Dia da Consciência Negra… Remembering Zumbi dos Palmares

Patricia shines light on being a proud African-descendant Brazilian...
Patricia shines light on being a proud African-descendant Brazilian…

Dia da Consciência Negra… Black Consciousness Day, Brazil

It might seem ironic that there should be a day dedicated to black consciousness in Brazil; a country with its history steep in the trans-atlantic slavery between 1594 to 1888 (the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery). The seed of ‘black origin’ flourishes in Brazilian society today. Its DNA evident from the very curl in the hair to the way music is assembled, dance is expressed and cuisine prepared. So why should Brazilians have to be reminded once a year to be ‘consciousness‘ of their ‘blackness’ , if it’s part their everyday life?

During my stay in Brazil earlier this year, my Carioca friend and host, Patricia Castillo educated me on the importance of Dia da Consciência Negra celebrated annually on the 20th November.

Our stroll through downtown Rio de Janeiro within close vicinity to the world-famous Sambadrome, home to Rio’s carnival, lead us to a statue dedicated to the memory of the legendary Quilombo (settlements consisting of African runaway slaves) leader, Zumbi dos Palmares (1655–1695). He is remembered as a leading figure in the black resistance to slavery in Brazil. Standing in front of her icon, Patricia told me:

“The problem in Brazil for afro-descendants is they do not know the history of their ancestors. Imagine yourself, would you be happy to know that you descend from murderers and rapists who came to Brazil? Because this is part of the history of Brazil we learn about in school… I am African-descendant and proud. I am descendant of a warrior people. They survived the hardship of being enslaved. They fought for their freedom and succeeded! A beautiful story so exciting with a happy ending.”

Patricia stands by the Homage to Zumbi statue in Rio
Patricia from Nova Iguaçu stands by the Homage to Zumbi statue in Rio

Zumbi dos Palmares was born in the northeastern state of Alagoas in 1655. Believed to be descended from the Imbangala warriors of Angola, despite being born free, he was captured aged 7 and sent to a missionary.  Attempts to purify him failed and Zumbi escaped to return to his birthplace.

Zumbi became the leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares. Despite freedom being offered by the govenor of the province of Pernambuco to runaway slaves of Palmares, Zumbi was against the agreement. It wouldn’t allow freedom of the Maroons and other Africans who remained enslaved.  Zumbi continued the flight for freedom until he was betrayed by a member of his Quilombo. On the 20th of November 1695 he was captured and beheaded. 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.

Today Zumbi’s legacy lives on. Homage is paid to him throughout Brazil with his statues erected in various cities, a symbolic reminder of the country’s ongoing flight towards equality. Zumbi is considered one of the great leaders of Brazilian history. A symbol of resistance and struggle against slavery. He fought for the freedom of worship, religion and practices of African culture in Colonial Brazil. The day of his death November 20, is remembered and celebrated throughout the country as the Day of Black Consciousness, also known as The Day of Black Awareness.  It is a day on which to reflect upon the injustices of slavery, and to also celebrate the rich contributions of Brazil’s African heritage to society.


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