Zumbi, the greatest fighter against slavery in Brazil: Three centuries ago, this Congolese man led the most iconic uprising against slavery in Brazil. He is still considered the father of the black conscience
At the end of the 15th century, when they were sent by the Vatican, the Portuguese arrived in the Congo Empire, composed of Angola, D.R. Congo, Congo and Gabon at that time. Through their terrorist actions, they began to destroy the empire and enslave its inhabitants. The kings of the Congo fiercely resisted and during these wars, dignitaries were captured and deported to Brazil.
It was above all the African slaves of the Congo who fled the plantations around 1600 and founded a free zone in the northeast of Brazil. The first city was called Angola Janga (little Angola). The whole area was called Quilombo, a Mbundu name from Angola, which means “warrior camp”. The Portuguese called the Quilombo dos Palmares enclave because of the large number of palm trees in the country.
Quilombo sheltered all those who had fled colonial power. The region, as large as Portugal, brought together seven African communities, two Indian and one Portuguese, including Jews. After all, 60,000 people lived in several areas, gathered thousands of houses and were surrounded by wooden fences to protect them.
There, Africans repeated the integrative organization of socio-cultural castes, sharpened their defenses by controlling weapons, perfecting the Angolan martial arts – capoeira – and developing a solid economic system.
Son of Sabina – granddaughter of a king of the Congo – Zumbi was born in 1655 as a free man in Macaco, the capital of Quilombo. At the age of 7, he was captured during the endless wars against the Quilombolas against the Dutch and then against the Portuguese, and was enslaved by a priest who named him Francisco. He finished his Catholic studies until the age of 15 when he fled to Quilombo. He helped his uncle Ganga Zumba, the king of Quilombo, and obtained the rank of chief of the army thanks to his military skills.
In 1675, Zumbi was only 20 years old when he reached his first military milestone. The Portuguese invaded a town of 8,000 huts. Zumbi and his men made a strategic retreat, then attacked to conquer new areas and forced the Portuguese to retreat.
Tired of being defeated by the Africans, Captain Pedro de Almeida turned to Ganga Zumba to negotiate. The Portuguese would give up attacking Quilombo, provided that the state no longer shelters Africans fleeing slavery. The king accepted the agreement, but Zumbi could not tolerate other blacks still suffering from forced labor. Determined to fight against slavery, the general opposed his uncle and would have poisoned him in 1687 then would have become king of Quilombo dos Palmares.
After nearly 20 years of resistance, Zumbi faced the final attack by the Portuguese in 1694. Macaco, the capital of Quilombo – surrounded by walls and protected by 200 armed warriors – was finally conquered. Zumbi was able to flee the Portuguese for a year. One of his men was arrested and tortured where he was hidden. The African king was captured and beheaded on November 20, 1695. His head was exposed in the city of Recife. It was the end of Quilombo after 95 years and exceptional resistance to the Portuguese and Dutch armies.
The legacy of the Zumbis in Brazil
The existence of Quilombo dos Palmares – during the whole period of slavery – symbolized hope for the peoples of the environment of American concentration. The last leader to fight fiercely against slavery, Zumbi remains the symbol of this freedom that had to be fought.
Since 1995, each November 20 – anniversary of Zumbis’ death – has been celebrated as a day of black conscience. To this day, Afro-Brazilian citizens revere the African king as their most glorious ancestor.
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