The largest number of quilombos was established in what is today the state of Alagoas. It was here that the rebel movement gained strength by forming an “republic,” consisting of two large settlements and many small settlements with a total population of several thousand. The leader took the title of Ganga Zumba and ruled over these settlements which had their own chiefs, including Zumbi.
The kingdom’s heterogeneous citizenry included a mix of races and even some military deserters. Some found their way to the kingdom by escaping the plantations. Others were abducted during plantation raids conducted to increase the female population and to expand the labor force needed for the kingdom’s own building purposes.
With continual attacks on the settlements over many years, the Portuguese government sought to destroy what amounted to an independent nation operating within Brazil’s borders. Ganga Zumba finally entered into peace negotiations in 1677, agreeing to re-locate the settlements closer to the coast and to relinquish escaped slaves. In-fighting among the chiefs ensued. After Ganga Zumba’s death by poison, Zumbi eventually took control of the remaining settlements and continued the resistance.
Zumbi was wounded in a 1694 attack and later captured. He was beheaded on November 20, 1695. The fight was over but not the cause. Slaves continued to escape to quilombos established in areas where they could not be found.
Today, both Ganga Zumba and Zumbi are heralded as important figures in Brazilian history, and November 20 is celebrated as National Black Awareness Day. Before embarking on travel to Brazil, visitors may wish to see the 1984 film, Quilombo, by famed Brazilian director Carlos Diegues, offering fascinating insights into his nation’s history. The film tells the story of Ganga Zumba and Zumbi with a backdrop of African-Brazilian music and dance and a soundtrack by Bahian singer/guitarist Gilberto Gil. His 1963 film, Ganga Zumba, was released in 1972. Both films are based on a novel by Joao Felicio dos Santos.
During their travel to Brazil, visitors will see monuments to Zumbi including on Rio de Janeiro tours at the Sambodromo where competitions are held during Carnaval; when visiting Zumbi National Park in Alagoas; and on Brazil tours elsewhere. Visitors may also travel to the historic city of Uniao dos Palmares during their Brazil tours in the vicinity of Maceio.