Thursday, November 20, 2008

Zumbi dos Palmares - Black Consciousness Day in Brazil

November 20th is celebrated, chiefly in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as a day of black awareness (consciência negra). The day has special meaning for those Brazilians of African descent who honor Zumbi as a hero, freedom fighter, and symbol of freedom. Zumbi has become a hero of the twentieth-century Afro-Brazilian political movement.

Zumbi dos Palmares (1655 - November 20, 1695) was the last of the leaders of the Quilombo dos Palmares, a rebellious settlement mainly of runaway and free-born Black African slaves, located in the present-day state of Alagoas.

Historians vary in their estimate of the population of Quilombo dos Palmares in the 1690's placing it between around 11,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. It was undoubtedly the largest fugitive community to have existed in Brazil. Quilombos represented slave resistance which occurred in three forms: slave settlements, attempts at seizing power, and armed insurrection.

Zumbi was known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties. As a result of his heroic efforts fighting for Palmares' independence in the face of the Portuguese military’s assaults he became known as the commander-in-chief in 1675. Zumbi was captured by the Portuguese and beheaded on the spot November 20, 1695.

While the holiday (introduced in 1995) is ‘official’ in only two states, hundreds more cities and municipalities across the country recognize the holiday and its popularity continues to grow.

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