November 20 – National Day of Black Consciousness

Posted on November 20, 2016

Have you heard of Zumbi, King of the Quilombo dos Palmares?

Back in the late 1600s, Portuguese colonizers in Brazil had been enslaving African people for more than a century. But some African slaves had managed to escape from their bondage and got together in free settlements. These fugitives-from-the-law are also refugees-from-slavery, and they were called Maroons; the settlements they created were called quilombos.

The members of quilombos did several things to resist slavery:

  • They returned secretly to plantations and urged fellow former Africans to flee and join the quilombos.
  • They sabotaged the plantations.
  • They sometimes captured and brought to the quilombos enslaved people who didn't choose to join them; the people who were brought by force continued to be viewed as slaves until they were able to bring another member to the settlement, at which point they were considered free.
  • They tried to seize power from the Portuguese.
The area of Brazil that was called Quilombo dos Palmares was a region roughly the size of Portugal; at its height, there were about 30,000 people living there. However, they did not live in peace. The Portuguese settlers repeatedly attacked Palmares.

Zumbi was born free in Palmares in 1655. He was likely related to Kongo nobility. When he was about six years old, he was captured by some Portuguese people and given as a slave to a missionary. While living with the Portuguese, Zumbi learned Portuguese and Latin, and he learned about the Catholic religion. But when he was a teenager, he escaped and returned to his birthplace.

Zumbi became known as a strong, smart young man, someone who could come up with effective military strategies. He became king of Palmares.

Fifteen years after Zumbi became king, the Portuguese mounted a big-time attack on Palmares, and using artillery guns (cannons) the Portuguese were able to destroy the settlement. Zumbi was wounded in one leg but managed to escape capture. He continued the rebellion against the Portuguese for two years. He was betrayed by one of his former quilombo members, and on this date in 1695 he was captured and beheaded on the spot.

The Portuguese showed off Zumbi's head as a warning to other Maroons and Brazilians of African descent. Remnants of quilombo members continued to resist the Portuguese for another century! But Zumbi was the last of their kings.

Now Zumbi is seen as a national hero, a freedom fighter, a symbol of freedom and of the fight against slavery.

African cultural influences have been huge in Brazil. About 7% of today's Brazilians considers themselves black, and about 43% consider themselves “pardo,” brown, which is a multi-racial group. Together, the two groups are about half of all Brazilians.

African-Brazilian culture includes cuisine, music, dance, religion, and other traditions. Today is a great day to celebrate these influences

Also on this date:

Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot's birthday

Astronomer Edwin Hubble's birthday

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