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The eternal dilemma of treason

A study resurrects a personality who was persecuted by the Inquisition

Reproduction from the book by Fernando Rau Goya/ The dream of reason produces monstersChico Buarque made history and annoyed the military government when he said in a song that “The winners in life are those who agree”, part of the musical show, Calabar, in praise of treason. “The idea of the play was to discuss treason, but treason with a praiseworthy purpose. It was like discussing whether Lamarca, a soldier who became a guerrilla fighter, was a traitor or not. There was an obvious parallel”, said the composer about his work that was censored in 1974. Which is the unfortunate country: the one that needs heroes or the one that hides its traitors? For historian Carlos Vesentini, ideas like Calabar, the traitor are constructed from representation struggles during power disputes. “As the winner, appropriation of the idea guarantees his legitimacy to direct the work, just as it also allows him to divide time, by introducing a past that is capable of characterizing someone who has been defeated, opening up a future for them and locating an achievement.” So who deserves to be remembered by history? At the end of the day, what are the criteria for classifying a traitor? Who, in fact, are the heroes and villains?”

“Our historiography left the traitors on the sidelines, so much so that the biggest of them, Calabar, has not merited a large biography”,  laments historian Ronaldo Vainfas, from the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), who has just added his contribution by telling the story of a notable traitor, curiously enough from the same period in history when Calabar emerged, the Dutch domination of colonial Brazil (1630-1654). “Jesuit priest Manoel de Moraes was a man who courted heresy, but in fact espoused the cause of treason and was the star in a long constellation of traitors and collaborators. He left Catholicism for militant Calvinism. He broke faith with Hapsburg king, Phillip IV, to be a proud servant of the Prince of Orange. He went from being a captain of Matias de Albuquerque against the Dutch to a captain against the Portuguese. But this did not stop him subsequently taking the opposite path. He gave up Calvinism in favor of Catholicism, he abandoned the Prince of Orange to swear loyalty to Don John IV and he betrayed the Company of the West Indies to serve João Fernandes Vieira in the War of Restoration”, says Vainfas, the author of Treason: a Jesuit in the service of Dutch Brazil brought to trial by the Inquisition (Companhia das Letras, 384 pages, R$ 47). “He was an extraordinary personality, a forgotten anti-hero of the wars of Pernambuco, a ‘Calabar’ in his black priest’s vestments or scarlet waistcoat, whose history allows us to find out about Dutch domination within the process. Furthermore, as a metaphor it stimulates discussion about the ‘Brazilian character’, or rather the question of ethics in our historical formation”, he explains.

The period has profound implications for the national imagination. “In Brazil, interest in the Dutch presence started again in the second half of the 19th century at a time when Brazil was severing its political ties with the Dutch and was trying to construct its identity as an independent nation”, says historian Marcos Galindo, a professor from the Federal University of Pernambuco.  Even today on the Brazilian army’s website the description of the Battle of the Guararapes reveals the delicate way of in which the topic of the anti-heroes of this period is dealt with: “The spirit of the Guararapes is the finest and rarest perfume of the tradition of Brazilian nationality. The spirit of the Guararapes was yesterday the liveliest and most radiant flame which, from the heroic land of Pernambuco, illuminated the whole of Brazil on the road to its glorious destiny. Its brilliant flame almost disappeared in the ashes of the wood in which it burned radiant, because of the omission of many and the criminal intention of some during the long dawn (1945-1964). The nationalism of the spirit of the Guararapes is a rational, strategic and safe nationalism translated into practice by Petrobras, the Transamazon highway, the decree of a 200 mile offshore territorial limit, our marine freight policy and so many other achievements like Volta Redonda, the mark of the material progress of Brasil”.

Reproduction from the book Fernando Rau Goya/Truth diedManoel de Moraes, the traitor, was of mixed race, came from São Paulo and was born around 1596. He joined the Jesuits in 1613 and was sent to the College of Bahia and started his career as a missionary in Pernambuco, one of the main sugar provinces in Brazil.  There he was responsible for converting Felipe Camarão, the future leader of the potiguaras against the Dutch. In 1627, the West Indian Company, the WIC, a modern company with trading objectives, invaded Pernambuco (after having attacked Bahia in 1623), thus challenging the Spanish overseas monopolies that because of the Iberian Union included Spain and Portugal, both soon at war with the Netherlands.

Portuguese leader, Matias de Albuquerque, adopted guerrilla tactics against the invaders, relying for such on Indian support that was in part mustered with help from the Jesuits who “dominated” the native population. Manoel fought “like a lion” alongside the Indians, “who immediately obey him like their Captain, in everything he orders them to do”, in the words of a source from the time. The priest fought in the defense of Recife, in the conflicts in Arraial do Bom Jesus, in the defense of the islands of Itamaracá and Rio Grande and, Vainfas observes, “the only reason he did not become an official captain was because he was a Jesuit”. The Dutch soon saw the importance of having the help of Indians and in their favor they bore “the burden of a colonization that had been punishing them for more than a hundred years in several provinces”. What they lacked, however, was a leader to summon the support of the locals.

Manoel “became a superb man, the narrator of advantages” who dared to write to King Phillip IV asking for material compensation for his boldness. He made enemies by the score and awoke envy. Tired of the intrigue, as Dutchman Joannes de Laet noted, “Father Manoel came to talk with our people, an important fact because he was a Jesuit who exercised great authority over all the savages of the region and moved of his own free will over to our side”. The traitor was sent to Recife and started living as a Dutch captain, walking down the street “dressed as someone from ‘Flanders’ and throwing himself into the pleasures of sex”. According to Vainfas, “although he barely knew anything about Calvinism he not only appeared to adopt it but attempted to convert Portuguese prisoners, including people of the church”. The importance of the action of the priest was so serious, notes the author, that the Company of Jesus started to adopt a new policy of restricting people of mixed race, since he was a “half-caste from Sao Paulo”. Meanwhile, the former Jesuit (expelled from the order for religious betrayal) savored his glory in Holland, where he was taken by the invaders, now in the service of the WIC, and where he even proposed a model for conquering the Indians based on his knowledge of the Jesuit catechism, a hybrid of Calvinist and Ignatian teachings. In fact, it was as a Calvinist that he twice married Batavians.

“The Calvinism that attracted Manoel was not that of inner faith but the doctrine that allowed him to change his personal life, since it did not penalize material wealth and did not demand celibacy”, explains the author. Judged by the Inquisition he was condemned in his absence and his “statue” was burned in a public square in Lisbon. With the Portuguese restoration he began to secretly negotiate with the Portuguese but accepted a lot of money to go back to Pernambuco in the name of the WIC and explore Brazilian rosewood, leaving his wife and children in Europe. He double-crossed the Dutch. “Manoel was a born traitor. He betrayed the Jesuits, he betrayed the Portuguese in the resistance war, he betrayed them again by promising in secret agreements to go back to serving Don John IV in exchange for favors and pardon, while he was getting them to sign the rosewood contract; at the same time he betrayed the WIC, offering himself to the Portuguese ambassadors to fight the Dutch in Brazil.” And he did not stop there. He went back to wearing his religious garments from before and decided to present himself to the Holy Office in a search for pardon, and to top it all he denounced the hidden Jesuits in Brazil. In Portugal, although he had been sentenced, he was absolved but spent time in the prisons of the Inquisition and lost all his money, but not before writing a violent pamphlet against the Dutch.

“I’m not going to celebrate our Manoel de Moraes, since there’s no reason to. But metaphor for metaphor I have the idea that he was already dead when he left the auto-de-fé in 1647, after being absolved, as if he was an El Cid in reverse, even though he was very much alive”, concludes Vainfas. His destiny was to be forgotten, which was what to a certain extent Calabar, the patriarch of traitors, experienced and who like Manoel, when he saw the balance of the war was moving in the direction of the Dutch, like so many others wanted to take some advantage of the talents he had. He also converted to Calvinism and as a priest declared in various statements he made that “he knew and had seen a lot in that material and that the guilty ones were not the most down-trodden people”, notes Vainfas, showing that there were other traitors who were celebrated as heroes or patriots. “His death was what we call ‘getting rid of the evidence’ and his execution was not only due to his collaboration but also to the knowledge he had acquired from the compromising contacts by heavyweights with the Dutch authorities.”

Reproduction from the book Fernando Rau Goya/War damageThere is a curious parallel with the phrase spoken by the character of Matias de Albuquerque in Calabar, by Chico and Ruy Guerra: “Calabar will be executed when the people are absent, in the dark of night, so that things are not said that shouldn’t be heard”. “The dramatic issue of treason is essential to an understanding of the drama of political protest in Brazil during the military regime. No fewer than four playwrights (Calabar’s Dream by Geir Campos; Calabar, by Ledo Ivo; Calabar: in praise of treason, by Chico Buarque and Ruy Guerra) used the historical context of the conflict between the Portuguese and the Dutch to examine the concept of treason and its implications for the modern public”, says Severino João Albuquerque, from the University of Wisconsin.

“All the plays ask: can traitors not be good people within a context of colonial domination? The spectator is invited to relate the gesture of Calabar to the Brazil of today, whose economy is increasingly controlled by foreign corporations and banks”, observes the professor.  In the play by Ledo Ivo, for example, Calabar says: “I’m sorry now that I served Holland, in the same way that I’m sorry I served Spain and Portugal”. Later the traitor compares Brazil’s past and future with that of the New World: “We’re all America: this misery surrounded by gold. We’re America: our future is in the past”. In something very similar Chico and Ruy’s Calabar has his honor defended by Barbara, the widow: “Calabar knew the taste of the land. Calabar vomited up what they stuffed down his throat. That was his act of treason. The land and not what was left over by the king. The land and not the flag”. The concept of treason is always questioned: ‘One day this country is going to be independent: of the Dutch and the Spanish… but this requires many traitors. Many Calabars. And it’s not enough to hang, quarter and chop them into pieces…Calabar is a glass snake. And the people swear that the glass snake is a type of lizard that easily recovers when it is cut in half or into three thousand pieces”. For Albuquerque, within the context of the plays, regardless of the fact that the colonial power is being affected, treason becomes a native reaction to the imposition of foreign structures on the economy of the land. “Treason is an instrument of resistance of the oppressed, regardless of when, whether in 1630 or today, or of the identity of the oppressor.” Or, in the words of Vainfas: “Manoel gave a magnificent example of cultural mediation, speaking Portuguese, Spanish, Tupi, Latin and, who knows, maybe even Dutch. He moved in various worlds and served many masters. He betrayed them all”. In the end, the winners are those who agree.