The Quilombos of Brazil


One quilombo was developed on the Trombetas River, a tributary of the Amazon, at Pancada Falls, a treacherous waterway that the slaves could navigate but their hunters could not. Another was built at Bacabal, on the fluvial island of Marajo that separates the mouths of the Amazon and Para rivers, making a perfect setting for a quilombo. On the coast, rather than inland where most of the other quilombos were established, Bacabal was nonetheless equally inaccessible. The island’s 15,500 square miles of mangrove swamps surrounded by tricky tidal currents had a six-month rainy season, no roads and was located a great distance from the nearest landmass. The area also contained wildlife the slave hunters would rather not encounter, including giant swamp-dwelling anacondas and lots of alligators. Even today, getting to Marajo is a three-hour boat ride for visitors on Brazil tours, and the island’s few roads are elevated to keep them passable year-round.

Between one and three thousand quilombos still exist in various locations, some of which visitors may encounter during their travel to Brazil. Itipacura, in the northern state of Maranhao, its roads difficult to maintain during the rainy season, is still relatively inaccessible, and a place most Brazil tours don’t go. In the 1960s, a quilombo called Remanso was discovered near a popular attraction for visitors on Brazil tours, Chapada Diamantina National Park, in the interior of Bahia. The quilombo’s residents were unaware that slavery had been abolished decades earlier.

Since 1988, the country’s remaining quilombos have received protective status under Brazil’s constitution in an attempt to maintain the distinctive culture, unique history and dialects of these communities. The government is working to improve their living conditions. Various organizations, including the Rural Quilombo Communities of Maranhao, collectively represent the rights of the remaining inhabitants.

To learn more about the history of quilombos before embarking on their travel to Brazil, visitors may wish to watch the 2006 documentary by Leonard Abrams, called “Quilombo Country.” The film traces the history of these settlements as well as chronicling how the residents subsist in modern Brazil. During travel to Brazil, Southern Explorations’ ten-day Bahia Rhythms & Canyons trip stops at the village of Remanso where visitors on these Brazil tours will learn about its quilombo history.