A brief history of the plague – VI

Image_Oto Vale


The meaning of the plague in colonial Brazil


Similar ships, loaded with sinners and convicts, when freed from the dangers of the sea, trafficked the very Catholic Portuguese plague in the overseas bays, then in the captaincies of the kingdom, even if at that time this sterility was attributed to bad weather caused by pestiferous winds, such as the which in 1563 touched those sea coasts, as can be read in the third book of the Chronicle of the Society of Jesus, in which Father Simão de Vasconcellos deals with the foundations they laid in them:

1 – Prosperous times are in the hand of the great Father of storekeepers, and the season of the harvests: and as it often happens, that fertile years succeed barren ones; so too in our spiritual harvest of Bahia, the fertility of past years succeeds in this 1563 less plentiful harvest. It was the human cause of a terrible inclement weather, or corruption, which, like a plague, contaminated the greatest part of the earth. It started off the island of Itáparica, reached the city, and from there along the coast running north, took the villages of S. Paulo, S. João, S. Miguel, and many others, which in that part Christians, and Gentiles, and scarcely left a quarter of their residents alive: the number of passing through thirty thousand souls was budgeted, those of the Captaincy of Bahia only, spectacle on the one hand in misery, on the other hand of graces to Heaven (whose offerings are) because he seems to have been coveting the already ripened fruit of the past two years, of so many souls reduced to grace through baptismal agony; and he wanted to take advantage of them before they could be perverted by their natural inconstancy. But if the opportunity for growth of the baptized was lacking, it was no small service of God that these servants of his will carry out in helping those who fell sick, and preparing those who died; because as they were happy at the beginning of their Christianity, they were also happy at the end of it. Flying on various estancias, where, around the already Christians, many thousands of gentile adults were baptized in extremis, who would probably be in danger, if it weren't for such a happy tide.

2 – The disease started with severe pain inside the entrails, which made their livers rot, and puffs: and soon it came to blisters, so rotten and venomous, that their flesh fell off in pieces full of foul-smelling bugs. . The Fathers did not know who to turn to first; because at the same time many people were fleeing in different places, and it was not possible to leave what they already had in order to help those who did not. It happened to Father Gregorio Serrão, who was assisting in the village of Itáparica, as he was helping one of these to die well, a young man told him that an Indian had given birth at that same hour in the middle of the terreiro (a common thing in the time of that illness, due to the grip of the pains that tired) and left the childbirth unattended, and it was gone, and that the child was on the verge of dying; the zealous worker was afflicted, because it was necessary to go and help that soul, and on the other hand there was danger of leaving this other. In the midst of these old women, the dying Indio said: «Do not feel sorry, Father, help this soul, I will wait for you.» It was the priest, he found two twin children, one already dead, the other on the point of death: he baptized this one, she went to Heaven, and the priest returned to his patient, whom he found still alive, but waiting for a moment for him. From this example many can be freed from the grip of this contagious disease.[I]

The plague is said to be a form of contamination whose cause is a corruption of the air that is said to be terrible and contagious, a natural explanation that, however, refers to the udder source that inebriates the heavens, the great Father. This mode of contamination is comparable to that of less fertile crops, because if, in less prosperous times, for some external cause, the movement of growth, which is that of the crop, suffers some interruption that compromises the formation of the grain; also the movements of growth and displacement, which are those of the farmers as a whole, periodically suffer from interruptions that lose the past fatigues, so that, if the plague that impedes the movement of plant growth is from the earth, the animal counterpart is from the air from her, the plague, impeding the growth and displacement of men, generating the first the suffering of hunger, the second, that of pestilential diseases.

Beginning on one side, the plague runs along the coastline, stopping where Christians find Gentiles, taking away villages, unlike the plague that enters the cities, which gradually arrives in some neighborhoods, taking away the security of the city and promoting separations, but not takes them all at once. The miseries that accompany the plague coincide with the grace of Heaven, which launches it to save the souls of converts but unstable, which the pestilential divine providence saves from perversion, saving likewise the fruits of catechesis, thus converts to the perdition of the body. in salvation of the soul, and the action of the plague is deified: a disconcerting spectacle of misery and grace.

The servants of God render help to the divine disease, they are the ones who work in the desolate resorts, they run them baptizing the Gentiles, because by the conversion of the soul they save them from the dangers that the bodies face. The outbreaks of the plague cause many people to fall ill and perish at the same time in different places, so that there is a lack of anyone to assist them or help their souls. In the midst of the grip of the contagious disease, what is unusual and extraordinary is done as a normal and usual thing, the everyday reasons of life are inverted, the reconversion of jobs is demanded, many are now exercised by a single person. The suddenness of the changes demonstrates how transitory life is, generating anxieties that involve pain and hope, to which is added the anguish brought by the sister who walks with the plague:

38 – It is common for evils to go hand in hand, and for a plague to be soon followed by a plague. The residents of Bahia will experience this tenor of nature (quite at their expense): the last year, 1563, was spent groaning with a quasi plague, or pestilent corruption, which took the lives of three parts of the Indians (miserable damage!) Enter the year 1564, and we see that a terrible famine enters with it, like a new mortality, and no small anguish of the Fathers who took care of the villages. It was the same cause of hunger as that of disease, the weathering of the air, first applied to the bodies, now to the fruits: it was a great pain; because when these beautiful ones are born, brightening the sight and inciting hope, they die in the best evil achieved; first withering, defeated by the insults of time, until it falls to the ground, following in the footsteps of plagued men. There were a great number of those who ended up in these villages every day at the hands of this tyrannical hunger: and it was necessary for the Fathers to change the type of work; and what they used to apply to the conversion of souls, they now apply to the healing of bodies: they sought the sustenance of life; but as much as they could gather, it turned out to be nothing among so many.[ii]

As if plague or pestilential corruption are ways of saying any diseases arising from the intemperance of the air that are terribly contagious and that make the entire region groan through which they roam, which suffers miserable damage, as it loses a large part of the inhabitants, who are not, however, equally affected, because the Indians suffer the most.

The weather of the air causes like a plague, when it defiles the bodies of men; but when the earth passes into fruition, it is the cause of famine, so that each of the two evils, famine and pestilence, are diverse effects of a common cause. However, not being able to contain the injury of the weather, that is, their cause, the priests seek the remedy according to the effect, consisting of that of the plague in the conversion of the souls of lost bodies, already that of hunger, in the support of the body, so that let the former involve the care of the spiritual life, the latter that of the earthly.

Having appeared around the island of Itaparica, in 1563 advancing on the city of the Captaincy of Bahia, from there following the outline of the continental border, the malodorous plague moved north: it reached the villages, lasted until 64, then disappeared. After that, a pestilence came over the Captaincy of Espírito Santo which, as it came to cause blisters and similar damage, seems to be the same as in the north, which, vagabond, descended less miseranda and more slowly, until it appeared cruel in 1565 in the villages further south:

70 – Lately [Father Diogo Jacome] has been sent[iii] to the Captaincy of Espírito Santo, and there he was in charge of the residence of a village (of two that there was) of the Indio Principal, called the great Gato. Here, after working tirelessly, with the zeal of an apostolic man, in the culture of those barbarian people, of bringing to the Faith, cathequizing, and baptizing a large number of them, at the end of his work, the Lord wanted to finish plowing this servant of his with a cruel pestilence of pox that came over those villages, so inhumane, that it contaminated almost everyone, and rare of those infected left alive. A pitiful spectacle was seen there; because the houses would also serve as hospitals for the sick, as a burial ground for the dead: the living among the dead were almost equal, and you didn't know which ones you would have more compassion for; if from the living to seek his remedy, or if from the dead to use with them the common pity of a tomb. Those called you to voices, these with the pestiferous smell of four by four huns over other rotten and corrupt ones. Father Diogo intermingled with them by day, and by night with another companion Pedro Gonçalves, were the bleeders, the Surgeons, the Doctors, and together the Parsons, Recoverers, and at all alone; because in the presence of such great misery, they could only find someone who helped to take a deceased person to the sacred; either because they were all sick, or because those who were not were thus fleeing corruption, and the bad smell of them, as of death itself. So much so that halfway through the journey I fled, leaving the weight of the deceased entirely in the hands of the Fathers, who would fall with him from weakness. There is nothing new about these people; whose nature is so hardened by sylvanity, that in any laborious illness, parents will abandon their children, and children their parents: so many will do in this one, taking in what was strong for that, for the sertão, without any respect of nature, or of grace.

71 – So tired of so much excessive work, consumed with sheer disgust at such a sad event, seeing so soon undone, devastated, and abandoned a numerous village, which he cordially loved, for whom he had sweated and worked so much, he lost his breath and strength, and fell into a great fever. With this he was brought to the Casa da Villa: and even here, God wanted to test him with a new refinement of work, and of obedience: because, taking care of the Superior, after a few days, he was better, seeing the great need of that village, almost depopulated , invited only the priest to come back to her: but he who in his whole life had been an example of obedience, did not want to diminish her luster in death. And supposing that vital vigor meant the opposite to him, he put everything in the Superior's hands and left. However, I serve the trip to return soon with another act of heroic virtue; but with the breath already so lost, that he almost arrived dead. In the short time that remained of his life, everything was sighing to Heaven, with passionate acts, asking God for mercy, for himself, and for those he had seen end up in that cruel plague, so lacking in spiritual help. The fifth day after his arrival arrived, and having received all the Sacraments, embraced with a devout Image, he left this mortal flesh, and went, as is believed, this good servant to enjoy eternal rest, in the month of April of the year 1565. He is buried in our Church of San-Tiago d'aquella villa. Father Joseph de Anchieta left a memory of this man, and he speaks of him with greater words, calling him a man of great obedience, of great zeal for the salvation of the Indians, who worked a lot among them, with great charity until the end of his life. life; and finally that he came to die for obedience. And in truth, I see two important aspects in this death: that this servant of God risked his life for the charity of the Indians, whom I intend to help; and by the obedience of the Superior, whom I intend to satisfy.[iv]

When the plague comes upon the Gentiles, it is terribly sublimated, as it contaminates many leaving few alive, depopulating the villages. The pitiful spectacle of this plague is distinguished: the houses serving as hospitals and cemeteries; the living, mortified in their homes, equaling the unburied dead, move compassion for pain, these, pity for abandonment; the voices, the moans, the lamentations, the still living agony, and the smell of the pestiferous corruption of the rotten dead, condense, the air condenses; the zealous caregivers of souls work night and day as doctors and surgeons of bodies, the work and bloodletting are prolonged indefinitely, and, moved even though by true Christian charity, they are alone in the face of so much misery and the presence of death, in such a way that the spectacle of the plague proves to be very varied, never being the same everywhere, generating itself from the very nature on which the supernatural disease affects, which appears to be inhuman and cruel in the villages.

The disease of excesses and excessive work, for whose sad success so many are consumed, as well as those who end up in it as well as those who abandon it, distinguishes, moreover, the heroic virtue of those who, although obedient to the calls to which they must respond, unable even though of helping mortal flesh, even so they provide spiritual help with great zeal, wrapped in excessive sweat and risk, moved, however, by the great true charity that, in such examples, extends until the end of life.


The colonial appearance of the Catholic plagues involves the myriad of events generated by the pestilent encounter with the foreigner whose successes are deeply implicated in the successive generations that gave rise to what today is the Brazilian, a body name that, by the way, was incorporated into Portuguese writing around 1680, with Gregórios de Matos[v], who, embarked for his exile, sets eyes on the ungrateful homeland, and says goodbye:

go visit friends
in the ingenuity of each one,
and eating them by a foot
never take your foot out of there.

That the Brazilian are beasts,
and they will be working
a lifetime to keep
Maganos from Portugal.[vi] 

Brazilian, initially, is not even gentile, the office suffix -eiro rather, it refers to those who returned to the metropolis, trafficking in red dyewood, the commodity that became the name of the Brazilian homeland. Designated by those who leave, both the name and the friends who remain come from outside, which shows that the permanent presence of the foreigner is prevalent in the further composition of the people whose very name is taken from the goods that are taken from one kingdom to another. The satirical designation of the crossbow office prevails over the brazilian of Father Anchieta and about the gentle lady Brazilian[vii], by Friar José de Santa Rita Durão[viii], designators respectively of the technique, -ico, and the place of birth, -a-N-A, because it ended up being that, like the peruleiros and cocaleiros, the type of activity, foreign, preponderant in these parts:

in this Brazil different conditions of people to trade compete from all parts, and this trade is treated like the natives of the land.[ix]

The impact of the commercial advance that contacts the Gentiles collapses populations, when the plague's waves escort these as if settlers from outside, who, however, due to the breadth of the land, populate Brazil a few stretches[X].

Communication, not only through the bodies, but also through the cloths and merchandise that one takes[xi], converts the previously erratic plague, which renewed itself step by step, into a circulating plague, which, wrapped in the relatively regular web of traffic, expands with the pace of business, a modern substitute for constant war. The plague event is disconnected from the sporadic encounters that attract its suffering, as it is linked to broader networks that repeatedly promote it, reverberating beyond the surroundings.

This continually intensified commercial activity that periodically generates the circulating plague event alters the nature of events in the places where it occurs, to such an extent that the historically instituted movement of commerce coincides with the scale and speed of the disease infestation. The multiple overlapping of similar events prescribed by the realization of the price of goods in the various places where commercial transactions regularly take place multiplies the routes for the circulation of the plague, as these are the most frequent and extensive transits of its vectors. Thus, infectious transmissions are historicized, with the circulating transmission being the one whose mainstays, existing and subsisting, consist of the displacement of bodies commanded by cycles of price realization linked to mercantile dynamics, which adds to the very physiology of the disease the conceptacle from the which the appearance of the sick person generates the appearance of the plague event, since the disease, when generating the plague, as it is not God who generates his Son, uses a third party who produces it and by which force it effects its fecundity, whose reason it must have proportion and conformity with the nature of the copulation. Plague therefore has two natures, that of a visible, sterile disease, distinct from people, which remains physiologically what it already was, and that of an invisible fertilizing event which, in proportion as it walks among men, begins to be what it once was. was not. The existence of the first does not necessarily imply generative fertilization, the insistent derivative in the historically instituted gregarious complexion that disseminates it and that makes the plague the motive whose growth rate is proportional to the correlational dynamics of its vectors and receptacles, because, with the end of move, add.

The venereal fecundity derived from the global integration of the material modes of production of social life projects the first pandemic plague, which is simultaneously distributed across the entire surface of the globe, affecting the entire population, not of the demo, but of the orb. Such a plague has its symbiotic conceptualization in the market, initially considered as the focus and place of convergence of people and the stage where the exchange value of goods is realized, but whose contemporary form encompasses the entire city, itself metamorphosed into a large market, whose center is everywhere, whose limits are not defined, where a chaotic circulation of bodies prevails, pressed by the need for the advanced capital in the production process, material shaper of the social life under its command, to complete its cycle of valorization, realizing the exchange value in the circulation; so that the movement of capital implies the pestilential event of the pandemic, since both grow from a dynamic that is characteristic of the communication network on which the material production and reproduction of life is based on a continuously accelerated, irrational, anarchic scale, because it is considered pure increasing quantity.

Large populations accumulate in large market-cities, within which the body of the city disintegrates, agglomerating in bewilderment very many bodies without whose settlement capitalist accumulation breaks down, which, running after life itself on a daily basis, generate the privileged dynamics for the lethal circulation of the gregarious disease. It is in the time of the plague that those who are subject to work submitted to the command of capital fully realize the saying of Ecclesiasticus, he who abstains from food adds days to his life, converted into the very activity through which man was to be revived into a vector of mass death. The continuous acceleration of valuation cycles promotes the equally continuous acceleration of displacement of the bodies subject to them, without whose interruption the path of growth of the pandemic plague is sustained, which is generated in the image and likeness of value, since the beneficial effect of a coincides with that of the other, namely, to penetrate the body of the man, alone.

*Yuri Ulbricht He holds a master's degree in philosophy from USP.

To read the first part go to https://aterraeredonda.com.br/uma-breve-historia-da-peste-i/

To read the second part go to https://aterraeredonda.com.br/uma-breve-historia-da-peste-ii/

To read the third part go to https://aterraeredonda.com.br/uma-breve-historia-da-peste-iii/

To read the fourth part go to https://aterraeredonda.com.br/uma-breve-historia-da-peste-iv/

To read the fifth part go to https://aterraeredonda.com.br/uma-breve-historia-da-peste-v/


[I] DeVasconcellos, Simon. Chronica of the Society of Jesus of the State of Brazil. Volume II. Editor AJ Fernandes Lopes, 1865. 1-2. pp. 6-7.

[ii] DeVasconcellos, Simon. Chronica of the Society of Jesus of the State of Brazil. Volume II. Editor AJ Fernandes Lopes, 1865. 38. p. 25.

[iii] DeVasconcellos, Simon. Book III of the Chronica of the Company of Jesus of the State of Brazil (year 1565). Volume II. Editor AJ Fernandes Lopes, 1865. 68. p. 39: “Father Diogo Jacome ended the course of this present pilgrimage in the villa of Espirito Santo. It was this spiritual Coadjutor Father in the Society, a great servant of God, and with burning heart in the salvation of souls. For the conversion of these, the last one is worth to the fatherland, and to the colleges of Europe, and he came to meddle in the deserts among the gentility of Brazil”.

[iv] DeVasconcellos, Simon. Book III of the Chronica of the Company of Jesus of the State of Brazil (year 1565). Volume II. Editor AJ Fernandes Lopes, 1865. 70-71. P. 40-41.

[v] Calmon, P. History of Brazil. XNUMXth century – The origins. Volume I.p. 104.

[vi] De Matos, Gregorio. Chosen Poems. Selection, preface and notes by José Miguel Wisnik. Company of Letters. Satirical: Once the poet has embarked for his exile, and with his eyes set on his ungrateful homeland, he sings his farewells from the sea, p. 129.

[vii] Santa Rita Durão, J. Caramurú. Epic poem of the discovery of Bahia. Regia Officina Typographica, Lisbon, 1781. II, 72.

[viii] Calmon, P. History of Brazil. XNUMXth century – The origins. Volume I.p. 104.

[ix] Dialogue of the greatness of Brazil. First edition of the Lisbon Apograph. Transcribed by Caesar Sobreira. Cepe Publisher. P. [48].

[X] Dialogue of the greatness of Brazil. First edition of the Lisbon Apograph. Transcribed by Caesar Sobreira. Cepe Publisher. P. [48].

[xi] Bluteau, R. Portuguese & Latin Vocabulary. “Plague. (...) not only by bodily contact is the plague communicated, but it sticks to cloths, dresses, clothes, letters, papers, & wrapped in merchandise, is carried from one Kingdom to another, & causes different symptoms, according to different temperaments, & disposition of bodies, which it infests (…)”.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives