Published On: March 17, 2018

Quilombos Victory

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Comunidade Kalunga - quilombolas. Chapada dos Veadeiros, Cavalcante-GO, 2010.

This month, a community descended from African slaves known as quilombos celebrated a victory they’ve waited generations for – the government entitled the community to 220,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest. The borders of the land entitlement were demarcated through a lengthy process and map project overseen by the New Social Cartography Project of the Amazon.

The land is designated for the Cachoeira Porteira quilombo community of 500 people in Pará state. The newly-entitled landowners are descendants of the 4.5 million slaves who were brought to Brazil between 1600 and 1850. Some slaves escaped and formed rural Afro-Brazilian communities known as quilombos.

These quilombos were also used as a form of resistance against slavery – the communities banded together for survival and learned how to live off the land. That cultural tradition of community support and collective fate has persisted today.

Most of the original inhabitants of quilombos (called quilombolas) were escaped slaves and, in some cases, these escaped African slaves would later help provide shelter and homes to other minorities of marginalized Portuguese, such as Brazilian aboriginals, Jews, Arabs, and other non-slave Brazilians.

Quilombo celebration in Bahia

Quilombo celebration in Bahia

Today, there are about 3,000 officially-recognized quilombos in Brazil, but about half still do not own the land they and their ancestors inhabited. The communities are spread out over 20 million hectares. Only a little more than 1 million of the 20 million hectares of territory claimed by the quilombo communities have been titled. That equals only about 170 land titles for the 3,000 communities.

After a lengthy legal fight to win the land entitlement, in February 2018, Brazil’s Supreme Court reaffirmed that quilombo people have rights over their territories. Article 68 of the 1988 Constitution of Brazil granted the remaining quilombos the collective ownership of the lands they had occupied since colonial times.

The Supreme Court decision – and the following official entitlement to the Cachoeira Porteira community just days ago – could be the first of many more. Quilombo communities have had difficulty securing land titles in the face of powerful agribusiness interests that need land for development.

Kaonge quilimbo in Cachoeira, Bahia

Kaonge quilombo in Cachoeira, Bahia

The most famous quilombo was Palmares, an independent, self-sustaining community near Recife, established in about 1600. Palmares was massive and consisted of several settlements with a combined population of over 30,000 citizens, mostly blacks. It was the only quilombo to survive almost an entire century, with the second longest-standing quilombo in Mato Grosso lasting only 25 years. Part of the reason for the massive size of the quilombo at Palmares was because of its location in Brazil, which was at the median point between the Atlantic Ocean and Guinea, an important area of the African slave trade.

Quilombo dos Palmares was a self-sustaining community of escaped slaves from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil. Forced to defend against repeated attacks by Portuguese colonists, the warriors of Palmares were experts in capoeira, a dance and martial art form.

A 1984 film entitled Quilombo depicts the rise and fall of Palmares. Directed by Carlos Diegues, Quilombo is a historical epic that chronicles the lives of Ganga Zumba and Zumbi, the two most well-known warrior-leaders of Palmares.

[This article comes from the Mongabay website.]

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