The dynamic duo of the African man and woman is unmatched. As highlighted in the film Queen & Slim, our union is the epitome of Black Power. Divine intervention must be working in my favor because I recently discovered two revolutionaries who left a major imprint on Afro-Brazilian history. And it’s only right that I share my findings with you all.
Zumbi and Dandara dos Palmares were two heroes who fought for the liberation of African people in Brazil. During the 17th century, escaped slaves formed hidden communities called Quilombos. Located between the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco, northern Brazil, the inhabitants consisted of the Ambundo people who came from the Kingdom of Kongo (currently Angola). More than 4.8 million African slaves were brought to Brazil and approximately 25,000 people lived in that region; Palmares was also a multicultural society where Black, mestizo, and Indian runaways were free. Today, the Quilombo dos Palmares represents a symbol of resistance.
Zumbi dos Palmares
Zumbi Palmares was a warrior and leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares. Born in 1655, Zumbi was free when he was kidnapped as a child and given to a priest, Father Antonio Melo. According to Face2Face Africa, he was baptized, taught Portuguese and Latin, but at fifteen years old, he fled and returned to his original home. He became a military strategist and capoeira expert, and this helped him defend his people against repeated attacks from the Portuguese.
In 1678, the governor of the captaincy of Pernambuco made an offer to then leader, Ganga Zumba, about granting freedom to runaway slaves if Palmares would submit to Portuguese authority. Ganga Zumba agreed to the proposal, but Zumbi rejected it and challenged Ganga’s leadership. After Zumba’s death, Zumbi Palmares became the new leader of Quilombo and continued the fight against the Portuguese. Zumbi was later killed in battle on November 20, 1695, and to this day, he’s revered for his contributions to the struggle against colonialism.
Dandara dos Palmares
Dandara Palmares was the wife of Zumbi Palmares, and she fought alongside her husband for the liberation of her people. Labeled the feminine face of Quilombo of Palmares, Dandara—which means “a Mais Bela,” the most beautiful—was a queen, warrior, and mother of three children: Motumbo, Harmódio, and Aristogiton. She worked in the production of cassava flour, she knew how to hunt, fight capoeira, wield weapons, and lead an adult female phalanx of the Palmares army. Anthropologist Maria de Lourdes Siqueira, a retired professor from the Federal University of Bahia (UFBa), advised the following:
“Dandara is the most representative of female leadership in the Republic of Palmares. She participated in all the battles, all the fights, in everything that was created, organized, experienced and suffered there. Little is known about her origins: where she was born, where she came from. Some literature says that she had ancestry in the African nation of Jeje Mahin.”
Warriors and lovers, Zumbi and Dandara led various rebellions onto farms to free slaves and seize supplies, weapons, and ammunition. Dandara also played a major role in the breakup of her husband and his predecessor, Ganga Zumba. Like her husband, she opposed the terms of the treaty between the governor of the captaincy of Pernambuco and Ganga because she stood for the freedom of all people. The negotiations required the move of the Palmares to the islands of the Vale do Cacau (Valley of Cocoa), which would bring destruction to the Republic and force the inhabitants back into slavery.
Ganga Zumba was killed by one of the Blacks who opposed the negotiation. Dandara was later captured on February 6, 1694. Refusing to go back into slavery, she took her own life by throwing herself off a cliff. Although she has not been recognized as much as her husband, due to sexism, her legacy is still honored.
The National Day of Black Consciousness in Brazil is November 20. Today, there are over 3,000 Quilombola communities. The descendants of those freed slaves that fought alongside Zumbi and Dandara dos Palmares continue to pay their respects. Because without their bravery and love for their people, those communities probably wouldn’t exist.
Until Next Time…
Arraes , J. (2014, November 20). Dandara, the wife of Zumbi, Brazil’s greatest black leader,was a revolutionary warrior in her own right. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from http://kalamu.com/neogriot/2014/11/23/history-dandara-the-wife-of-zumbi-brazils-greatest-black-leader-was-a-revolutionary-warrior-in-her-own-right/.
Lima, J. L. (2019, October 21). The legendary female warrior that history forgot. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/reel/video/p07r14x0/the-legendary-female-warrior-that-history-forgot.
Taylor, Mildred Europa. Zumbi Dos Palmares, Brazil’s Greatest Warrior Figure Who Led a Massive Slave Resistance in the 1600s. 20 Nov. 2018, https://face2faceafrica.com/article/zumbi-dos-palmares-brazils-greatest-warrior-figure-who-led-a-massive-slave-resistance-in-the-1600s. Accessed 7 Dec. 2019.