Africa, a story to rediscover. 12

Imagine, between the 16th and 17th centuries, at the height of slavery, a republic where a Western family has Africans and Native Americans as its best friends and where the head of state is African, and all share the same destiny , the same ideals and the same values ​​of freedom, tolerance and equality. You are not dreaming, this is not the South Africa of Nelson Mandela, 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 a period of three centuries, Portuguese ships brought 5 million Africans to the new overseas colony, using them as slaves.

Many of them, however, escaped from the northern plantations in the Pernambuco region. Among them, a man named Nganga Zumba organized a resistance based on sabotage, arms theft and plans to free slaves. Thus, communities called quilombo were formed in places of difficult access, where not only fugitive slaves were welcomed, but also natives, Muslims and Europeans fleeing Portuguese and Dutch domination. The term has several meanings according to African languages: song, union and camp of refuge.

The most important was the Quilombo of Palmares, founded in 1597 in the Serra da Barriga (current State of Alagoas), a mountainous and palm-covered region almost as large as Portugal, where Africans and natives exchanged their knowledge of plants and lived together with a great sense of community. Ownership of the land was collective and its products were shared equitably. The Quilombo came to have 30,000 inhabitants divided among 11 villages, a capital, Macombos, its own laws and regulations, and experienced great development in agriculture, with huge fields and property conservation, the crafts and trade.

The quilombos also developed a legal system that combined traditional African justice with freedom of worship and an ideal of equality. In Kikongo, Nganga means “initiate”; as head of state, Nganga Zumba discussed various proposals on various themes with a council of elders resembling a senate. Women occupied important positions on an equal footing with men.

In 1650, a new Portuguese attempt to annihilate the Quilombos, led by Antonio Lopez, was defeated through effective guerrilla techniques based on African martial arts, from which Capoeira would later emerge. However, during one such expedition, in 1662, many locals were killed and others taken prisoner. Among them was a six-year-old boy named Nzumbi, nephew of Nganga Zumba. Jesuit Father Antonio Melo took him to the district of Porto Calvo, named him Francisco, and taught him to read and write in Portuguese and Latin.

In 1670 Nzumbi escaped back to the quilombo where he was born free and became a skilled and respected military strategist. After much fighting, his uncle was ready to sign a peace treaty proposed by the governor of Pernambuco, returning some slaves to their former masters, but Nzumbi opposed it, as it would have encouraged the continuation of slavery and the conflicts continued. After the death of Nzumba, possibly poisoned, a woman would play a very important role in the history of Quilombo de Palmares: her name was Dandara, she was Nzumbi’s wife and like him a courageous and respected leader.

On February 6, 1694, the quilombo capital was destroyed. Nzumbi, wounded, managed to escape into the forest, where he resisted for more than a year. He was killed in action 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 refute the legend of his immortality.

Since 2003, the date of his death has been celebrated in Brazil as the black awareness dayto commemorate the history of freedom and equality of the Quilombo de Palmares, the multiethnic nation that managed to resist slave colonialism for a century.

Africa, a story to rediscover. 12- The Quilombo of Palmares, Brazil