Enchanted in the middle of the people: The presence of the Prophet Saint John Mary in Santa Catarina

30/04/2020 11:40

Tânia Welter’s book will interest many readers. Her light and fluent prose stimulates us to read and to reflect on the take us through a contemporary universe in which religiosity linked to a holy figure who passes through social classes, religions and ethnicities. Stimulated by her own experience as a researcher and teacher, Tânia Welter arrives at the figure of João Maria without stopping at an exploration history of the monk João Maria and of the Contestado War, theme so widely treated by various researchers. Before, it explores the contemporaneity of the universe of social relations that it calls “Joanine”: the universe today of the devotees of the monk João Maria. Dialogues, in However, with historians and anthropologists who have dedicated themselves to the subject.

Without neglecting an appropriate methodology, showing the reader its production process, the text is not made in academic jargon restricted. However, the reader will be led to theoretical reflections and from them you’ll enjoy it if you choose to. Here begins the expression of the respect of author with those who are involved or have been involved in her work. In building the Joanine designation for her research universe, Welter is not building an ideal guy. Joanine is, rather, a interpretation device that makes it possible to show characteristics of a multifaceted universe which, as a result, makes it possible to know the extent of the social and cultural value of the figure of the monk to this day, past over 100 years from his death. This amplitude corresponds to a range of “appropriations” of the figure of the monk in rituals that propagate regardless of one’s religious affiliation and in the definition of places sanctified by him. The progressive and relatively fast introduction of Pentecostal churches into a universe primarily catholic did not bring back the devotion to the monk nor the rituals to him related. Welter’s approach opposes the folklorization of the monk and of the historical episode of its origin – the Contestado War (1912-16). Treated by the people of the Joanine universe as the Holy War, it is this is the historical fact to which the memory of John Mary refers. Welter treats also with a deep respect to the people with whom he lived during his long and extensive research work. The research work is a high point of this book, not only for the extent of the covered field but for the care with which the records were made and organized. It is worthy of notes the merit of a Tânia Welter researcher who immersed herself in her field without losing perspective on the goal of his work.

She shows, then, how John Mary is still the figure that justifies family and social structures and even, in certain cases, leads to female empowerment. It shows how the elements that constitute the holiness of John Mary unveil a universe of social values who cross classes, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. It shows how your sanctification by individuals and families leads to identification with the nature by associating the monk with clean waters and fertile fields, and that the perspective of the end of the world is present in many formulations of John Mary as prophet. It also shows that John Mary is a factor of aggregation in peasant struggles and that both political and ecclesiastical power appropriate the figure of the monk in specific ways and on specific occasions.

The book closes with a dense chapter of theoretical reflections that are responsible for the competent handling of field material. On the other hand, they are a stimulus to the birth of new questions and questions to be answered by other researches in the field of religiosity. In this book, in addition to what has been said, the purpose of inciting questions has been fully accomplished. Good answers lead to new questions.

Presentation of the book by Maria Amélia Schmidt Dickie.


WELTER, Tânia. Encantado no meio do povo: a presença do Profeta São João Maria em Santa Catarina. Sao Bonifacio: Edições do Instituto Egon Schaden, 2018.


16/04/2020 12:11

The story begins in 1888, when Princess Isabel decrees the Golden Law, abolishing slavery in Brazil. Coffee production in this period was the great economy of Brazil and especially in São Paulo, but the farms worked with slave labor and with the abolition of slavery came the idea and the need to bring labor from immigrants.

During the same period, Japan was isolated from the rest of the world for a period of more than 200 years during the EDO dynasty, ruled by the Tokogawa family, and there were no wars, epidemics and emigrants. Japan’s problem was that, being an archipelago, it would soon become saturated with overpopulation and that was what happened at the end of the 19th century. With the opening of its borders to foreign trade, many farmers suffered from unemployment due to the mechanization of agriculture, others lost their land because they could no longer pay the taxes that were collected in cash and no longer from their production, so they migrated to large cities that ended up being saturated with miserable workers.

The problem is that before in Brazil only migration of European citizens was allowed, because due to prejudice, the idea was to ‘whiten the population’. Only in 1890 did President Deodoro da Fonseca sign a decree allowing the immigration of people from Africa and Asia, but only with the permission of Congress. Already in 1892 Law No. 97 was passed, which allowed this process without restrictions.

Despite the beginning of planning on immigration between the two countries, in 1897 there was a crisis with overproduction of coffee and the price fell sharply, recovering only in 1901 and Brazil again encouraged immigration of Japanese to work on coffee farms. In 1905, Japan’s Minister Fukashi Sugimura visited Brazil to write a report for the Japanese authorities, the Minister was well received and welcomed and thus reported on the country in a positive manner. Thus began the preparations for the arrival of the first ship with Japanese immigrants that arrived in Brazil on the ship Kasato Maru on June 18, 1908 in the port of Santos bringing with it 781 Japanese.

However, the arrival in Brazil was not as expected by the immigrants, because despite having a negotiation agreement between the two governments for immigration, the labor agency was carried out by private companies that live based on profits. The Brazilian propaganda to encourage immigrants was that coffee was easy to pick with your hands, it was the “tree that gave gold” due to great productivity and that the contractors would give housing, but without specifying the housing conditions, because they needed to make it attractive to the Japanese. Then, they soon saw that they wouldn’t get rich enough to return to their country of origin, another difficulty was the adaptation with the climate, alimentary habits and the way of life in general, besides the prejudice.

However, after years, some families ended up saving enough to buy their first land here, moreover, the immigration contracts were made with the family, meaning that the Japanese could not come here single or alone it was necessary to come in couples and with children. These factors ended up perpetuating the stay of the Japanese in Brazil.

The first impression of Brazilians for the Japanese, despite the prejudice, was quite surprising, this because the Japanese came here from lower social classes and the Brazilians thought they would be dirty and miserable people and when they arrived here even the lower classes of Japanese were extremely clean, organized and educated.

Some even brought pen and paper which at that time was considered a luxury for a manual laborer. Although everyone had educated dignity, prejudice still existed in most of the population and the media spoke ill of the government that wanted to bring them.

Due to the isolation in the countryside to work on the farms, they lived more or less as they did in their home country, formed communities around here with Japanese schools for their children and continued to speak Japanese, many did not even learn the Portuguese language while living here. After the Kasato Maru, several other ships came to Brazil bringing thousands of immigrants who later dispersed to several states of the country forming colonies and spreading the culture of their people.


FREITAS, Eduardo de. Imigração japonesa no Brasil. Mundo Educação, 2018. Disponível em: <https://mundoeducacao.bol.uol.com.br/geografia/imigracao-japonesano-brasil.htm>. Acesso em: 22 mar. 2020.

KAWANAMI, Silvia. Imigração japonesa no Brasil. Japão em Foco, 2008. Disponível em: <https://www.japaoemfoco.com/imigracao-japonesa-no-brasil/>. Acesso em: 16 abr. 2020.

Text by Alexandre Lima de Oliveira

The Contestado War: Brazil’s Biggest Civil War

15/04/2020 16:10

The Contestado War was an armed conflict between the peasants and the army of the states of Santa Catarina and Paraná – a region that did not have the boundaries well defined, therefore the name Contestado – between 1912 and 1916. The construction of the railroad by the North American company Brazil Railway, which linked the city of São Paulo to Santa Maria, in Rio Grande do Sul, is considered by researchers to be one of the main reasons for the conflict. 

Together with the concession for the construction of the road, the Brazil Railway Company, created by Percival Farquhar in 1906, now owns 15 kilometers of land strip on either side of the highway. This concession expelled thousands of caboclos from their lands who would have nowhere else to make a living. The large complex, in addition to working in the railroad branch, promoted the deforestation of the region for use in logging companies.

The original inhabitants of the region, who lost their lands, rebelled. They destroyed railway stations, burned Lumber, in the city of Calmon, which was part of the Company, and attacked the colonels, who represented the state. The war left approximately 8,000 dead, mostly poor peasants from the Contestado region.

The map below shows the State of Santa Catarina, and the path taken by the railroad in dotted, with the cities of the region in focus.

Source: DIACON, Todd A. Millenarian vision, capitalist reality – Brazil’s Contestado Rebelion, 1912-1916. 4 ed., Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002. p. 47. 


VALENTINI, Delmir José. Atividades da Brazil Railway Company no sul do Brasil: A instalação da Lumber e a Guerra na região do Contestado (1906-1916). PUCRS. Porto Alegre, 2009. Disponível em: <http://tede2.pucrs.br/tede2/handle/tede/2277>. Acesso em: 15 abr. 2020.

Text by Karen Wesseler Jung.


Monk João Maria – important figure of the Contestado War

06/04/2020 15:47

In 1851, the monk João Maria D’Agostin, a healer, hermit, alchemist, prophet, mystic and profound connoisseur of the occult sciences, arrived in the region of the disputed (old town of Curitibanos). This enigmatic figure made the way for the troopers to reach the south of the country, becoming known as the messianic figure. The historical moment that the country was going through, with the arrival of European immigrants in lands already occupied by the native population, made this impoverished people feel abandoned by the authorities. The monk’s presence was seen as a religious reference by these relatively isolated populations.

Many authors suggest that another João Maria would have appeared between 1886 and 1893, and that the figures that are known to this day of the monk would have been made of him. The story has many variations, but the main line is that the prophet would have had a dream, that he should go out into the world of penitentiary and preaching. The beginning of the Contest Movement in that same period, in a struggle against economic and political power, used the name of the monk João Maria as a symbol of the movement. If it was a priest, or many known by the same name who contributed to the monk’s vision of immortality and reincarnation, the fact is that his figure attracts pilgrims to this day. 

As a result of the covid-19 pandemic, where social isolation is necessary, uncertainties and fears permeate the minds of the residents of the Contestado region. However, images of the monk João Maria circulate through social media, bringing comfort to those who believe in the saint and pray to him. The figure of “The monk who heals”, as in 1912, brings comfort again to the population that is going through difficulties. The photo of the saint shared in a Facebook group in the city of Curitibanos received more than 500 likes and a hundred comments from its faithful. As an example, comments like that of Rozana Lima, who says: “Protect us, Saint John Mary” are the most common. The belief in the monk remains alive in the memory of the residents of the Contestado region and manifests itself mainly in times of adversity.

Commentary of a city member in the post (João Maria the monk who heals) taken from Mercadão Curitibanos page of facebook.

Figure of the Monk João Maria shared in Facebook group.

Source: Post held in a private Facebook group Mercadão Curitibanos available at: <https://www.facebook.com/groups/638473372930818/for_sale_search/?forsalesearchtype=all&query=monge&referral_surface=direct_link&availability=available>.

The Monument to the Monk João Maria, built from 1983 to 1989 in the city of Curitibanos/SC, receives devotees and religious, who come to seek the saint’s blessing. The figure, which brought hope and inspiration to the peasant movement, is still worshipped and maintains its importance immortalized in the popular imagination of the Contestado Valley residents.

Monument to the monk João Maria, in the district of Água Santa in the municipality of Curitibanos/SC. Photograph taken by Daniel Granada, project coordinator.

Image of the Monk João Maria present in the monument. Photograph taken by Daniel Granada, project coordinator.


WELTER, Tania. O Profeta João Maria continua encantando no meio do Povo: Um estudo sobre os discursos contemporâneos a respeito de João Maria em Santa Catarina. Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. Florianópolis, 2007. Disponível em: <https://cpdoc.fgv.br/sites/default/files/imagens/dossies/contestado/trabalhos/WELTERTania.pdf>. Acesso em: 06 abr. 2020.

MONUMENTO ao monge João Maria. Alma Cabocla Proposta de Desenvolvimento Turístico Cultural. Blogger. Curitibanos, 2014. Disponível em: <http://contestadoalmacabocla.blogspot.com/2014/10/monumento-ao-monge-joao-maria.html>. Acesso em: 06 abr. 2020.

Text by Karen Wesseler Jung.

New Immigrant Valley generates criticism from researchers

01/04/2020 15:21

The Contestado War (1912-1916), which put the peasants and the Federal Government of the time on opposite sides, took place in the former Contestado Valley. The memory of the war is preserved in museums, monuments, historical sites and religious pilgrimage spaces in several municipalities of the Contestado valley. The historical region built by the presence of German, Italian and Japanese immigrants, in addition to the caboclos and person of African descent who already inhabit the region, is today a much sought after tourist destination in Brazil.

On July 4, 2019, the decision of the Contestado Valley Regional Government was issued, changing the name of the tourist region to Vale do Imigrante, which will consist of 25 municipalities, including the cities of Itaiópolis, Mafra, Major Vieira and Porto União. The detachment of Vale do Contestado has already been recognized by the Ministry of Tourism and is part of the 13th tourist region of Santa Catarina, being published in the Brazilian Tourism Map 2019.

This controversial decision, taken without consultation with the academics and historians of the Memory Institution of the region, was not well received by the majority of the population and a denunciation of the absence of debates about the substitution was taken to the Public Ministry and Legislative Assembly. According to Professor Nilson Cesar Fraga, who has been studying the region and the Contestado War for 25 years, the change is an “attack against the formation of the Santa Catarina people”. The history and effects that the Guerra do Contestado had on the region, and the presence of blacks and caboclos have their importance denied in favour of the valorisation of European colonisation.

Such a controversial decision, taken without consultation with the academics and historians of the Institution of the Memory of the region, was not well received by the majority of the population. The history and effects that the Contest War had on the region, and the presence of blacks and caboclos have their importance denied in favor of the valorization of European colonization. The Government justified its decision in the minutes as a better way of presenting the region for the tourist route.

The Government Court justified its decision in minutes as a better way of presenting the region for the tourist route, trying to make the Valley of the Immigrant a tourist project that reminds the gaucho cities of Gramado and Canela.  For the researcher Paulo Pinheiro Machado, professor of History at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, trying to imitate a successful model, denying the identity of the region is a disrespect for our history and there is no economic justification that allows this achievement.

For the president of IGR Caminhos do Contestado, Viviane Bueno, the dismemberment will help to develop the region, which is one of the most impoverished in Santa Catarina. It justifies that cities like Piratuba, with much more infrastructure, were classified in the same region as municipalities that did not have the capacity to serve visitors.


BASTOS, Ângela. Mudança do nome e perda de área do Vale do Contestado geram críticas de pesquisadores. NCS Total notícias, 2019. Disponível em: <https://www.nsctotal.com.br/noticias/mudanca-do-nome-e-perda-de-area-do-vale-do-contestado-geram-criticas-de-pesquisadores>. Acesso em: 23 de março de 2020.
MACHADO, Paulo Pinheiro. Em defesa da Memória, da Justiça e da Cidadania das populações do Contestado. Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. Florianópolis, 2019. Disponível em: <https://paulopinheiro.paginas.ufsc.br/2019/11/>. Acesso em: < 23 de março de 2020.

Text by Karen Wesseler Jung and Francine Soares de Almeida.