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Brazil’s Quilombos Posted by on Apr 25, 2012 in History

One of the lasting remnants of the era of slavery in Brazil are its quilombos, former slave runaway communities in rural areas. One of the most famous of the quilombos was Palmares, home of the national hero Zumbi dos Palmares, but there were quilombos in states throughout the country.

Here’s a little background, in Portuguese from Só História:

No período de escravidão no Brasil (séculos XVII e XVIII), os negros que conseguiam fugir se refugiavam com outros em igual situação em locais bem escondidos e fortificados no meio das matas. Estes locais eram conhecidos como quilombos. Nestas comunidades, eles viviam de acordo com sua cultura africana, plantando e produzindo em comunidade. Na época colonial, o Brasil chegou a ter centenas destas comunidades espalhadas, principalmente, pelos atuais estados da Bahia, Pernambuco, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Minas Gerais e Alagoas.

National Geographic recently did a great story about quilombos, some of which still exist today. Here’s an excerpt:

At first glance, the surviving quilombos look like other poor Brazilian villages. But most retain cultural elements of their residents’ African homeland, mixed with European and native traditions. Brazil has a host of hybrid spiritual regimes—candomblé, umbanda, macumba, terecô—in which Afro-Brazilians dance, drum, and practice the dancing martial art of capoeira. In their isolation, quilombos built pageants and festivals atop these spiritual traditions, tying communities together with the supple bonds of shared memory. Across Brazil’s north and northeast quilombos celebrate Bumba-Meu-Boi, a festival that satirically retells the tale of slaves escaping their fate with the help of Brazil’s original inhabitants. The struggle for freedom is revisited even more overtly in the ritual dance of Lambe-Sujos, in which “runaway slaves,” many covered head to foot in shimmering black oil, suck on baby pacifiers, symbolizing the cruel circular plugs strapped into the mouths of recalcitrant slaves. Clinging together in a spirit of resistance, the Quilombolas are celebrating their history even as they preserve it.

Here’s a short documentary about Brazil’s remaining quilombos.

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