police reports and other archival materials, newspaper articles, photographs, folktales and songs. Lampiao was among the best-documented bandits ever, partly because of the growth of various modern media during his lifetime, but also because he was something of a publicity hound, clearly relishing his notoriety and even negotiating with a film producer to play himself on screen (too bad it never happened!). But make no mistake: he was a very dangerous criminal, and an outlaw's life in the harsh Nordeste backlands was anything but romantic. Brazil's modernizing Vargas regime of the 1930s eventually tired of the disorder and bad press associated with banditry, and directed sufficient resources toward combating the phenomenon. By 1938 when he was betrayed, ambushed and beheaded, Lampiao was a throwback to an earlier era.

One of the strengths of "The Bandit King" is Chandler's skill in addressing broader issues raised by Lampaio's career. The best-known is the question of social banditry. The archetypal social bandit for English-language readers is, of course, Robin Hood, and the myth of social bandits has them "robbing from the rich to give to the poor." This rarely happened in history, and the author uncovered little reliable evidence that Lampaio ever redistributed wealth -- except to himself, his band and supporters. But Chandler partially redefines social banditry by noting that bandits often were admired by the powerless who were at the mercy of corrupt officials and vicious policemen. Violent men who resisted an oppressive state could thus be heroes even to those they declined to help directly, and might even victimize. This book also fully documents a crucial but neglected aspect of successful bandits: they received protection from landowners and other powerful patrons, who might employ them to do their own dirty work. Lampaio would not have survived as long as he did without hideouts and material support provided by men whose word was law in their own lands.

BJ Chandler has produced a rare work: a thoroughly scholarly book that compels popular attention. "The Bandit King" is very well-written and exciting, though some readers will flinch at the accounts of brutality. Barring discovery of new sources, it is likely the best, if not last, word, and compares well with the finest Brazilian scholarship. More information on the Nordeste and its bandits is in R. Chilcote ed., "Protest and Resistance in Angola and Brazil," J. de Castro, "Death in the Northeast," and J. Guimaraes Rosa, "The Devil to Pay in the Backlands," a major Brazilian novel. On social bandits, the classic if controversial study is E. Hobsbawm, "Bandits," which receives a telling critique in an African context in D.Crummey ed., "Banditry, Rebellion and Social Protest in Africa." An insightful Mexican study is P. Vanderwood, "Disorder and Progress."
This is the only book so far on Lampiao in English. It is a riveting account. Besides his ugly side toward informants who ratted on him, Chandler mentions Lampiao had a humane side toward those who supported him and his brigands. Chandler also describes some of the tactics the Bandit King used to elude the "volantes" (police) --- walking backwards over their footprints, and wearing animalskins on their shoes to avoid leaving footprints, among others. But for how long can one continue to literally get away with murder?? The atrocities he committed on his enemies are squeamish to read (I won't mention them, here). For these gory acts, it is no wonder he and his gang met their grisly end in Angicos. Also, the book is very descriptive about life in Northeastern Brazil during the 1920's and '30's. While reading, I've tried to envision these isolated areas with their arid, rough terrain. An interesting, yet, at times, disturbing, biography.
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