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A quilombo (Portuguese pronunciation: [kiˈlõbu]; from the Kimbundu word kilombo) is a Brazilian hinterland settlement founded by people of African origin, Quilombolas, or Maroons. Most of the inhabitants of quilombos (called quilombolas) were escaped slaves and, in some cases, a minority of marginalised Portuguese, Brazilian aboriginals, Jews and Arabs, and/or other non-black, non-slave Brazilians who experienced oppression during colonization. However, the documentation on runaway slave communities typically uses the term mocambo to describe the settlements. "Mocambo" is an Ambundu word that means "hideout", and is typically much smaller than a quilombo. Quilombo was not used until the 1670s and then primarily in more southerly parts of Brazil.

A similar settlement exists in other Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, and is called a palenque. Its inhabitants are palenqueros who speak various Spanish-African-based creole languages.


Quilombos are identified as one of three basic forms of active resistance by slaves. The other two are attempts to seize power and armed insurrections for amelioration.[1] Typically, quilombos are a "pre-19th century phenomenon". The prevalence of the last two increased in the first half of 19th century Brazil, which was undergoing both political transition and increased slave trade at the time.

During the sugar boom period (1570–1670), the sugar plantations in Brazil presented hellish conditions, even excluding the personal brutality of certain slave owners. There was high physical exertion on workers, especially during harvest season. In addition, slaves were held to near-impossible daily production quotas while having to contend with lack of rest and food. Economically, it was cheaper for slave owners to work their slaves to death and get new replacement slaves. Conditions were so bad that even the Crown intervened on at least two occasions, forcing plantations owners to give their slaves sufficient food.

Not all slaves who ran away formed settlements in Brazil. Escape from slave life is a matter of opportunity. Settlements were formed in areas with dense populations of slaves, like Pernambuco, where the biggest collection of mocambos formed the quilombo that was Palmares. Some, like Mahommah G. Baquaqua, escaped to New York because his multiple attempts at escape and suicide led to him being sold to a ship’s captain.[5]

It is widely believed that the term quilombo establishes a link between settlements and the culture of central West Africa where the majority of slaves were forcibly brought to Brazil.During the time of the slave trafficking, natives in central Angola, called Imbangala, had created an institution called a kilombo that united various tribes of diverse lineage into a community designed for military resistance during that time of upheaval.

Many quilombos were near Portuguese plantations and settlements. To keep their freedom, they were active both in defending against capitães do mato and being commissioned to recapture other runaway slaves. At the same time, they facilitated the escape of even more slaves. For this reason, they were targets of the Dutch, then Portuguese colonial authorities and, later, of the Brazilian state and slaveowners.

Despite the atmosphere of cooperation between some quilombos and the surrounding Portuguese settlements, they were almost always eventually destroyed. 7 of 10 major quilombos in colonial Brazil were terminated within two years of formation. Some mocambos that were farther from Portuguese settlements and the later Brazilian cities were tolerated and still exist as towns today, with their dwellers speaking distinctly African-Portuguese Creole languages.[6]

The most famous quilombo was Palmares, an independent, self-sustaining republic near Recife, established in about 1600. Palmares was massive and consisted of several settlements with a combined population of over 30,000 renegades, mostly blacks.It was the only quilombo to survive almost an entire century, with the second longest-standing quilombo at Mato Grosso lasting only 25 years.[7] 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 republic of escaped slaves from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil, "a region perhaps the size of Portugal in the hinterland of Bahia" (Braudel 1984 p 390).

At its height, Palmares had a population of over 30,000. Forced to defend against repeated attacks by Portuguese colonists, the warriors of Palmares were experts in capoeira, a dance and martial art form.

Ganga Zumba and Zumbi are the two most well known warrior-leaders of Palmares which, after a history of conflict with, first, Dutch and then Portuguese colonial authorities, finally fell to a Portuguese artillery assault in 1694.Portuguese soldiers sometimes stated it took more than one dragoon to capture a quilombo warrior, since they would defend themselves with a strangely moving fighting technique. The governor from that province declared "it is harder to defeat a quilombo than the dutch invaders".[citation needed]

In Brazil, both men are now honored as heroes and symbols of black pride, freedom and democracy. Zumbi's execution date (as his birthday is unknown), November 20, is observed as Dia da Consciência Negra or "Black Awareness Day" in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and his image has appeared on postage stamps, banknotes and coins.

The 1988 Constitution of Brazil granted the remaining quilombos the collective ownership of the lands they have occupied since colonial times, thus recognizing their distinct identity at the same level of the Indians.