Africans in Brazil: Zumbi dos Palmares

Zumbi dos Palmares
(born: 1655 - died: 1694)

Zumbi dos Palmares was born free in the Palmares region of Brazil in the year 1655, the last of the military leaders of the Quilombo (Kimbundu word: "kilombo," of the North Mbundu Bantu language in Angola, meaning "warrior village or settlement") of Palmares. The Quilombo dos Palmares were a free society (free born, maroons, or refugee slave), an old South American republic, which included the present day Brazilian coastal state of Alagoas, Brazil. Today, Zumbi is known as one of the great historic leaders of Brazil.

Brazilian Coastal State of Alagoas

At approximately 6 years old, Zumbi was captured from the Palmares region by the Portuguese and given as a slave to a Portuguese priest, António Melo. Baptized Francisco, Zumbi was taught Latin, the Portuguese religion and language, and assigned to serve the Catholic mass. In 1670, at 15 years old, Zumbi escaped and returned to his birthplace where he soon became known as a Capoërae / Capoiera master in the roda (wheel or circle) of Palmares' practioners of this African martial art. By his early twenties, he became a respected military strategist.

Quilombo dos Palmares Republic

Quilombo dos Palmares was a self-sustaining republic of maroons located in "a region perhaps the size of Portugal in the hinterland of Bahia" (Braudel 1984). The Bahia - Alagoas region of Brazil is where this free African settlement was located. At its height in the early 1600s, Palmares had a population of over 30,000. By 1630, it was described by the commentators as "the Promised Land" for escaped African slaves. King Ganga Zumba of Palmares offered emancipation for slaves entering its territories.

In 1644, the Dutch invaded the northeastern region but, as the Portuguese had failed before, the European  insurrections failed to penetrate Palmares.

Quilombos of Palmares

By 1654, the Portuguese expelled the Dutch from the region, many of whom relocated to Suriname. The Palmares military were expert in the Capoeira self defense, often described as the art of escape. They were forced to defend against repeated attacks by Portuguese colonizers seeking free labor for growing sugar plantations. Many of the escaping Africans from the Portuguese colony originated from the Angolan region in south-central Africa, then under Portuguese colonization.

"Jogar Capoërae - Danse de la guerre (Playing Capoiera - Dance of war)"
was painted by German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas in 1835.

A 21st Century painting of Brazilian Capoeira

By 1678, Pedro Almeida, the weary governor of Pernambuco approached the Palmares leader King Ganga Zumba for negotiations. Almeida agreed to concede all runaway slaves residing in the Palmares regions if Palmares would submit to Portuguese rule. King Ganga Zumba favored the compromise but Zumbi did not because the Portuguese would not agree to free all the human slaves in the Portuguese colonial region.

Before King Ganga Zumba's death, Zumbi commanded the leadership of the independent Quilombos dos Palmares, becoming the commander-in-chief of its resistence. Fifteen years after Zumbi assumed military leadership of Palmares, Portuguese colonial military commanders from the São Paulo region -- Domingos Jorge Velho and Bernardo Vieira de Melo -- mounted a military assault against Palmares. By 1680, Zumbi of Palmares reigned against the Portuguese.

Quilombo de San Gonçalo 1769 (National Library of Brazil).
The Quilombo settlements were designed within a circle, as was
the dance/martial-art of Capoiera.
The Capoiera circle is called the Roda.

Zumbi Leads the Quilombo Resistance

Zumbi eluded the Portuguese and continued the Quilombo resistance. Commentators have written that he was betrayed by a captured Quilombo who led the Portugese of São Paulo (Paulistas) to Zumbi's hideout. In any case, led by Domingos Jorge Velho and Vieira de Mello, on February 6, 1694, after 67 years military conflict with Palmares, the Portuguese eventually destroyed the Palmares compound Cerca do Macaco ("monkey enclosure"). While the Quilombo remained in the Palmares region, Zumbi was captured and killed on November 20, 1695. His head is said to have been shipped to Recife, Brazil where it was displayed in the central praça as proof that Zumbi was not immortal and as a warning to other African resistance fighters.

November 20 has been celebrated in Brazil as Black Awareness Day (or Black Conscious Day, portuegese: Dia Nacional da Consciência Negra) since the 1960s. The day has special meaning in honor of Zumbi -- a black hero and freedom fighter. Additionally, May 13 is the national holiday in Brazil in honor of the Abolition of Slavery in Brazil in 1850. 

Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport in Maceió, Alagoas, Brasil
Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport (IATA: MCZ, ICAO: SBMO)
is an international airport serving Maceió in Brazil. This modern airport
connects Maceió with various Brazilian cities and also operates international flights.

Beaches of Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil

Further research: A 1984 film directed by Carlos Diegues tells the story of Quilombo dos Palmares. Its star actors are Antonio Pomeu, Zezé Motta, Tony Tornado, and Vera Fischer.


  1. As a Brazilian, better a nordestina (people that comes from the Northwest of Brazil) living in the US, it was a pleasure to find your blog about an important fact from the region where I was born!

    Every time that somebody mentions The Capoeira - The Brazilian Martial art- I smile.

    People don't know that it was the way that the slaves found to "keep in shape and ready to fight" using the dance and that special choreography to fool their owners :)

    Thank you so much for this great post!
    Mary Adams
    Webmistress of My Sheer Curtains
    Visit us at Sheer Curtains

  2. Very good information. I just have one correction to make, to the last paragraph. Brazil was the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery. This law (Lei Aurea) was signed on May 13, 1888, not 1850, by Princess Isabel I. The following year, Brazil became a republic.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. The article did not mention Zumbi islamic belief

    1. you are confusing Zombie priests and Zumbi the Muslim Brazilian who fought christian portugess , most western african slaves were muslims

    2. There is absolutely no documented evidence of Zumbi's religious beliefs. One historian says he saw a document attesting to Zumbi being raised and educated by a priest in Porto Calvo, but no one else has seen the document. There was a quasi-Catholic chapel at Palmares, which may indicate something. for more details, see the book "Quilombo dos Palmares: Brazil's Lost Nation of Fugitive slaves"

  4. With the understanding of how those that choose to be the enemies of Black People distort our story with his-story(history), i decided to go into the deep recesses of my spirit and get the truth. This is what Zumbi Alakijade of Palmares said to me when i communicated with him :

    I never practiced Islam or Christianity which were the two main tools used to enslave Africans worldwide. I was and still am a Voodoo Priest which is what i used to defeat the Portuguese for such a long a time. i used the Oracles left behind by Acotirene. As such i was able to keep Palmares thriving. I also used the Oracles to escape the final onslaught on Palmares in my time and did not die at the hands of the enslavers. I lived for quite a while after our villages were destroyed and orchestrated our revival. i died a natural physical death as an elderly warrior. Lies have been told about my physical passing as a psychological weapon used against our people. Do not believe them. The movie Quilombo needs a remake to reflect what i am saying to you. Embrace your Ancient Black Religion and know one will ever be able to enslave us ever again as we in Palmares proved to the world.

    Zumbi cannot die, Zumbi is eternal.

  5. Good book on this topic: Quilombo dos Palmares: Brazil's Lost Nation of Fugitive Slaves. See or

  6. Thanks for the information and links you shared this is so should be a useful and quite informative!
    capoeira palmeras

  7. Dear All
    My freinds
    Please I need to know espcialist in Zumbi life, we prepare a documentary film about him, may you contact me on next eamil,

  8. Dear All
    My freinds
    Please I need to know espcialist in Zumbi life, we prepare a documentary film about him, may you contact me on next eamil,

  9. Shepsu Neteru,
    sounds about right, considering before colonisation, Afrikans did not have a reliegious but spirituality system, which they practised.