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They are social groups whose ethnical identity – i.e. their common ancestry, manners of political and social organization, linguistic, religious, and cultural elements – set them apart from the rest of society.


Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 11/10/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

While discussing quilombos, one soon thinks of the Palmares Quilombo, an isolated place where runaway slaves and their hero, Zumbi, the most famous Brazilian slave, lived. And what are quilombolas? Quilombolas are the current habitants of Black rural communities made by the descendants of African-American slaves, who lived, in their majority, from subsistence agriculture in donated, bought, or long-occupied lands.

They are social groups whose ethnical identity – i.e. their common ancestry, manners of political and social organization, linguistic, religious, and cultural elements – set them apart from the rest of society. Ethnical identity is a self-identification process, which cannot be summarized by material elements or biological features, such as skin color. These communities developed resistance processes to keep and reproduce a way of life that is characteristic of a certain place.

They are not necessarily isolated communities or made by one type of homogenous population. The quilombola communities were created through different processes, including, in addition to the escapes to occupy free lands, heritages, donations, payments for services rendered to the State, purchase, or permanence in lands that were occupied and cultivated in large properties.

Depending on the geographical area where they are located, they are also known as mocambos or black lands.

To this day, there is no surety on the number of quilombola communities in Brazil, but it is estimated that there are at least three thousand in all national territory, located in the states of Amapá, Bahia, Ceará, Espírito Santo, Goiás, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Paraná, Piauí, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Rondônia, Santa Catarina, São Paulo, Sergipe, and Tocantins.

The Brazilian states with the higher amount of quilombola communities are Bahia, Maranhão, Minas Gerais, and Pará.

According to official data from the Special Secretariat for Policies for Promoting Racial Equality (Seppir) and the National Institute for Colonization and Land Reform (Incra), agencies responsible for the identification, recognition, delimitation, demarcation, and property of the lands occupied by quilombolas, there are currently over seven hundred communities officially registered by the Palmares Foundation, of the Ministry of Culture, and over two hundred land regularization processes underway, regarding over three hundred communities located at 24 Brazilian states.

As of the 1988 Federal Constitution, due to the mobilization of the Black movement in the Country, the quilombola cause became a part of Brazilian public policies. Article 68 of the Transitory Constitutional Dispositions Act (ADCT) says: To the people remaining from quilombo communities, who are occupying in their lands, is it acknowledged the definitive property, and the State should issue them the respective titles.

The Durban Declaration, in South Africa, drafted at the 3rd World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance that took place on 2001, acknowledged that African Americans are victims of racism and racial discrimination, raising matters of the rights of this population in their ancestral lands. The Declaration was the basis for the creation, in Brazil, of the National Police for the Promotion of Racial Equality, instituted by Decree 4886/2003, with public policies aimed for racial equality and against ethnical discrimination, among which is the Brazil Quilombola Program (PBQ), which supports quilombola communities through actions for regularizing land ownerships, infrastructure, and services, economic and social development, control and social participation.

The Decree 4887/2003 granted quilombolas the right to self-identification as the sole criteria for identifying communities, based on Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (OIT), which provides the right to self-identification to Indian and tribal people, regulating the procedure of land regularization: Lands occupied by people remaining from quilombo communities are those used to ensure their physical, social, economic, and cultural reproduction.

Studies recently performed on the situation of quilombola communities point out to many infrastructure and life quality problems, such as precarious habitations, built from straw or wood; lack of drinking water and inadequate sanitary installations; difficult access to schools, built far from the students’ houses; inefficient and few transportation; lack of health centers in most communities, with almost no employees, and sometimes many kilometers far. Furthermore, there is another important problem: the discrimination in the treatment of the habitants of quilombola communities.

According to the 2007 School Census, Brazil has approximately 151 thousand students enrolled in 1,253 schools located in quilombola communities, almost 75% of them located at the Northeast region.  Most teachers are not properly capacitated and there are not enough of them to supply the demand. Few communities have an educational unity with complete primary school.

Recife, 22 July 2011.

sources consulted

COMUNIDADES quilombolas no Brasil. Disponível em: <>. Accessed: 22 jul. 2011.

COMUNIDADES quilombolas. O que são? Disponível em: <>. Accessed: 20 jul. 2011.

EDUCAÇÃO quilombola: apresentação. Disponível em: <>. Accessed: 22 jul.2011.

ESTÓRIAS quilombolas. Brasília: Ministério da Educação, 2008. (Coleção caminho das pedras, 3)

OBSERVATÓRIO QUILOMBOLA. Disponível em: <>. Accessed: 20 jul. 2011.

ROSA, Edna Ferreira. Comunidade quilombola Kalunga: entre o direito étnico, políticas públicas e a legislação ambiental. Revista de Direito Agrário, Brasília, D.F, ano 20, n. 21, p. 31-79, 2007.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Quilombolas. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 August 2009.