Africa, a story to be rediscovered. 12

Imagine between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in full slavery, a Western family that has Africans and American Indians as best friends and an African as head of state and shares with them the same destiny, ideals and values ​​of freedom, tolerance and equality . You are not dreaming, it is not Nelson Mandela’s South Africa, but the Quilombo of Palmares, in Brazil, the first free democratic republic.

In Brazil, the trafficking of Africans began in the mid-16th century and continued until the 19th century. Over the course of three centuries, Portuguese ships brought 5 million Africans to the new overseas colony, using them as slaves.

However, many of them escaped from the plantations in the north, in the Pernambuco region. Among them stood out a man named Nganga Zumba, who organized a resistance made up of sabotage, theft of weapons and plans for the liberation of slaves. In this way communities called in places of difficult access were formed quilombo, where not only fugitive slaves were welcomed, but also natives, Muslims and Europeans fleeing Portuguese and Dutch domination. The term has various meanings depending on the African languages: song, union and refuge camp.

The largest was the Quilombo of Palmares, founded in 1597 in the Serra da Barriga (current state of Alagoas), a mountainous and palm-filled area almost the size of Portugal, where Africans and indigenous people exchanged knowledge about plants and lived together with a great sense of community. Land tenure was collective and its products were divided equally. It came to have 30,000 inhabitants distributed among 11 villages, a capital, Macombos, its own laws and regulations and experienced a great development of agriculture, with huge fields and conservation of goods, crafts and commerce.

The quilombo also developed a legal system that combined traditional African justice with freedom of worship and an ideal of equality. In Kikongo Nganga means “initiated”; as head of state Nganga Zumba discussed the various proposals on the challenges to be addressed with a senate-like council of wise men. Women occupied important positions, on an equal footing with men.

In 1650 the umpteenth Portuguese attempt to annihilate the quilombo, led by Antonio Lopez, was defeated thanks to effective guerrilla techniques based on African martial arts, from which Capoeira would later be born. During one of these expeditions, in 1662, however, many inhabitants were killed and others taken prisoner. Among them was a six-year-old boy named Nzumbi, grandson of Nganga Zumba; the Jesuit father Antonio Melo took him to the district of Porto Calvo, baptized him with the name of Francisco and taught him to read and write in Portuguese and Latin.

In 1670 Nzumbi fled back to the quilombo where he was born free and became a skilled and respected military strategist. After many struggles, the uncle was willing to sign a peace treaty offered by the governor of Pernambuco, sending some slaves back to their former masters, but Nzumbi opposed it, because this would have favored the continuity of slavery and the conflicts continued. After Nzumba’s death, perhaps by poison, a woman would play a very important role in the history of the Quilombo of Palmares: her name was Dandara, she was Nzumbi’s wife and like him a courageous and respected leader.

On February 6, 1694, the capital of quilombo was destroyed. Nzumbi, wounded, managed to escape into the forest, where he resisted for more than a year. He was killed in battle on November 20, 1695, was quartered and his head was exposed until complete decomposition in the public square of Recife, to terrorize the slaves and disprove the legend of his immortality.

Since 2003 the date of his death is celebrated in Brazil the Black Consciousness Day, to commemorate the story of freedom and equality of the Quilombo of Palmares, the multi-ethnic nation that managed to resist slave colonialism for a century.

Africa, a story to be rediscovered. 12- The Quilombo of Palmares, in Brazil