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Sebastianism, one aspect of the sleeping king folk-motif, is part of the Portuguese and Brazilian mythology and culture. It means waiting for a hero that will save Portugal and lead it to the Fifth Empire, and known as Eu nacional (national Self). In Brazil the most important presence of Sebastianism happened in context of Proclamation of Republic, to lead movements such as the War of Canudos that defended the divine rights of D. Pedro II to rule Brazilian Empire.
Fernando Pessoa also wrote about this hero-to-come in his epic Mensagem (The Message) supporting his ideas on predictions and myths.
Sebastian, the Child King
The name 'Sebastianism' derives from King Sebastian of Portugal (January 20, 1554 - August 4, 1578), grandson of John III, who became heir to the throne due to the death of his father, João, Crown Prince of Portugal in 1554 two weeks before his birth, and who succeeded to the throne three years later. This period saw continued Portuguese colonial expansion in Africa, Asia and Brazil. Luís de Camões wrote the Lusiads in his honour. The young King grew up under the guidance of the Jesuits. He also convinced himself that he was to be Christ's captain in a crusade against Muslims in Africa.
The birth of a hero and a myth
Almost immediately upon coming of age, Sebastian began plans for a great crusade against the Moroccans of Fez. The Portuguese crusaders crossed into Morocco in 1578 and, against the advice of his commanders, Sebastian marched deep inland. At Ksar El Kebir (Field of the Three Kings) the Portuguese were routed by Ahmed Mohammed of Fez, and Sebastian was almost certainly killed in battle or subsequently executed. But for the Portuguese people, he had just disappeared and would return home one day, to such an extent that, in 1640, King John IV of Portugal had to swear to yield his throne to Sebastian, in case Sebastian (who would have been 86 years old) were to return.
After his death (or disappearance), Portuguese nobility saw its independence gone (1580). In the time of Habsburg rule (1580-1640), impostors claimed to be King Sebastian in 1584, 1585, 1595 and 1598. Because of these events, Sebastian passed into legend as a great Portuguese patriot and hero - the "sleeping King" who would return to help Portugal in its darkest hour, on a misty day.
In the present day, Sebastianism is used by some intellectuals and politicians in Portugal to criticize the Portuguese society in general and in particular fields such as the economy, saying it is Sebastianist, that is, they are assuming Sebastian will return and solve all their problems so they can ignore them.
Late Sebastianism in Brazil
With the Proclamation of Republic in 1889 the Brazilian state became a Secular state, contrasting with Brazilian Empire, where Catholicism was the official religion. In imperial administration, the church had very important roles: functioning as registrar for births, deaths, weddings, and even the recording of property (the control of this in the Portuguese Empire, which was based in a donation system, became, until recently, a huge problem in the Brazilian economy and Brazilian politics).
The coup d'état of emperor Pedro II and his republican reforms brought few changes in most people's lifestyle - for example, universal enfranchisement was not enacted -, the greatest change for Brazilians really was the "godless" government. Catholicism and the monarchy had been closely tied and strongly effected Brazilian people. Most of the opposition movements to republic in 1890's, 1900's and earlier 1910's had religious motivations. The character of D. Sebastião returned to people's imagination: he would come back to defend the divine right of the Brazilian Monarchy, who were directly descended from the Portuguese monarchs, to rule in Brazil and defend Catholicism, which had been removed from government by the Republic.
The most famous presence of Sebastianism appears in the War of Canudos. This revolt was led by Antonio Conselheiro and happened in the Brazilian Northeast. This region was in an economic depression since the discovery of large gold mines in Minas Gerais, formerly part of Capitania de São Paulo, that dislocated the economic center to southeastern Portuguese America in the 18th century. Moreover, the abolition of slavery produced a huge mass of unemployed persons. An increase in religiosity followed. Antonio Conselheiro preached against the Antichrist republic and attracted many followers, founding a city named Canudos, where he oversaw a cooperative economic system. At its height in 1897, the population of town was near 25.000 inhabitants.
Another great movement where Sebastians were found is the Contestado War, in Santa Catarina and Paraná states. The building of São Paulo-Rio Grande do Sul Railway by Percival Farqhuar needed the dispossess of several small proprietys that was considered by Republican Government as "terra devolutas" (useless lands), in this way, there were not any ressarchiments or payments for the railway building. Then the population of the area risen against the Hermes da Fonseca presidence, and, for some of the same reasons that were in Canudos, the war became a "guerra santa" (jihad, Religious war) and got a lot of messianic symbols, like the flag of the movement, inspired by Knights Templar, or the miracles done by José Maria de Santo Agostinho, and also the presence of D. Sebastião.