The Legacy of Zumbi of Palmares Should Inspire Our Contemporary Resistance


Monument to Zumbi dos Palmares, in Salvador, Bahia, Brasil. Photo: Andrevruas Wikimedia Commons


This is what Jorge Ben Jor says about Zumbi: 


I want to see

I want to see

I want to see

When Zumbi Arrives

What will happen

Zumbi is Lord of Wars

It’s Lord of demands

When Zumbi Arrives 

It’s Zombi who order

I want to see

I want to see

I want to see


The Day of Black Consciousness, November 20, is the date of the assassination of Zumbi dos Palmares. In 1695 Zumbi was killed in combat for the freedom of the Brazilian people. He is a big inspiration for those who feel the spirit of fighting.


Zumbi inspires all those who are fighting for a better world; Zumbi was considered immortal. In an attempt to deface the symbolism of the myth, Zumbi’s head was exposed in a public square. Today, busts rise up in his honor to keep alive the expression ad eturnum “Zumbi lives!”


Listen to Abdias Nascimento in “O Quilombismo”: “Africans and Creoles born in Brazil, led by Zumbi, were brave masters of the Art of War. Being the most famous leader of an organization, both social and political, what does Zumbi have to teach us? Nascimento in his masterpiece Quilombismo (1980) contextualizes the mythology of Zumbi of Palmares: “…He is the founder, in practice, of the historical – cultural scientific concept of Quilombismo. Quilombismo continued by other heroes of the black history: Luísa Mahin and its son Luis Gama, Chico Rei, the hanged of the Tailors’ Revolt, Malês uprisings, Balaiada, Sea Dragon, Karocango, João Cândido, and the millions of quilombolas killed everywhere.”


However, what is the Quilombismo? It is important to draw attention that in the same year, during the 1980s, Molefi Kete Asante developed the Afrocentricity theory and Abdias developed the Quilombismo. Both thesis place Black people as the main actors in social transformation. Here are some principles and purposes on Quilombismo as Abdias Nascimento informs us:


1. Quilombismo is a political movement of Black Brazilians; it aims for the establishment of a Quilombista National State, inspired by the model of the Republic of Palmares, in the sixteenth century, and other quilombos that existed and exist in the country.


2. Quilombismo National State is based on a free, just, egalitarian and sovereign society. Quilombista democratic egalitarianism embraces gender, society, religion, politics, justice, education, culture, racial condition, economic situation; all expressions of life in society. The same egalitarianism applies to all levels of power and public and private institutions.


3. The basic purpose of the Quilombista National State is to promote the happiness of the human being. To achieve its purpose, Quilombismo believes in an economy of base – cooperative – community in the sector of production, distribution and the division of the results of collective work.


Zumbi was a descendant of Bantus, Africans born in countries like Angola, Congo, Mozambique, and others. Together with his brothers, their powerful army protected a kingdom known as Republic of Palmares, the largest and most famous Quilombo in Brazil. An African territory in Brazil, approximately one-third the size of Portugal, that also was also home to indigenous people and Whites who fought against colonial domination.


At its peak, Palmares had 30,000 inhabitants that halted the advances of Portuguese and Dutch armies from 1595 to 1695. There was 100 years of peace in the Quilombos and fire in the Big House. So there were generations of liberated Africans in Brazil that never stepped on the “Senzala”, or or camp for enslaved people, during 100 years of existence and resistance. These warriors repudiated the myth that all All Africans in Brazil during the era of slavery were enslaved.


All the heroic people of Palmares must be recognized by Pan-Africans world-wide. They were founders of the pan Africanist movement. While this African State was built and flourished, its idea of strength had its dialectical counterpoint against colonialism in Angola, where Queen N’Zinga confronted the Portuguese invasion of Africa. 


José Luiz Pereira da Costa in “A Brazilian Hero,”informs us why the unparalleled success of Palmares has not won fitting recognition: “While there was still slavery in Brazil, those enslaved constantly showed their rejection of the system via revolts and armed conflicts, which frequently found no parallel in the history of any other people in the New World. Those revolts, nevertheless, have not found, yet, what Lucien Lebvre called as ‘the right to be in history.’ Often unknown in frequency and intensity, uprisings by the enslaved have been considered as an aside of Brazilian history. A certain outside place at History of Brazil, for those movements, served strong historic interest. Among them, must be underlined, the official wish to preserve, as a solid myth, the peaceful, and soft character of the slavery system in Brazil.”


Even though Law 10.639/2003 obliges the teaching of the history of Africa and the contributions of Black people in Brazilian society, in public and private schools, there is widespread denial of Black history in the popular imagination. Few know of the similarity between Quilombismo and the communitarianism or ujamaaism of the African tradition. This is even completely unknown to the so-called revolutionary leaders of the Brazilian left. As the late Dr. John Henrik Clarke put it in “Black/White Alliances: A Historical Perspective”: “We created the concept called socialism. This is established in the fact that an African King, 1,300 years before the birth of Christ, preached from the throne the same thing Karl Marx thought he had invented.”


Yes, so-called revolutionary groups that believe that Europe was the center of world history should digest the words of Abdias Nascimento, who had the following to say about the late Cheikh Anta Diop, one of history’s greatest scientist: “Diop’s statements are based on rigorous research, rigorous examination and rigorous conclusion, leaving no room for doubt or discussion. And this far from pretending that dogmatism that always characterizes the ‘scientific’ certainties of the western world. What Diop did was simply to break down the supposedly definitive structures of ‘universal’ knowledge with respect to Egyptian and Greek antiquity. Like it or not, Westerners have to swallow truths like this: ‘… four centuries before the publication of Lévy-Bruhl’s Primitive Mindset, Muslim black Africa commented on Aristotle’s formal logic (which he plagiarized from black Egypt) and he was an expert in dialectics”(Diop, 1978 [1963]: 212). And this, let’s not forget, happened almost 500 years before at least Hegel or Karl Marx were born…”


Zumbi’s legacy for the Global Black community today is to inspire all to conquer independence autonomous ways and work together.


Black people in Brazil spend $ 1.6 trillion per year, a significant sum considering Brazil’s national budget for 2019 is $ 3.3 trillion. With such spending power why not build condominiums, schools, hospitals, businesses and clubs where Black people can feel welcome? There is no limit to possibilities: cultural production, the creation of theaters, cinemas, and Black journalism to challenge false demeaning narratives and give voice to the Black existence and experience.


Black neighborhoods, suburbs, and slums are abandoned by the government to favor the production of violence, since the cultural isolation is purposeful. However, it is possible to transform the current reality. With the racial consciousness that we are the majority of the population in Brazil, the power is ours.


The African and Diasporic world must to look with special attention to Brazil in these first two decades of the 21st century. As an African Brazilian, I know the role of my country in geopolitics. Just like the generations before me, I have been working hard to help my people fulfill their role in their historical development.


In all of us run the blood of the direct descendant of Zumbi. We must not fail them. 


Mileno is an artist and intellectual who writes from Brazil. Reach him via [email protected] 



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