Unlike most other countries in Latin America (particularly Andean and central American ones), a longstanding and thus deeply rooted system of independent smallholding cultivation based on an indigenous peasantry has until relatively recently been absent from Brazilian history. Perhaps because of this, peasants in Brazil have been and are currently more prone than their counterparts elsewhere in the continent to the phenomenon known as the ‘invention of tradition’, a process which in turn generates claim and counter-claim about identity and entitlement based on this.1 For this same reason, the domestic and international visibility of the struggle for land in Brazil over the last quarter of a century, and especially during the last decade, challenges the social sciences to update their understanding both of the agrarian question and of the peasant struggles in this country.