Zumbi also known as Zumbi dos Palmares (1655 - November 20, 1695, pronounced: 'zoombee') was the last of the leaders of the Quilombo dos Palmares, in the present-day state of Alagoas, Brazil. A quilombo was a refuge of runaway slaves.
Quilombo dos Palmares was a self-sustaining republic of Maroons escaped from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil, "a region perhaps the size of Portugal in the hinterland of Bahia" (Braudel 1984 p 390). At its height, Palmares had a population of over 30,000.
An Afrikan known only as Zumbi was born free in Palmares in 1655, but was captured by the Portuguese and given to a missionary, Father Antonio Melo when he was approximately 6 years old. Baptized Francisco, Zumbi was taught the sacraments, learned Portuguese and Latin, and helped with daily mass. Despite attempts to "civilize" him, Zumbi escaped in 1670 and, at the age of 15, returned to his birthplace. Zumbi became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties.
By 1678, the governor of the captaincy of Pernambuco, Pedro Almeida, weary of the longstanding conflict with Palmares, approached its leader Ganga Zumba with an olive branch. Almeida offered freedom for all runaway slaves if Palmares would submit to Portuguese authority, a proposal which Ganga Zumba favored. But Zumbi was distrustful of the Portuguese. Further, he refused to accept freedom for the people of Palmares while other Africans remained enslaved. He rejected Almeida's overture and challenged Ganga Zumba's leadership. Vowing to continue the resistance to Portuguese oppression, Zumbi became the new leader of Palmares.
Fifteen years after Zumbi assumed leadership of Palmares, Portuguese military commanders Domingos Jorge Velho and Vieira de Mello mounted an artillery assault on the quilombo. February 6, 1694, after 67 years of ceaseless conflict with the cafuzos, or Maroons, of Palmares, the Portuguese succeeded in destroying Cerca do Macaco, the republic's central settlement. Before the king of Ganga Zumba was dead, Zumbi had taken it upon himself to fight for palmares' independence. In doing so he became known as the commander-in-chief in 1675. Due to his heroic efforts it increased is prestige.Palmares' warriors were no match for the Portuguese artillery; the republic fell, and Zumbi was wounded in one leg. Though he survived and managed to elude the Portuguese, he was betrayed, captured almost two years later and beheaded on the spot November 20, 1695. The Portuguese transported Zumbi's head to Recife, where it was displayed in the central praça as proof that, contrary to popular legend among African slaves, Zumbi was not immortal. It was also done as a warning of what would happen to others if they tried to be as brave as him. Remnants of the old quilombos continued to reside in the region for another hundred years.
Today, November 20 is celebrated, chiefly in Rio de Janeiro, as a day of national pride. The day has special meaning for Afro-Brazilians, who honor Zumbi as a hero, freedom fighter and a symbol of freedom. Zumbi had become the hero of the twentieth-century Afr-Brazilian political movement.
- Mentioned in various Soulfly lyrics.
- Mentioned in the Sepultura song "Ratamahatta."
- His name is given to a fighter in the Macromedia Flash game: Capoeira Fighter 2.
- Quilombo, 1985, film by Carlos Diegues about Palmares, ASIN B0009WIE8E
- Gilberto Gil released a CD called "Z300 Anos de Zumbi"
- The band name Chico Science & Nação Zumbi (later just Nação Zumbi after the death of frontman Chico Science)
- Subject of a Jorge Ben song
- Atlantic slave trade
- Palmares (quilombo)
- Triangular trade
- Braudel, Fernand, The Perspective of the World, vol. III of Civilization and Capitalism 1984 (in French 1979).
- Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.