Women, literature and historic events in the hinterlands of Bahia-BR
Apropriated photographs, documents, newspapers, books
Lecture, projections, Installation


Modern women, archaic ventures The early days of photography in the Sertão Family photographs and forgotten memories The invisible women of the Canudos’s war The short appearance of women in a seminal book of Brazilian literature, “Os Sertões” and some considerations on the misogyny of the author, engineer and intellectual, Euclydes da Cunha.

Research on photography & memory; an intersection between family photographs; a seminal book of Brazilian literature (“Os Sertões” by Euclides da Cunha), and the dawn of photography in the “sertão”. The narrative is permeated by the attempt to identify traces of the female presence and make sense of their existence within the events.




The focus of my research is my maternal village, Vila Bela das Queimadas, at the beginning of the 19th century, a rural community in the heart of the Bahia hinterland. The region began to be explored at the end of the 17th century, when the “conquerors” invaded the territory, seeking control of gold and land and decimating the indigenous inhabitants. The territory is part of the large dry area that occupies almost the entire interior of the Brazilian Northeast, which is chronically marked by unproductive large estates, cyclical droughts and chronic unemployment, with the exploitation of peasant labor by rural landowners. This situation was worsened by the recent abolition of slavery (1888), which threw millions of former slaves onto the streets.

The village was settled around 1815, on two large farms belonging to a woman, the childless widow Dona Isabel Maria Guedes de Brito. After her husband's death, she settled on the farms with a sister. These are the first women to appear in the plot.


Little is known about Dona Isabel beyond her Portuguese name and exclusive possession of those vast lands, but it is not difficult to infer that she was a daring pioneer in a rudimentary territory. Aiming for settlement, she donated part of her land to anyone who wanted to put down roots there and built a church dedicated to Saint Anthony, built after a vision of the saint on top of a hill. The donation of land and the construction of a church were essential steps towards the settlement of the village.

Photography did not exist in her time and there is no painting or drawing depicting Dona Isabel, so we cannot distinguish what she looked like. Dona Isabel is our Eva, the first woman with a first and last name in the region. Although there is no clue as to whether she was related to us, I still consider her the first recorded ancestor of all of us - as well as of the indigenous people and the enslaved Africans, of whom no historical traces remain.

1 - “Isabel” © Neyde Lantyer
2 - “Tatu” ©  Frans Post
3 - “Eve” © Neyde Lantyer
4, 5 - Neyde Lantyer. Appropriated from public archives
6- Neyde Lantyer. Appropriated from family collection 
7, 8 - © Mornay. Bendengo Meteorite, 1816
  9 -   Appropriated from family collection



The most significant photographs taken in the region, in the 19th century, portrayed the “Battle of Canudos” (1896-1897), a political-religious movement near Vila Bela das Queimadas, which resulted in a huge bloodbath.


(...) The head of the movement, a man known as “the Counselor”, attracted thousands of peasants and former slaves to a place that became known as Canudos. In his preaching, a mix of religion, mysticism and revolt against misery, the Couselor promised salvation while casting apocalyptic prophecies about the end of the world, deflagrating a movement that became a menace to the supply of labor in the region. Ultimately, the movement emerged as a threat to the newly proclaimed Brazilian Republic (1889).

In response, the powerful landowners, together with the Catholic Church, which found itself threatened by the rebellious preaching of a layman, pressured the government to combat the movement, alleging rumors that Canudos intended to invade neighboring cities and leave for the capital.

© D. Urpia. Canudos before the war.

© Flavio de Barros. Canudos after the last assault, 1897

War was declared. The Brazilian army dispatched the 1st expedition (600 men), then the 2nd (1,500 men) and the 3rd (2,500 men), and all three were defeated by the rebels, alarming public opinion in the large cities who demanded the annihilation of the annihilation of Canudos (25,000 inhabitants). The popular claim gave legitimacy to the massacre perpetrated by the 4th expedition (6,000 men), which finally defeated the revolt.

The war lasted a year and ended with 25,000 deaths, including 5,000 soldiers, plus the total destruction of Canudos.

From “Os Sertões”, Da Cunha, Euclydes.


The photograph here below, taken by Flavio de Barros, dipicts the women prisoners at the aftermatch.
Even though the official documents hardly mention it, 2/3 of the population of Canudos were women, or about 16,000 individuals. Records say that only 300 women and children survived the war - and we can see them here, looking directly at the photographer. Unofficial reports give notice that they were taken to the capital, sold as slaves or prostitutes, and then disappeared without a trace.

What happened to them?

© Neyde Lantyer. Drawing on Flavio de Barros’s photograph, 2019

Drawing on Flavio de Barros’s photograph, details, 2019


Mixed media on photograph, 2014

My maternal family was formed a few years before the war with a legendary story: the visit of three beautiful sisters to Vila Bela das Queimadas, Joaquina, Mariana and Isabel. They came from a neighboring village, accompanied by their father, for an evening of poetry and music by the local philharmonic orchestra.

Despite the region's cultural aridity, there were philharmonic orchestras performing on celebratory occasions and special gatherings for local families, as well as erratic poets willing to recite their poetry.

For some kind of wonder - or perhaps some previous arrangement  - at the end of the visit the three of them were committed with three of the most prestigious local bachelors, three cousins among themselves. The weddings happened in the same day, a year later - two of the new couples, my maternal great-grandparents.

*Let’s not forget that getting married was absolutely important for a “woman of family”, valuating and giving her a place in society. And if the man was somehow powerful, her value raised in face of the community and in everybody’s eyes.



Five years after the Canudos bloodbath, Euclides da Cunha launched his masterpiece “Os Sertões”(1902), an immediate success and still considered a seminal book of the Brazilian literature and essential for understanding the country.

Euclides’s narrative was intensely visual to the point that some of his critics said that he was jealous of the photographer Flavio de Barros and his unique images of the episode, which I disagree. In my opinion, is the book - and not the photographs - that creates the mythological image of the “sertão” flagellated, dramatic and fatalistic, a Brazilian icon that - for then on - academics and artists have never ceased to look for. 

In the 1960’s Canudos was flooded by the Cocorobó dam.



Taken by Lindolfo Farias, the engeneer who travelled to the village to buid the road connecting Vila Bela das Queimadas to Cumbe (actual Euclides da Cunha city), between 1920 and 1922, these photographs are a rarity, from my grandfather’s archives. Their outstanding historic value have the merit to provide a rather rich chronicle of the village, giving a perspective into the local social relations in the early 20th century.

Looking at them, one can divise the signs of a “desenvolvimentist” wave that took the sertão in that very moment with the construction of roads and dams and other infra-sctructure to allow the access (and explotation) of that remote region.

Moreover, the photographs offer a glympse on several aspects of the life in the village, such as the movement at the reailway station, a church, a busy street market, a Protestant baptism in the river, a police case, a veteran of the Paraguay war and even a strike by the workers of the road, for lack of payment. Nonetherless, the collection of 40 images are a striking document of the historic work and class relations in the sertão, having also the merit to provide an overview on the bourgeois family life represented by a group of stylish children and two couples, one of them accompained by a black servant. 


Village teacher in the first decades of the 20th century. The first black girl to graduate from the Escola Normal.

Suffragist and councilor; the first woman elected in the first elections in which women voted and were voted in the country (1936).

The schoolteacher who, while still a young student, delivered the official speech to prominent intellectual Ruy Barbosa, visiting the village as a presidential candidate (1919).



(by several photographers)

(by several photographers)

The family house, known as Chalet Lantyer, is a monument built between 1900 and 1906 in French style.