The word “quilombo”, which has its roots in several West African languages, including what is now Congo and Angola, translates roughly as “encampment.” During pre-slavery times, it denoted settlements of runaway slaves in Brazil. Another term for the same type of community is “mocambo.” The creation of such communities was not unique to Brazil, but rather they occurred virtually every place in the New World in which slaves were imported from Africa. The word is also used for settlements organized by inhabitants of abandoned plantations who maintain traditional lifestyles.
Among the French, Dutch and British colonies the term “maroon”(“wild”) is used to refer to runaway slaves or descendent of their s who maintain such an identity, while in Spanish-speaking area the word “Palenque” (“palisade”) refers to such settlement, as they were often (“wild”) is used to refer to runaway slaves or descendent who maintain such an identity, while in Spanish-speaking area the word “Palenque” (“palisade”) refers to such settlement, as they were often fortified.
Today, “quilombo” refers generally to rural communities of blacks who way of life, due to geographic, racially based and/or socioeconomic isolation is distinct from Brazil’s mass society and reflects the Africana antecedents of its inhabitants. Researchers have identified over 700 communities as quilombos since the installation of a democratic government there in 1988, though the true installation of a democratic government there in 1988, though the true number may eventually run into the thousands. The majority of these actually began as plantations, as many plantation owners abandoned their land for economic reasons both before and after the abolishment of slavery in 1888, due to decreasing prices for their produce, frequent bouts of political instability, and the undercutting of the value of slave and later freedmen labor by European and Japanese immigrants.
The designation of “quilombo” carries political freight in this moment in history, as there has been and continues to be conflict over the ownership of the land where many quilombolas live and farm today. According o the 1988 constitution, put in place with the return of democracy to Brazil, communities so designated may receive legal title to their lands. As Brazil’s transportation network improves, land formerly ignored by the outside world has increased in value, drawing the attention of the historically ubiquitous type of estate-holder in Brazil who uses theft as a means of acquisition.
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Theresa Noni Charles, Cultural Travel Planner. Educator. Explorer.
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