November 20 has been National Black Awareness Day (Dia Nacional da Consciência Negra) in Brazil since 1978 when the country’s Unified black Movement obtained official approval to make the date a national holiday to celebrate the anniversary of the death of Zumbi.
Zumbi was a black leader who fought slavery and became a symbol of black resistance. He died in 1695. In 1995, Brazil celebrated the 300th anniversary of the death of the black hero with great fanfare.
The Palmares Cultural Foundation, which is named after the maroon settlement in the backlands of the state of Pernambuco that served as a refuge for escaped Brazilian slaves during most of the 17th century, is at the forefront of the modern black movement in Brazil.
The director of the foundation, Zulu Araújo, points out that today there are 80 million blacks in Brazil, around 45% of the population.
He goes on to say that November 20 is an occasion for making people aware of the problems the country’s black population faces.
“On this day we raise our voices in a cry for an end to racism in Brazil,” he says.
Palmares, known as the Quilombo (an Angolan word for a male military society or camp) dos Palmares, because of the wild palm trees that grew there, was founded in Pernambuco in 1597 by some 40 slaves who escaped from a local sugar plantation.
By the middle of the 17th century the fortress had an estimated population of 30,000, with ex-slaves from all over the country living there in freedom.
Zumbi was born in 1655 and while still a small boy was captured by slave hunters. He was given to a priest who baptized him Francisco and sent him to school.
At the age of 15, he escaped and returned to the Quilombo dos Palmares, shucked off his white man’s name and took the name Zumbi.
After showing pronounced leadership qualities and great valor in various battles against slave hunters, Zumbi became leader upon the death of Ganga Zumba, the first leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares.
In 1695, he was betrayed by some of his bodyguards, captured and killed. His head was chopped off and exposed in public as a warning to those who opposed slavery.
The final destruction of the Quilombo dos Palmares occurred shortly after the death of Zumbi, but only after it was attacked numerous times by an invading force of over ten thousand men.
The importance of the Palmares slave revolt is second in Latin America only to that in Haiti where slaves actually expelled the slaveholders, took over the country and established the first ever black republic.
Translator: Allen Bennett