Black History Month, day 6

Zumbi was a great military and political leader of African descent, known as Zumbi dos Palmares because of his legendary leadership of the quilombo (settlement of free Africans) by that name in colonized Brazil during the 17th century.

Antônio Parreiras - Zumbi - 1927

Zumbi, by Antônio Parreiras (public domain in the US)

His story–and the story of Palmares–is told in an excellent movie, Quilombo, directed by Carlos Diegues with music by another great Afro-Brazilian, Gilberto Gil. If that version of the history is accurate, Zumbi represented the rebellion side of the perennial debate among people rising up against oppressive circumstances: continue rebelling and hold out for fuller freedom, or accept a compromise from the enemy? Zumbi successfully challenged the more conciliatory Ganga Zumba for leadership of Palmares. Palmares finally fell to the Portuguese in 1694 and Zumbi was captured and summarily executed the next year. Brazil eventually gained its independence, of course, 127 years later.

One legacy of the quilombos is the martial art U. S.  Americans of descent other than African or Brazilian may know: capoeira. According to the website Aruandê Capoeira,

Created by slaves brought to Brazil from Africa, during the colonial period, Capoeira is a martial art that grew from survival. People were brought from Angola, Congo and Mozambique, and with them, they brought their cultural traditions.

They hid their martial art and traditions into a form of dance. The African people developed capoeira not only to resist oppression, but also for the survival of their culture and the lifting of their spirits. After slavery, they continued to play capoeira.

Brazil’s Black Awareness Day (“Dia da Consciência Negra”) is celebrated on November 20 in Zumbi’s honor; his birthday is unknown but that was the day he died.

Here is Gilberto Gil singing the title song of Quilombo, accompanied by a slide show of this piece of black history.