Zumbi, the greatest fighter against slavery in Brazil

Three centuries ago, this man from Kongo led the most emblematic rebellion against slavery in Brazil. Till date, he is considered as the father of Black consciousness…

Zumbi, author of illustration unknown

At the end of the 15th century, as they were sent by Vatican, the Portuguese arrived in the Kongo Empire comprising Angola, D.R. Congo, Congo and Gabon at that time. Through their terrorist actions, they began the destruction of the Empire and enslavement of its inhabitants. The Kings of Kongo resisted vigorously and during those wars, dignitaries were captured and deported to Brazil.

It was most of all those enslaved Africans from Kongo, who escaped from plantations and founded a free territory in the North-East of Brazil around 1600. The first town was called Angola Janga (little Angola). The whole territory was called Quilombo which would be a Mbundu name from Angola meaning “warriors’ camp”. The Portuguese labeled the enclave Quilombo dos Palmares because of the large number of palm trees in the country.

Quilombo hosted all those who fled the oppression of the colonial power. The territory as large as Portugal gathered seven African communities, two Amerindian ones and one Portuguese community including Jews. Eventually, 60,000 people were living in several areas gathering thousands of houses and surrounded by wooden fences for their protection.

Over there, Africans replicated the inclusive organization of socio-cultural castes, sharpened their defense by mastering weapons, perfecting Angolan martial arts – Capoeira – and developed a sound economic system.

Son of Sabina – granddaughter of a King of Kongo – Zumbi was born as a free man in 1655 in Macaco, capital city of Quilombo. At the age of 7, during the ceaseless wars opposing the Quilombolas to the Dutch then the Portuguese, he was captured and given into slavery to a priest who baptized him Francisco. He went through catholic education until the age of 15 when he ran away to Quilombo. He assisted his uncle Ganga Zumba, King of Quilombo and attained, thanks to his military prowess, the rank of chief of the armies.

In 1675, Zumbi was only 20 when he achieved his first military milestone. The Portuguese bloodily invaded a town of 8,000 huts. Zumbi and his men undertook a strategic retreat then counterattacked, to the extent of conquering new territories, thus compelling the Portuguese to withdraw.

Clashes between the Quilombolas and the Portuguese

As he was fed up with being defeated by Africans, Captain Pedro de Almeida reached out to Ganga Zumba for negotiations. The Portuguese would give up on attacking Quilombo provided that the State stopped hosting Africans fleeing slavery. The King accepted the deal but Zumbi could not tolerate the fact that other black people were still suffering from forced labor. Determined to fight slavery, the General defied his uncle and is believed to have had him poisoned in 1687 and then became King of Quilombo dos Palmares.

In 1694, following almost 20 years of resistance, Zumbi was faced with the final assault of the Portuguese. Macaco, capital city of Quilombo – surrounded by walls and protected by 200 armed warriors – was eventually subdued. Zumbi was able to flee and escape from the Portuguese for a year. One of his men was arrested and confessed under torture where he was hidden. The African King was captured then beheaded on November 20, 1695. His head was exposed in Recife city. That was the end of Quilombo after 95 years of existence and exceptional resistance against the Portuguese and Dutch armies.

Zumbi’s legacy in Brazil

The existence of Quilombo dos Palmares – over the entire period of slavery – symbolized hope for the peoples of America’s concentration environment. As the last chief who fiercely fought against enslavement, Zumbi remains the emblem of that freedom which had to be fought for.

Since 1995, every November 20th – Zumbi’s death anniversary – is celebrated as the Black Consciousness Day. Till date, African-Brazilians still revere the African King as their most glorious ancestor.

African-Brazilians venerating Zumbi their great ancestor, according to the African spiritual tradition. His statue which is molded after artistic standards of the Yorubas from Nigeria/Benin, is at the top of a pyramid, inspired by African antiquity.


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