Who is Candido Rondon? It is likely you have never learned about this Brazilian figure of history, but he was not only an exemplary Brazilian, but he was also an extraordinary explorer, friend to indigenous peoples, soldier, statesman, and traveler. Achieving the highest rank in the Brazilian military, he devoted himself to the service of his nation in the twilight of empire and the forging of a new republic. While not a politician nor a man hungry for power, he was a man of great courage, fortitude, and moral fiber. He put others before himself and never wanted to be immersed in the modern wants for fame or fortune as others greedily claim for themselves in the modern era.
While a military officer first, he was a famous explorer who cared about the environment and did his best to balance that with his desire for progressive development of connecting a new nation together through telegraph lines as director of the official commission. He not only cared about the environment but also sought for the protection of indigenous peoples who he encountered during his explorations and made sure that all of his interactions with them were both peaceful and friendly.
He did many incredible things in his life but as far as what I have learned about him; he was never a big braggart who boasted incessantly and who was much more concerned with how his men were doing whether they were his fellow soldiers, explorers, or countrymen. He was very successful because he set a powerful example and took care to accomplish whatever he took upon himself to the best of his abilities. From being a director for the protection of indigenous peoples to setting up telegraph lines as a commissioner to commanding fellow troops to explore the unknown regions of the Amazon, Rondon was a man who was the epitome of a ‘profile in courage.’
Marshal Rondon was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has various catastrophes and tragedies befall him as a child. His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was only two years old. His grandparents died when he was a boy, so he was cared for by his uncle. Rondon was a victim of discrimination for his indigenous origin and was bullied because of it. He was not tall or very strong physically either.
However, none of these setbacks stopped him because nothing would stop a man who was courageous, determined, and a hard worker. Most of all, it should be said that rather than let these personal tragedies derail him and his life goals, it is likely that they spurred him on to achieve great things and to make the most of the time that was given to him with more awareness of the preciousness of life and how quickly it can be taken away.
Marshal Candido Rondon has great discipline and determination especially when it came to his education as a teenager and as a young adult. He studied both Mathematics and Physical and Natural Sciences at the War College in Rio de Janeiro. He became second lieutenant of the Armed Forces of Brazil in 1888. He was directly involved as a military officer in the formation of the Brazilian Republic after the fall of the Brazilian Empire. In addition to all of these academic pursuits, he self-taught himself various skills especially engineering. He also became physically disciplined allowing him to spend months and years in the harsh tropical climate due to his time spent in the military and military school.
Rondon was instrumental in connecting the Amazonian region of Brazil to the rest of the country. As an Army engineer, he was in charge of expanding the reach of the new republic and removing the isolation that this part of Brazil had become accustomed to. He built the first telegraph line that crossed the state of Mato Grosso. With his leadership, construction began on a main road from Cuiabá to Rio de Janeiro (The Capital of Brazil at the time). Telegraph lines were also established from Brazil to Bolivia and Peru. He maintained peace both with the indigenous tribes and Brazil’s neighbors during his time as the Telegraph Commissioner.
You could argue today that Marshal Rondon was the closest to being thought of as a Pacifist that a military officer could be. He always tried to make friends with the indigenous tribes of Brazil especially. He never ordered his men to shoot the Indians, even when they were being attacked by them sometimes by poisonous arrows.
Because of Rondon’s beliefs in Positivism and positivist thought, he wanted to make the indigenous tribes civilized and connected to the rest of Brazil in a non-violent and gradual way. For his actions, he later on in life became the first director of the Indian Protection Service (SPI), which still exists in Brazil today under a different name of FUNAI (National Indian Foundation).
After 1888, Marshal Candido Rondon became a member of the positivist church in Brazil, which was based on humanist ideals. Heavily influenced by the Brazilian thinker, Benjamin Constant, the Brazilian military and its new republic helped to spread the ideals of positivism within Brazil. Mr. Constant was influenced by the French enlightenment philosopher, Auguste Comte. Positivism as an ideology emphasizes naturalism, science and altruism, rather than any religious doctrine in particular. Marshal Rondon was influenced by positivism in his actions with regards to supporting the telegraph expansion and by his pursuit of co-existence and eventual friendship with the Indigenous populations. The positivism movement and the spread of Republican beliefs among Brazil’s military and political leaders helped in a major way in changing Brazil from an empire to a republic.
What most people outside of Brazil, especially Americans such as myself who are fond of history would only know about Candido Rondon, would revolve around his historic journey of discovery and exploration with then ex-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1913-1914. The Roosevelt – Rondon scientific expedition was a research expedition between 1913 and 1914 to follow the path of the River of Doubt (Rio da Duvida) in the Amazon. Because of sheer physical dexterity and encyclopedic knowledge of the Amazon, Rondon, miraculously, was the only man who came back healthy. The ex-President, Theodore Roosevelt almost died of illness and it could be said that Rondon helped save his life and that of his son, Kermit too.
Three of the Brazilians died during the expedition sadly. Without Rondon and the local experience and knowledge of his men, the expedition would have been a disaster. Historically, this was also an important moment to solidify good relations between the two countries which were both far away in terms of language and cultural connections at the time. The ‘River of Doubt’ was renamed the Roosevelt River (Rio Roosevelt) in honor of the former American president for completing the journey which would not have been successful without the assistance and perseverance of Marshal Rondon. There are times in a man’s life where you can state how his leadership was instrumental to the success of a group and in this expedition, Rondon’s leadership was unquestionably the reason why it succeeded and why it is remembered so fondly today.
Few Brazilians have made as great of an impact on their country as Marshal Candido Rondon. The Indian Protection Service (SPI) had its problems, but it became FUNAI, which still helps indigenous peoples today throughout the country. The new Brazilian republic grew both more connected and stronger due to the telegraph and road construction commissions which were led by Rondon and his men. Rondônia is now a Brazilian state composed of the Amazon Forest that is named after the Marshal. His military service, his care for the Indians, and his positivist beliefs are still remembered by many Brazilians today. Marshal Candido Rondon died at the advanced age of 92 in 1958, in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of a country for which he did so much and honored so very proudly.