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Quilombo dos Palmares

The Quilombo dos Palmares was begun by runaway slaves, mainly from the Pernambuco sugarcane plantations, who initially gathered together about 70 kilometres west of the Pernambuco coastline, in Serra da Barriga (Belly Range), a place of dense palm tree forests.

Quilombo dos Palmares

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Last update: 19/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Serra da Barriga! (Belly Range)
Barriga de negranina! (Black person’s belly)
As outras montanhas se cobrem de neves, (The other mountains are covered with snow)
De noiva, de nuvens, de verde! (With brides, with clouds, with green!)
E tu, de Loanda, de panos-da-costa, (And you, from Loanda, from rags)
De argolas, de contas, de quilombos! (From rings, from tales, from quilombos!)

Serra da Barriga! (Belly Range)
Te vejo da casa em que nasci. (I see you from the home I was born)
Que medo danado de negro fujão!... (The utter fear of the escaped slave!...)

Jorge de Lima

Where there was slavery, there was resistance, and one of the most typical characteristics of black resistance in the struggle for freedom was escape and the formation of groups of runaway slaves.

In Brasil. these groups were mainly called ‘quilombos’ or ‘mocambos’ and their members were ‘quilombolas’, ‘calhambolas’ or ‘mocambeiros’.

Throughout the over 300 years of slavery in Brazil, the ‘quilombos’ functioned as an “escape valve” from the lack of freedom and violence in the slave houses.

As early as 1597, in a letter from Fr Pero Lopes, Jesuit provincial in Pernambuco, there are references to slave groups revolting.

The Quilombo dos Palmares was begun by runaway slaves, mainly from the Pernambuco sugarcane plantations, who initially gathered together about 70 kilometres west of the Pernambuco coastline, in Serra da Barriga (Belly Range), a place of dense palm tree forests (where the name ‘Palmares’ – palm trees – comes from), with rough terrain which made access more difficult.
The first group of slaves built their ‘mocambos’ (shacks) in a village that was called Macaco, a name that could be of Bantu (a black race from southern Africa) origins, despite the Portuguese interpreting it as reference to the animal (‘macaco’ = monkey, in Portuguese). It was also called Cerca Real (Royal Fence) and became, with the expansion of the quilombo, the capital or headquarters.

Palmares grew to have nine villages: Macaco, Andalaquituche, Subupira, Dambrabanga, Zumbi, Tabocas, Arotirene, Aqualtene and Amaro.

The forest provided the ‘quilombola’ with almost everything it needed to survive, such as fruits to eat; palm leaves to cover their huts; fibres to make materials, brooms, hats and baskets; coconuts to make oil; and the bark of some trees were used for making clothes. Besides hunting and fishing, they planted corn, cassava, beans, vegetables, tobacco and sugarcane, which supplied the community and was also sold to neighbouring settlements.

The ‘quilombo’ was organised like a small State. There were laws and norms that regulated the lives of its inhabitants, some even strict: thefts, desertions or homicides were punished by death. Decisions were made in assemblies with the participation of all the adults, being accepted as a result of the collective wishes.

There are records of the permanent presence of, apart from black people, mulattos, Indians and white people in the villages. Perhaps the persecution at the time of ethnic minorities, such as Jews, Moors and others, aside from combating witches, heretics, thieves and criminals, can explain why white people also went to live in the Palmares ‘quilombo’.

The black residents of Palmares were Catholic. In the villages there were churches and even Catholic priests. The inhabitants spoke various languages and dialects in Palmares, including Portuguese or a Portuguese Creole, but it is not known if there was a common language in the ‘quilombo’.

Considered to be a serious threat by rural property owners, plantation lords and farmers, the ‘quilombo’ was systematically and harshly restrained. There existed at the time capitães-do-mato (Captains of the Forest), specialists in the capture of escaped slaves and expeditions were periodically organised to destroy their hiding places.

The expeditions, also known as “entradas”, swept the forest looking for the “rebel” slaves.

Despite the frequency with which these expeditions were sent, various ‘quilombos’ appeared in Brazil, mainly in the Northeast, and that of Palmares was the most renowned for its organisation and its resistance.

From 1602 to 1694, several expeditions were sent to destroy Palmares, as much by the Portuguese as by the Dutch who invaded Pernambuco in 1630. At this time, there were approximately 10 thousand inhabitants in the ‘quilombo’. By 1640, Palmares had grown so much that the Dutch considered it to be “a serious danger”, sending two expeditions to destroy it, one in 1644 and another in 1645, without success.

After the Dutch had left Brazil in 1654, the Portuguese organised many expeditions against Palmares, putting into gear, from 1670, a systematic plan of destruction. The battles were bloody with losses on both sides, but with no victor.

In 1674, the then-governor of the Pernambuco province, Pedro de Almeida, sent a large expedition with the presence of Indians and a troop of black people called Terço de Henrique Dias, which had been formed to fight the Dutch, though this time the fight would again finish with no winner.

In 1675, Manuel Lopes headed a large army which destroyed one of the Palmares villages, capturing dozens of black people, and set up camp on the conquered place. In 1676, he received the help of one of the great strategists in the fight against ‘quilombolas’ and Indians, Fernão Carrilho, and launched a surprise attack on Aqualtene in 1677, establishing his headquarters in the village and made a series of attacks, killing and imprisoning two other sons of Ganga Zumba, the king of Palmares, and later capturing the king himself.

Governor Pedro de Almeida, fearing the future reorganisation of the ‘quilombo’, proposed a peace agreement with Ganga Zumba: Palmares would submit to the Portuguese Crown in exchange for administrative freedom, being considered a town, and Ganga Zumba would receive the role of Field Marshall.

Militarily disadvantaged, the deal was accepted, but the decision did not please all the residents of Palmares. Ganga Zumba was poisoned and Zumbi (head of the village Zumbi), became king of the ‘quilombo’.

Zumbi, the new king, was able to defeat all the expeditions sent to Palmares between 1680 and 1691, becoming feared and respected.

In 1691, the new governor of Pernambuco, Souto Mayor, organised an army to defeat once-and-for-all the Palmares ‘quilombo’, contracting a famous bloodthirsty exterminator of Indians called Domingos Jorge Velho.

In 1692, Domingos Velho attacked the Macaco village, where Zumbi was, and had his troops massacred. He then requested reinforcements and received the help of troops commanded by Bernardo Vieira de Melo.

Until 1694, the ‘quilombo’ was besieged, but repelled all the army’s attacks, finally falling on 6 February that year when the army with reinforcements invaded the area and defeated the ‘quilombolas’.

Zumbi was able to escape and was only captured a year later. Put to death and quartered, his head was displayed in the city of Olinda.

Recife, 9 December 2004.
(Updated on 31 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.


sources consulted

DÉCIO, Freitas. Palmares: a guerra dos escravos. 4. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Graal, 1982. p.123-132.

MOTTA, Roberto. Palmares e o comunitarismo negro no Brasil. Revista do Patrimônio Histórica e Artístico Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, n.25, p.223-230, 1997.

REIS, João José; GOMES, Flávio dos Santos (Org.). Liberdade por um fio: história dos quilombos no Brasil. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.

SILVA, Fernando Carreia da. Zumbi dos Palmares: libertador dos escravos: 1655-1695. Disponível em: < > Acesso em: 16 nov. 2004.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Quilombo dos Palmares. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.