Zumbi dos Palmares (d. 1695)

Zumbi was the last leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares, an autonomous community of people of African descent, many of them former slaves, located in what is now Alagoas, Brazil, and which was once home to several thousand people. 

Said to have been captured by the Portuguese and given to a Catholic missionary as a child, he was baptized with the name Francisco, was taught the sacraments, learned Portuguese and Latin, and helped with daily mass. Zumbi escaped at the age of 15, returning to his birthplace, Palmares, where he eventually became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle. He practiced capoeira, a martial art developed by Black slaves in colonial Brazil and used by the people of the Quilombo as a defense against the Portuguese and Dutch colonists who ruled the area in the seventeenth century.

Zumbi eventually took on the leadership of Palmares after the Quilombo’s leader, Ganga Zumba, was offered a deal by the region’s colonial governor to bring the independent community under Portuguese rule, which Zumbi found unacceptable as it ensured the freedom of the Quilombo’s Black community but did nothing to end slavery elsewhere in the colony. The Portuguese eventually succeeded in destroying part of the Quilombo, ending over half a century of autonomous rule. Zumbi went into hiding after this great loss, but was ultimately captured and beheaded by the Portuguese on November 20, 1695. His head was taken to the city of Recife to be displayed to the public as a warning. Today Zumbi is celebrated as a hero in Brazil. and the date of his death has been proclaimed a holiday, the Dia de Consciência Negra (Day of Black Awareness).

November 20 - Brazil celebrates Black Awareness Day

The Day of Black Awareness (“Dia da Consciência Negra” in Portuguese) is celebrated annually on November 20 in Brazil as a day on which to reflect upon the injustices of slavery (from the first transport of African slaves to Brazil in 1594) and to celebrate the contributions to society and to the nation by Brazilian citizens of African descent. It takes place during the Week of Black Awareness. 

The day is marked on the anniversary of the death of Zumbi dos Palmares (1655–1695), the last leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares. The Day of the Black Awareness. The date was first observed in the 1960s and has been on the school calendar since 2003.

According to Fly Brother, many people in Brazil are celebrating Black Awareness Month. But many others see this particular exercise as unnecessarily divisive and alien to Brazil’s culture of “inclusiveness and miscegenation.”

See more: http://afroeurope.blogspot.com.br/2012/11/november-20-brazil-celebrates-black.html


Jorge Ben Jor, “Zumbi” (1974)

This song is inspired by the seventeenth century Black Brazilian historical figure Zumbi dos Palmares.

E será que este homem realmente existiu?

Ninguém sabe responder

Zumbi é uma lenda, um herói lendário de uma história dentro da história do país que constituiu nossa nação.

Mesmo que este homem não tenha existido, ele é símbolo de um luta que está no seu sangue, que está no meu sangue, que foi derramado para que você, cidadão de classe média possa estar aí, livre.

A luta de Zumbi é a luta de todos, a luta dos negros, das mulheres, dos gays, dos deficientes e de todos aqueles que são excluidos e deixamos a margem de uma sociedade que privilegia o dinheiro a cultura e as pessoas ao negócio.

Todo dia é dia de Zumbi.


In Brazil, November 20 is the “Day of Black Consciousness”, a holiday commemorating Zumbi dos Palmares, a hero of the resistance against slavery, who was executed by the Portuguese in 1695. This past Thursday, about 500 demonstrators of the “Workers without Shelter Movement” (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem-Teto) marched through Rio de Janeiro’s upscale neighborhoods Ipanema and Leblon, demonstrating against the deficit in affordable housing and rising rents, which leave thousands without shelter. The date and place of the demonstration was chosen to display the roles that racism and social marginalization play in this.

Some of these photos appeared in an article (in German) on the “Latinorama” blog of the Berlin-based newspaper “taz”: “Recht auf Strand: Wohnungslose in Rio de Janeiro” by Niklas Franzen, which the information above is also taken from.

Zumbi dos Palmares  (1655-1695) -  An African Warrior in Brazil

Zumbi dos Palmares was born around 1655 in the Quilombo dos Palmares. As an infant, he was captured by Portuguese soldiers and was given to Father Antonio Melo in Porto Calvo. The priest baptized Zumbi as Francisco and gave him an education consisting of learning Portuguese, Latin, and other subjects. Still unsettled in that world, Zumbi decided at the age of 15 to run away and return to the Quilombo dos Palmares. In the quilombo, he trained himself and others in an early version of Capoeira, firearms, swords, arrows, and defense strategies. His training proved great in 1675; Zumbi and other warriors of the community defeated Portuguese soldiers in a major battle.

To appreciate the effort itself or justify failures to catch him, the first reports about Zumbi, made ​​mostly by the Portuguese military, helped create the character who would become a founding identity of African descendants in Brazil. A strong, proud man, unhappy with his social status, that decided to face his tormentors and liberate his people. But not even this image of a revolutionary Zumbi is sustained by facts. His biography is shrouded in several questions. Among the most elementary is his origin. Was he an African chief brought forcibly to be a slave? Or was he born in Brazil? On one thing, at least, the experts agree: he lived and died in Palmares, a quilombo (meaning maroon society) ie, a stronghold of former slaves and their descendants.

With his proven braveness, Zumbi became a leader in the quilombo army. Even though he was adored and preferred by all in the community, another, named Ganga Zumba, was king. In an attack on the quilombo in 1677, one of Ganga Zumba’s sons was murdered and two others were captured. Tired of war, the king of the Quilombo dos Palmares accepted a peace treaty from the Portuguese to return any fugitive slaves living in the Palmares. Zumbi and most other in the quilombo disagreed with this idea of peace with Portugal so for his protection, Ganga Zumba moved to the Cucaú Valley under government supervision. Sometime later, Ganga Zumba died of poisoning and Zumbi became the new king of the Quilombo dos Palmares. Even whites who lived near the quilombo respected him so much that they called him captain. After many failed battles, the Portuguese attacked the withstanding quilombo again in 1693. During the battle, Zumbi was shot twice by soldiers, but managed to escape. In hiding for over a year, Zumbi was betrayed by one of his commanders. The betrayal led to the revelation of Zumbi’s location and eventually to his death. On November 20, 1695, the strong and resilient warrior was beheaded.

After Zumbi’s death, the Quilombo dos Palmares was abandoned and ruined. Yet to this day, its history still lives on for it is recognized by some as the birthplace of Capoeira. Zumbi, as ruler of the quilombo, is largely responsible for that. Being the warrior he was, Zumbi earned the respect and loyalty of the people fighting and dying for their freedom. He led the slaves of the Palmares in their struggle and resistance against the Portuguese and, eventually, to their emancipation. He may have lived 300 years ago, but Zumbi exists today as a symbol of the African slaves fight for freedom and social equality.