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Zumbi dos Palmares

The life of Zumbi, king of the quilombo dos Palmares, is little-known and shrouded in myth and argument.

Zumbi dos Palmares

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Last update: 20/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco


Zumbi, comandante guerrreiro (Zumbi, warrior commander)
Ogunhê, ferreiro-mor, capitão (Ogunhê, main warrior, captain)
Da capitania da minha cabeça (Of the captaincy in my head)
Mandai a alforria pro meu coração (Commanded the emancipation of my heart)

(...) Brasil, meu Brasil brasileiro (Brazil, my Brazilian Brazil)
Meu grande terreiro, meu berço nação (My great land, my nation crib)
Zumbi protetor, guardião padroeiro (Protector Zumbi, guardian godfather)
Mandai a alforria pro meu coração (Commanded the emancipation of my heart)

[A felicidade guerreira (The Warrior Happiness), Waly Salomão and Gilberto Gil] .


The life of Zumbi, king of the quilombo dos Palmares, is little-known and shrouded in myth and argument.

Descendent of the imbamgala or jagas warriors of Angola, Zumbi was probably born at the beginning of 1655 in one of the villages of the Palmares ‘quilombo’.

Imprisoned after being born only a few days by the soldiers of the expedition sent to Palmares under the command of Brás da Rocha Cardoso, he was given to the Portuguese priest Antônio Melo, from the district of Porto Calvo, Alagoas, who raised and baptised him, giving him the name Francisco.

The priest taught him to read and write in Portuguese and Latin. At ten he became his acolyte and praised him saying that the boy was the owner of “an ingenuity never imagined in his race and that is very seldom found in whites”.

When he was 15, in 1670, Francisco fled from the priest’s home and returned to his people and his roots in the Palmares ‘quilombo’, changing his Christian name Francisco for the African name Zumbi.

The etymological and historical significance is not known of the king of Palmares’ name. In African religious mythology there is a supreme divinity called Nzambi (Nyambi, Nyame), and there also exists the term Zombi (nzumbi) which in Angola means ‘defunct’. Some chroniclers also say that it could mean “god of war” or even “living-dead”. There does not exist, however, definitive proof of the origin of the adoption of the name.

Zumbi had at least five children, but there are insufficient historical records to prove the traditional theory that he was married to a white woman named Maria.

The name Zumbi appeared for the first time in Portuguese documents in 1673, when an expedition commanded by Jácome Bezerra was defeated.

He became a great warrior and military strategist in the fight to defend Palmares against Portuguese soldiers. He was wounded by a shot in the leg in 1676, during a battle against the troops of Manuel Lopes Galvão.

In 1678, after a peace agreement signed by Ganga-Zumba, then the head of Palmares, with the government of Pernambuco, Zumbi broke ties with him and was acclaimed as Great Chief by the people of Palmares, who also did not accept the deal.

He directed the entire life of the ‘quilombo’ to the demands of war: shifting the more remote settlements; drafting and training all able-bodied men to fight; increasing the number of observation posts and lookouts; gathering arms and munitions and reinforcing the fortifications in the village of Macaco or Cerco Real, the headquarters of the ‘quilombo’, making it almost impregnable and declaring marshal law: whoever attempted to leave would be killed.

From 1680 to 1691, Zumbi was able to defeat all the expeditions sent to the Palmares ‘quilombo’.

In 1692, the village of Macaco was attacked by Domingos Jorge Velho, who had his troops devastated. The ‘quilombo’ remained under siege, but only capitulated on 6 February 1694, when the Portuguese army, heavily reinforced, managed to invade the location and defeat the ‘quilombolas’ (residents of the ‘quimbolo’).

Shot, Zumbi fell off a cliff, which gave rise to the rumour that the hero had committed suicide to avoid being re-enslaved. However, he managed to escape and in 1695 reappeared, attacking some settlements in Pernambuco, proving that he hadn’t died.

He was only captured, however, on 20 November 1695. Betrayed by one of his main commanders, Antônio Soares, who revealed Zumbi’s hideout in exchange for freedom, was killed, quartered and had his head exposed in a public square in the city of Olinda.

Nowadays, on 20 November, he is commemorated in Brazil on Black Conscience day.

Recife, 21 December 2004.
Updated on 9 September 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.

sources consulted

BEZERRA NETO, [José]. Zumbi: o deus negro dos Palmares. Maceió: [s.n.], 2002. 155p.

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

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