Life in a quilombo community / "In gentle moments, liberty and love are palpable. Life continues as it always has -- because of, not despite, tremendous odds"



"Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves."

"At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality."
-Che Guevara

Slavery in Brazil dawned in the 1550s with the Portuguese colonization of the northeast state of Bahia. The decades that followed ushered in a centuries-long era, where almost 4 million Africans were captured, trafficked, and used for, among other things, labor on sugar cane plantations and in gold mines. This is the context in which quilombos or mocambos -- resistance communities -- sprung, and in some regards, flourished. (By some contemporary estimates, Palmares, perhaps the most famous of all Brazilian quilombos, once housed 20,000 people.)

Quilombos were generally populated by runaway and fugitive slaves, free(d) Africans, and abolitionists, and served as sites for active rebellion against the atrocities resulting from the institution of slavery. Quilombolas -- residents of these communities -- often orchestrated raids against oppressors. Their most meaningful coup, however, may be their success in protecting their humanity and legacy through their preservation of various customs, cultures, and traditions.

Quilombo communities are still a thread in the fabric that is modern Brazilian society. Yet they are perched on a precipice, and their existence continues to be a precarious one, much like it was historically. But it is because of the imminent threat -- the possibility of annihilation through oppression that continues to manifest -- that many residents maintain a view of themselves as soldiers engaged in a battle against modern injustices, such as, among other things, battles with commercial farmers and companies over land ownership and limited access to quality education.

Despite the related and resulting strains and tensions -- and the potential for debilitating loss -- most quilombo residents live quiet lives in their rural enclaves: growing crops, hunting, fishing, and caring for their homes. As the photographs below illustrate, tenderness prevails in small acts: a mother twists her daughter’s budding locks, a bemused father stares at his infant offspring, a woman twirls in front of a mesmerized audience, lost in what must be Tambor da Criola, Bumba Meu Boi or Carimb√≥ -- traditional music and dance forms practiced in the quilombos during the age of slavery. In these gentle moments, liberty and love are palpable. Life continues as it always has -- because of, not despite, tremendous odds.

Photographs courtesy of Brazil’s Museu do Homem do Nordeste(Museum of Man from the Northeast), located in Casa Forte, a suburb of Recife, the capital city in the state of Pernambuco.