Numerous slave resistance stories have been told in times past. Since ages past, stories have been written about how they exhibited their bravery and heroic sacrifice. However, few of the resistance movements which have been written off are those who for selfish gains betrayed their kinsmen. Of the resistance stories which lived to see daylight, none could be compared to the story of Zumbi dos Palmares – an Afro-Brazilian resistance leader who till this century is still celebrated in Brazil during the Black Awareness Day or Black Conscious Day.
Zumbi was a black hero and freedom fighter who was the leader of the independent settlement, Quilombo dos Palmares. He was central to the history and modern-day struggle of the Brazilian Black Movement.
Located between the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco – in North-Eastern Brazil – Quilombo dos Palmares was created by the earliest Brazilian Africans in the late 16th century as resistance to European colonizers and captors.
It emerged as one of the foremost places in the Americas, where Black people who were brought to the New World enslaved, found freedom.
For almost a century, black people in Quilombo resisted their enslavers, especially the Portuguese who attempted to colonize Brazil.
Possessing effective organizational, architectural, and military skills; the Quilombo was shielded by a high fence made of clay, and palm trees with three entrances and exits. Each of these entrances was protected by a minimum of two hundred warriors with weapons and ammunition to defeat the colonizers.
Zumbi dos Palmares was born a free-man in Quilombo in 1655 but was later kidnapped as a child by soldiers and given to a priest by the name of Father Antonio Melo.
He was baptized, given a new name – Francisco – and taught how to speak Portuguese and Latin. At age 15, he fled from the parish and returned to his original home in the Quilombo.
Soon enough, he became a respected and significant military strategist and an expert in the Capoeira self-defense – the art of escape used by the people for self-defense against repeated attacks by Portuguese colonizers seeking free labor for growing sugar plantations.
In 1678, the governor of the captaincy of Pernambuco sought the Quilombo dos Palmares leader, Ganga Zumba, with an offer of freeing all runaway slaves on the condition of submitting Palmares to the Portuguese authority.
Ganga Zumba consented to the proposal, but Zumbi who did not trust the Portuguese declined such advances.
History accounts that he declined the offer for his people to be freed while other Africans remained to be enslaved.
Zumbi rejected Almeida’s decision and challenged Ganga Zumba’s leadership.
Meanwhile, after Ganga Zumba passed away, Zumbi became the new leader of the Quilombo and continued leading the resistance against slavery and Portuguese oppression.
History further accounts that he challenged several European settler military expeditions, forcing the king of Portugal at the time to send him a letter urging him to submit and be subjected to the Portuguese laws.
He still refused to pay obeisance to the Portuguese and insisted on full freedom for his people.
Unfortunately, Zumbi was killed on a battlefield on November 20th, 1695. And till date, his date of death is celebrated annually to remember the contributions he made to the black struggle against colonialism and the black consciousness movement.
In Brazil today, there are hundreds of institutions such as cultural groups named after this legendary leader.