The Slave Who Became A King, Zumbi Dos Palmares

September 22, 2020

The Slave Who Became A King, Zumbi Dos Palmares
Play Episode

Zumbi was a descendant of Angolan royalty who was enslaved and sent to Brazil.

He led a guerrilla war against the Portuguese, and built a city deep within the Amazon rainforest for runaway slaves. Under his brilliant leadership, he turned a timid group of slaves into a genuine threat against the Portuguese authority even reducing the King of Portugal himself to begging for a peace offering.

He is celebrated widely in Brazil today as a national hero, with a public holiday held on the day of his death.

Further Reading:

Zumbi and the Republic of Dos Palmares

The Imbangala and the Chronology of Early Central African History

Quilimbo Dos Palamares: Brazils’ Lost Nation of Fugitive Slaves by Glenn Allan Cheney (2014)



The Ice Giants by Kevin MacLeod


It's 1694. The famous slave trader George Vello and a handful of recruits slogged
through the swamps of the Brazilian rainforest. The men are jittery, and they
should be. The recruits who have returned from the jungle told horrible tales of
the leader of the slaves, Zumbi. They spoke of his ability to return from the
dead and how he had mixed African magic with Christianity to create spells to
stop bullets. Every man is exhausted and ragged, having trudged around in circles
for weeks looking for Zumbi's mystical city of Palmares. The column of men
suddenly comes to a halt, probably waiting for those carrying the canners
to catch up. Suddenly an ear-piercing shriek breaks the silence. Hundreds of
slaves bleed from the thick jungle canopy. Machetes raised and covered head
to toe in paint, they are a horrifying sight, looking more like demons than men.
Vello yells at the recruits to form up a battle line, but most have already dropped
their weapons and ran. Those that haven't are cut to pieces. At the front of his men stand Zumbi and his
wife Dandora. The couple cheer on their troops as the slave traders are chased
back to the coast. They should have known better. This was not their land, this was
Zumbi's domain. This is a fascinating story of Zumbi and his kingdom of Palmares.
In 1575 the Portuguese colony of Luanda was established in modern-day Angola. For
those unaware of where that is, it's the furthest point west on the continent of
Africa. Not once to sit around idly, within 25 years of their arrival the
Portuguese had already made a few alliances with local rulers and began
meddling in the affairs of numerous African kingdoms. By 1610 small groups of
slaves had begun being exported out of Angola, usually spoils of war the
Portuguese had obtained in battles with local rulers. As the trickle of slaves
began to grow larger and larger, a member of the Portuguese aristocracy of Luanda
had this to justify the growing numbers of slaves being sold, quote, we have been
here ourselves for 40 years and there have been many learned men here and in
the province of Brazil who have never considered the trade illicit. He further
stated, and I'm paraphrasing here, that there were only a small number of slaves
being sold and that they were being converted to Christianity first. In other
words, it's fine, slavery is fine and God's cool with it. By 1616 a new port was
built to accommodate the mass of slaves coming out of Africa and by 1655 the
Portuguese had virtually wiped out all African resistance to their rule. The
last real fight against Portuguese domination was the Battle of Mabuila
between the dying Congolese Kingdom and the Portuguese Empire. The Dutch
initially agreed to support the African Kingdom but soon revoked their promise
of aid, leaving the Africans to fight the Portuguese alone. As usual the Portuguese
forces had recruited African divisions to fight other Africans alongside them.
One of these were known as the Imbangala and are very interesting but also very
brutal. If there's any kids listening to this episode maybe skip ahead about a
minute. The Imbangala tribe migrated possibly
from Central Africa but historians aren't sure. They've been compared to the
ancient Spartans but on steroids, a fully militarized society. Women were banned
from giving birth and any children that were born were killed. To keep up their
numbers they relied on raiding and capturing young children. The children
had to wear an iron collar until they had killed and eaten part of a man. As
part of initiation children would lead a brutal torturing session including
pounding up a newborn baby in a grain mortar. The Portuguese would feign
disgust in these practices but came to rely on these brutal savages to inflict
guerrilla style terror attacks when they needed them. Zumbi, it is rumored, was
descended from the Imbangala but like many facts about him there was almost no
definitive proof. Returning now to the Battle of Mwila, predictably the
Portuguese easily crushed the brave but doomed Congolese kingdom and captured
and beheaded their king Antonia I. Alongside the king many other
high-profile captors are taken including most of the Congolese aristocracy. Among
those is Ganga Zumba. Remember this guy, he's important. Before we arrive on the
shores of Brazil I'm going to quickly go through the journey an African person
may have had to endure before arriving for a life of manual labor and abuse in
Brazil. Fair warning some of the accounts that head are quite graphic. In the 17th
century the sugar industry was a real cash crop and it's hard to believe now
considering the price of sugar but during this time 57 grams of gold would
only buy you around 15 kilograms of sugar. Brazil's coastal tropical climate
was well suited for growing this cash crop. My first question was initially why
were African slaves needed to cultivate sugar in Brazil? According to the
Europeans, African slaves lived approximately four years longer and were
more resistant to European diseases. They were also seen to be stronger and of a
more servile nature than Native American slaves. In other words they were more
suited for the labor needed to grow sugar. African slaves were caught or
attained, stripped of their identity, given a European sounding name, a baptism
and a last name based on a vague region they'd been captured in. They were
branded one to three times to indicate possessions and baptismal status and
then packed onto an overfilled boat to maximize profit. The journey across the
ocean would take 35 days at very best and five months at very worst. The
mortality rates were around 20% but could be as high as 60% but these were
irrelevant to the owners as the price of slaves or pieces as they were called
were so so cheap. The space assigned to each slave aboard one of these floating
nightmares was 140 centimetres squared for a man and 83 centimetres squared for
a woman. An insanely small amount of space for a living being. The slaves were
given virtually no fresh air and diseases of all kind ran rampant on the
ship. The stench was unbearable and of course it was very very hot. The historian
Oliviera Martins had this to say about the journey, quote, when a ship tossed in
a storm the mass of black bodies piled in the hold moved like an anthill of men
to drink of the little of the dreadful air that flowed over the iron graded
hatch. In the hold of the ships that was rocked by the sea there was ferocious
struggles, shouts and howls of cholera and despair. Those whom fate favored in
this undulating live black flesh groped at the light and looked towards this
narrow nook of the sky. In the darkness of the hold the sad souls promiscuously
arranged in a pile either fell inanimate in a lethal stupor or hopeful and full
of fury chewed themselves. They strangled themselves, crushed themselves and
sometimes gutted themselves. Others broke limbs in the shock of these dark battles
and the human mass whose savage howls rose from the open hatch turned back
into their cavern drowned in tears and slop. There was a later law instituted by
the Portuguese crown to set the number of slaves per vessel but this was
virtually ignored in practice. Speaking about statistics it seems easy to reduce
the personal factor but these were real people with family dreams and a life
back home that had been taken from them. For those that survived the journey they
would arrive on the tropical shores of Punambuku north of modern Salvador. They
were transferred to a warehouse to recover, fatten up and have their gums
painted etc and then was sold at markets. Each region of Africa was known for
having different traits of its slaves and golems would be known for being
docile, honorable, loyal and appropriate for domestic use. Those from the Congo
were worth a little more for being active and more adaptable to field work
while Gambians and Mozambicans were known to be lazy, less intelligent and
lethargic. Slaves were incredibly cheap. It was economically more feasible to
feed them the bare minimum to keep them alive and just replace them after they
died rather than care for them efficiently. Slaves were punished
mercilessly for any perceived defense. Lashings were common not just on the
back but also to the head, face, legs and soles of feet. Limes, salt and pepper were
rubbed into the wounds to maximize pain and minimize the chance of infection if
a slave was to return to work eventually. If the slave was not destined to return
to work, urine would also be rubbed into the wound to encourage an infection.
These punishments were administrated while the person was left in stocks and
could be left there for days, weeks or more. The next day new lashes would break
open the wounds again and again. But there were other brutal inventives also.
Slaves were chained to boiling cauldrons. Slaves were hung lopsided to break the
spine under their own weight. Their ears were sliced off, their genitals cut out
and their Achilles tendons sliced. Portuguese wives are noted to be even
crueler, mutilating women slaves who their husbands showed any interest in,
cutting off their breasts, gouging out their eyes and kicking out their teeth.
I've included the above not just for shock and awe but to paint a picture of a
slave's life in Brazil and help you understand why so many of them would
want to escape. Eager to escape this hell on earth, slaves ran away in the only
direction they had available to them, into the jungle. The runaway slaves headed
deep into the interior and away from the Portuguese controlled coast. They
established what were known as makambos, an African word for hideout, effectively
a small village whose inhabitants lived off the land with coconut as their
staple foodstuff. The community would pool resources together and the
difficult terrain made it hard for the Portuguese to find and even harder to
assault. But on the occasion assaults did occur, the palm leaves hard to say built
were easy to abandon and easy to return to later once the Portuguese left. When
enough of these makambos gathered in one area they were organized into a
kalimbo or African word for war camp. In this case this kalimbo was named palmares
due to the excess of palm trees within the area. As palmares grew and grew it
began to resemble a small colonial town with a chapel, four blacksmiths and even
a council house. As with most native religions introduced to Christianity the
religion was Catholicism mixed with some tribal elements of the old religion.
Slavery was still in practice but it could be revoked in more circumstances
than it would on the coast. The form of government is speculative only but
possibly a mix of a democratic and parliamentarian with one man holding
total power but with input from his council. At the heart of palmares lay
Macacao, the capital. A fortress built into a mountain with triple line
defensive walls and booby-trapped spiked pits intended as the last line of
defense to fall back to in the event of catastrophic raids. Many kalimbos came
and went but palmares would keep expanding mainly because it was close to
Pernambuco, the largest sugar plantation in Brazil, which meant a steady trail of
ex-slaves arriving regularly. The leader of palmares was a shadowy figure named
Ganga Zumba. This was likely not his real name. In African dialect Ganga Zumba
translates to either great lord or the priest responsible for the spiritual
defense of the community. Quite a title. Ganga Zumba may have been just an escaped
slave, he may have been born there, but the most widely accepted theory is that
he was a member of the aristocracy of Angola who was enslaved after battle of
mobwila that we mentioned earlier. Somehow he became the de facto king of
palmares. After the arrival of Ganga Zumba there was a noticeable change in
the organization of the city and it would be needed. As in only a few years
the population of the city had risen from 11,000 to 20,000 runaway slaves and
misfits. But Ganga Zumba isn't who this story is about. Today's story is about
Zumba. Zumba was born in 1655. There are two main sources about where he came
from. The first is that he was a nephew of Ganga Zumba. He grew up in palmares
and was the leader of one of the Macambos that made up palmares. This
story fits as Ganga Zumba would probably promote relatives to positions of power.
The second story is that he was an orphan who was raised in Pernambuco by a
kindly priest and given the name Francisco. He was not a slave but was
empathetic and noticed the injustice suffered by his people. He was
intelligent and spoke Latin and obviously Portuguese and left to join
the palmares after being disgusted by seeing how the Portuguese treated slaves.
There are no reliable accounts of his appearance or even his name. Like Ganga
Zumba, Zumba could mean supreme being, ancestral spirit or evil spirit but
according to Portuguese accounts they referred to him as the Lord of War.
Definitely the most impressive of the four. He had a wife and likely multiple
but the most famous was Dandara who was famous for fighting alongside him in the
constant attacks. Women fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with men was common
in the calamos and probably dated back to the African roots where women played
an important role in battles. While the population growth made palmares stronger
it also put the city firmly on the radar of the Portuguese and raids became more
and more common. The raids were usually not carried out by the army but by a
hastily assembled colonial force made up of native Brazilians, African slaves and
a few white colonists. The raids were a nuisance to palmares but not much more.
A few slaves who were too slow fleeing in the jungle would likely be caught and
dragged back and a few palm shelters may be burned down but these were outlying
settlements and the actual location of palmares itself remained hidden. There
would usually be a small skirmish designed to discourage the coastal force
and after a few days the militia, unaccustomed to the fatigue of the jungle,
would usually become demoralized and leave. The inhabitants of palmares would
then return to their macambo, rebuild the simple thatched roof in a day and
continue living. In an attempt to save face the raiding party would report to
the governor that the raid was complete and that the slave city had been subdued.
Problem solved. Not to say that the people of palmares were completely innocent.
Ganga Zumba's men would also conduct their own raids at outlying sugar mills,
stealing slaves, women and munitions. By the law of palmares if a slave was
captured he still remained a slave and had to attain his own slave and then set
him free. After he'd done this he too became free. Kind of like a pyramid
scheme of reverse slavery I guess. As the city grew Portuguese raids would
continue to increase in ferocity with bigger forces and better trained troops
but with more or less the same result as before. But after one fateful raid the
troops found something that shocked them. In the ruins of one of the palm huts
they burnt down they discovered state-of-the-art Portuguese muskets and
powder. For the Portuguese military tech was their only trump card. If the slaves
could match them in firepower there was a real possibility of Brazil turning
into an African colony rather than a Portuguese one. This discovery provoked
an immediate shift in the attitude of palmares. From now on raids focused on
extermination rather than recapture. Back at the coast the governor amped
things up immediately and recruits a commander of some serious prestige. For
now Carrillo was a veteran military man who had experience in tracking and
destroying kalimbos but even with an experienced commander there was a
serious shortage in skilled soldiers. Carrillo requests 400 soldiers but the
most a colony can possibly find is 185. A group was recruited called the Enrique
Regiment. A squadron composed entirely of well-trained and disciplined black
slaves led by a man named Enrique. All members of the regiment were originally
promised freedom once they assisted the Portuguese in another war but once their
skills were no longer needed the governor was fearful of freeing them
due to their military training but also could not afford to keep paying them. So
instead the group roamed around the colonies as a kind of mercenary force.
Despite the shortage of numbers these men were used to the jungle hardships
like the irregulars were not. They were hardy and able to live off the land.
Their raid into palmares was the most successful to date. Many high-profile
prisoners were caught and captured including some of Ganga Zumba's family
members. Ganga Zumba himself was wounded and only managed to limp away, shot in
the ankle. The success of the raid clearly spooked Ganga Zumba and not long
after a peace offer was sent to him by the colony finally hoping to end the
resistance. Ganga Zumba and his family were to be provisioned with a plot of
land that they owned. Any person born within palmares was to be a free man but
slaves who had ran off to join them were to be returned to their owners and back
into slavery. Slaves in the future who ran off to join them would also need to
be returned. Considering the trouble Ganga Zumba had caused the Portuguese
this offer was generous. The fight had gone out of Ganga Zumba by this point. He
was getting older and had had enough of living on the run. It seems that a
council was held where the majority of his men agreed to take the offer but
there was a small vocal group of war chiefs who disagreed stating the
Portuguese could not be trusted to live up to their own treaty. Leading this
argument is Zumba and when he is outvoted he and around one third of the
Chiefs vow to stay behind and continue the fight. After this Zumba is elected
the new king of palmares. Zumba's decision to stay behind and keep up the
fight say a lot about his character as no matter which of his origin stories
is correct under this treaty he would have been a free man. With the change of
leadership palmares was to become much more militarized and the society was now
being built to sustain a long drawn-out war with the colony. Those who remain
knew they were in it until the end. Raids would continue but no longer burdened by
pacifist settlers the Portuguese had an incredibly hard time making any headway
into Zumba's new defenses and traps. It's during this time we get our first
actual report on Zumba from a Portuguese soldier. Quote, general at arms who was
called Zambi which means Lord of War a Negro of singular valor great spirit and
rare constancy he is a marvel of the rest because his industriousness
judgment and strength are an embarrassment to our people and an
example to his. In addition to the new defenses Zumba also begins covert
operations sending some spies to live on Ganga Zumba's reservation. The spies
report that people are unhappy with life on the reservation and say that the
people are living only slightly better than they were slaves and with these
reports slaves begin to trickle back into the city of Palmares. As mood on the
reservation turns against Ganga Zumba discontent grows ending up in Ganga
Zumba himself being poisoned. Some source of stating Zumba did the poisoning
himself insisting that his uncle had betrayed his people and he needed to die.
As the Portuguese tried desperately to salvage the situation on the reservation
Zumba brings a fight to them. Zumba begins raiding outlying mills and towns
and even storming prisons in main towns always on the lookout for more recruits
for his army. Whatever militia the towns could put together Zumba made short
work of. He relied heavily on hit-and-run tactics drawing the colonial forces into
a narrow valley or choke point where he'd planned an ambush. These attacks
begin to seriously disrupt Portugal's sugar production and reports of one
defiant slave continually outsmarting Portuguese officials start to escalate
all the way to the top. Incredibly the king of Portugal himself writes Zumba a
letter personally promising him good terms and amnesty if he surrenders. To
reiterate this is the king of one of the most powerful empires in the world
writing to a slave. This shows a degree of chaos Zumba had stirred up. Zumba
doesn't outright refuse to surrender but instead plays for time requesting
unrealistic terms and then even more unrealistic counter terms. While the
letters go back and forth to Portugal he spends the time fortifying and
preparing for the fight that he knows is coming. The Portuguese ramp up the
attacks of Macombos. Many outlying villages are burned and gradually
Palmarians recede into the jungle closing in and around the last bastion
of defense, the Palmaran capital of Macacao. Almost every report after these
raids claimed that they had killed Zumba giving rise to the superstition of his
ability to rise from the dead. With Zumba's counter raids growing ever more
daring the Portuguese colony tends to the palistas or banditarios. These men
are slave traders by profession but would really do any dirty work for the
right price. Ruthless, merciless and coldly efficient they worked only for
personal gain and were unbothered by a loyalty to any king or religion. They had
no issues massacring entire villages full of women children or the elderly.
These brutal killers lived in the interior and spoke a creole language
combining a mix of Portuguese and a few native languages. They were usually mixed
blood, part Portuguese and part Native American or African. George Velo, the man
mentioned in the introduction of this episode, was the most famous of them all.
Technically retired, Velo was a polyester who had a large space of land
somewhere north of Panamancu. The governor of the city knew of his
reputation and called upon his services and agreed to grant him all the land he
conquered if he could kill Zumbi. But more than this, the agreement was that
anyone Velo came into contact with was to be killed. There was no quota to be
given. Slaves still in Palmares were never going to be docile enough for
servitude again. They had no purpose and needed to be wiped out. Chillingly the
governor makes special note that Velo is to be exempt from any crimes he commits
in the process. We have an artist's impression of what Velo looked like on
our website. In 1693 Velo sets out from the coast with
this small army, a mix of polyesters and a regular militia. But Zumbi is only too
aware of his plans and had set up various ambush sites, aware that they
would likely be heading directly to Macacao. When Velo and his polyesters are
ambushed by Zumbi and his men, they managed to hold their own in battle. But
it's a different story for the irregular troops, who begin to trickle back to the
coast rather than put up with Zumbi's constant attacks. Eventually all is left
of the attack forces are polyesters themselves. Being totally outnumbered, they
end up retreating back to Pernambuco, again claiming a victory and that Zumbi
was very likely dead at this point. But as Zumbi's raids continue, it was
quickly obvious that this was not the case. At the start of 1694 another force
is commissioned. Again it is to be led by the polyester George Velo, but with
Bernardo Vieira de Mello as second in command. De Mello was a wealthy nobleman
who paid for his own munitions and supplies. And unlike Velo, who was
ruthless and swift, Mello was level-headed and steady. The two
compliment each other's skills well. With these two at the helm, the army snakes
its way up the coast, pulling in everyone it can for the expedition. Glory hunters
and treasure seekers join en masse. Taking no chances, a decree is given for
towns to empty their prisoners and arm the men who are forced to take part in
the expedition. The clergy of Brazil also lends his voice, calling a crusade upon
the quote black infidels. This inspires many pious Christians wishing to earn
some points in the afterlife. Velo himself uses all his connections and 700
toughened veteran polyesters crawl out of the interior to answer the call. The
group is also supplied with one cannon, nine cannon balls and three packs of
grape shot, clearly anticipating a siege. By the time they begin heading into the
interior, the total number of the force is over 8,000 people, by far the largest
army ever assembled for this mission. The journey is fairly uniform. Aware of the
immense army coming from, Zumbi had pulled all his defences to the nucleus of
his empire. Encountering very little resistance after a few days march, the
Portuguese finally see it. Brushing the last layer of palm leaves from their path,
Zumbi's capital of Macacao comes into view. Rising from the jungle canopy, an
angry sharp mountain peak jutted out of the earth with a series of century
towers spread around it. In between the viewing points of the tower lay a
hodgepodge of triple layers of palisade walls littered with hidden spike pits
ingeniously camouflaged into the jungle foliage. These were likely the first non
residents to see Macacao and to them it must have looked like Mount Doom. The
brutal defence was supposedly created by a mysterious figure known as The Moor, an
ex-slave of Arabic lineage who apparently had some experience in
siege works. From where they were standing, the attackers could hear that
the fortress was buzzing with sounds of life, but the jungle around it was dead
quiet. Every man, woman or child capable of holding a weapon had been drawn
inside. Everyone knew this was to be their last stand. After setting up camp,
Velo and D'Mello send out a few probing attacks which are met with intense arrow
and gunfire. But one particular section of the wall seems vulnerable and when
the order was given to advance on the section, the defenders broke and ran
inside. But this was a rouge. The overconfident Portuguese attackers
hastily followed the retreating men into a choke point where they were attacked
from all sides before barely managing to retreat back to their camp. Seeing their
overconfidence almost get the better of them, D'Mello insists that there would be
no more gambles like this and instead orders the creation of a counter wall to
encircle the fortress, like something out of Julius Caesar's wars. Zumbi sends out
nightly skirmishes to disrupt the wall building, but eventually the wall is
built. The cannon that the Portuguese had lugged through the jungle is mounted
on the new wall, but some dunce takes control of it and in a few hours manages
to fire all nine cannonballs and both grape shots without hitting anything. I
don't know how it's possible to miss a wall but I've never fired a cannon I
guess. Seeing their secret weapon fail, the morale of the troops begins to fall.
Many of the 8,000 troops did not bring enough food for a sustained campaign and
were not prepared for such intense warfare. With supplies dwindling, some
attackers begin to sneak away back to the coast. Noticing this, Zumbi
personally leads a counter-attack, hoping to break the attacker's morale, but it's a
bad miscalculation. With the irregulars deserting, Zumbi and his men encounter
the battle-hardened pollisters who give them no ground and kill some of Zumbi's
best men. Hearing of the critical situation, the governor and Perdumbuku
arrives personally with reinforcements and additional six cannons with fresh
seasoned troops and food and water. It's at this point of the story I often need
to remind myself this is a group of untrained slaves with stolen guns
holding out against one of the most powerful empires on earth. The new
cannons are quickly mounted on the walls but were still ineffective for whatever
reason, but what did prove effective was another wall. The new wall was built on
the side of the mountain fort on a portion where the fort and the landscape
outside the fort leveled out a bit. There was less defenses on this side of the
fort as it was seemingly inaccessible to attackers, or so Zumbi thought. If the
wall was built it would provide a vantage point for the attackers who would
be at a higher altitude. So over the course of one night the Portuguese built
the wall in secret, and as the sun rose on the besieged city a tall wobbly tower
now loomed directly overhead, exposing the majority of the city to ceaseless
fire from the Portuguese. One of the builders of the tower reported in the
morning he heard Zumbi berating the sentrymen in charge of the section, quote,
You let the whites build this wall? Tomorrow we'll be invaded and killed. Our
women and children will be captured. As morning comes and the inhabitants wake
to see the new tower morale plummets inside Macacao. Everyone now
recognized their situation was untenable. Knowing the end was near the population
of Palmares attempted to slip away after dark, but unlike the Macambos Macacao was
not designed for this. There were very little ways in or out, and chaos erupts
when the Portuguese discover this. Zumbi with his family are ambushed on the way
out, and according to the sources he holds the line while his son and wife
flee, parting hand-to-hand with the palistas before being knocked down by
two small cannonballs and limping off into the jungle. Zumbi's capital is put
to the torch. Portuguese sources record that the city was set up brilliantly. 240
houses separated by makeshift fire barriers to ensure blazes would not
spread, 40 forges turning out iron arrows, swords, nails and anything needed for the
war effort, as well as a few chapels and even a government house. Despite the
orders to kill on sight, the thought of so many potential slaves is tantalizing
for George Velo, who orders all those not injured to be rounded up and shackled. A
fight almost breaks out with him and another man, where in his usual depravity
insists that if he does not personally get ownership of every slave found he
will just kill them all. The level-headedness of Vieira de Mello calms the
situation, possibly preventing a complete massacre of the population. Once again
reports of Zumbi being killed are circulated. While it's true that Zumbi
still lived, he was certainly worse for wear. Shot twice and peppered by
grape-shot, he had limped north with the remainder of some of his entourage. In
true Zumbi fashion, he was apparently wishing to continue the resistance
against Portuguese and was lying low in another kalimbo. But the Palistas were
hot on his trail. A slave captured in this new kalimbo were threatened with
torture unless he led them to Zumbi. Zumbi had just enough time to send his
family away before diving into a hidden cave and hiding there. Resurfacing from
another point in the cave, the Palistas managed to follow him, closing
in on his trail. Zumbi, now badly injured with a few of his men, turn and fight the
Palistas to death. None were left to survive. Zumbi's body was identified by a
group of captured slaves who knew him. By the time it got to them, his body had 15
bullets in it, several stab wounds, one eye cut out, one hand cut off, and his
genitals had been placed in his mouth. His head was later severed and placed on
a spike in the public square of Pernambuco, apparently to show any superstitious
slaves who believed the myth of his mortality. It was over. There were no more
false reports. Zumbi, the Lord of War, had fought his last battle.
Not long after his death, the town of Pernambuco became a backwater. Golden
diamonds were discovered in another part of Brazil and the price of sugar was
never to rise as high as it did in the past. Because of this, the geopolitical
hub of Brazil went southward to the state of Minas Gerais, still called this
today with the English translation of it being in general minds. For the people
that managed to escape from Palmares, they would head to another Quilimbo or
establish a new one themselves and start again. While Palmares was obviously the
most famous, the struggle by Zumbi would be replicated on smaller scale throughout
Brazil. Racial inequality would run rampant for the next few centuries with
black farmers being pushed from place to place at the will of white settlers who
wanted their land. Palistas such as George Vello would be held in high
esteem as pioneers and explorers of the interior, their cruelty and mercilessness
deliberately skimmed over. Only within the last 50 years or so have people
begun to challenge this. Only very recently has there been a resurgence of
interest in Zumbi and more so an interest in finding out about the
location of the famous Palmares, even today existing in a vague idea only. In
1988 Brazil would recognize Palmares and, where possible, start the process of
granting claims on the land of the descendants of the families who were
enslaved there. In 1997 the Brazilian Parliament declared Zumbi a national
hero and November the 20th, originally Black Awareness Day, is unofficially
known as Zumbi Day and as a public holiday in many states of Brazil. To me
Zumbi's story is incredibly inspiring and it's tragic we don't know more about
him. Who was this man? Was he really descended from Angolan royalty? Why did
he reject his uncle's promise of an easy life? What was his real name? Perhaps it's
what we don't know that gives his actions so much conviction. A single
black man destined to be worked to death within five years would reduce the king
of one of the most powerful empires in the world to begging for clemency. With
his boundless courage and sheer determination Zumbi dos Palmares stands
today as a symbol of triumph against social injustice.