Note from BW of Brazil: The history of quilombos in Brazil is an important part of the history of black resistance within a racist society. A quilombo, known as a maroon society in the United States or palenque in Spanish-speaking countries, is a community formed by fugitive slaves seeking freedom. As mentioned in a previous article, the history and mythologies about the quilombo known as Palmares and it greatest leader, Zumbi, are still very much alive in the minds of the Afro-Brazilian community and numerous organizations across the culture are named after that famous quilombo or its legendary leader.
Today, 126 years after the official end of 350 years of slavery, descendants of those runaway societies still live on these lands. Known as Comunidades Remanescentes de Quilombos (or Remnants of Quilombo Communities), according to the blog Negreiros Urbanos, “many remnants of quilombo communities are in their territories maintaining the origins of those black men and women who rebelled fleeing from suffering that was imposed on them by a society that today has racism as institutional ingredient. We see quilombolas (quilombo inhabitants) still struggling to survive in precarious conditions in desolate places, but that reflect a constant mark of resistance. In order to survive, they must resist farmers, landowners who, not satisfied with the lands that they have, sometimes stolen lands of poor and helpless people, try to invade the lands take away from the legitimacy of owning these lands from quilombolas.”
Rights to these lands and living conditions continue to be a struggle and this question is among a host of other important issues that candidates for the presidency of Brazil in upcoming elections must address in their platforms.
75% of quilombolas living in extreme poverty!
By Sarah Fernandes
Only 207 of 2,197 recognized communities hold land tenure, which hinders access to public policies that encourage family farming.
A report released by the federal government reinforces the view many steps are lacking to consolidate the basic rights of quilombola communities. Of the 80,000 quilombola families of Cadastro Único, the database for social programs, 74.73% were still living in extreme poverty in January of 2013, according to the study of Brasil Quilombo program released on Monday (May 6) Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial (Seppir or Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality). Among the registered or not, they add up to 1.17 million people and 214,000 families.
One of the main reasons for the maintenance of the quilombolas in poverty is the lack of access to family farming incentive programs due to a lack of land titles, which guarantees the possession of the families. According to the report, of the 2,197 communities officially recognized, only 207 are titled. Despite the difficulties, 82.2% lived on family agriculture in the beginning of the year (2013).
“The profile of the quilombola is that of farmers, artisanal fishermen and gatherers, but they have limited access to land and cannot be included in the Declaração de Aptidão do Programa Nacional de Fortalecimento da Agricultura Familiar (Pronaf or Declaration of Aptitude of the National Program of Strengthening of Family Agriculture), which gives access to public policies,” explains the coordinator of Policies for Traditional Communities of Seppir, Barbara Oliveira.
The strategy to reverse the situation will be, according to the coordinator, to transfer responsibility to include the quilombolas in the Declaration of Aptitude of Pronaf for the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) by the end of the year. The organ should also help accelerate the titling of lands, usually done by the body itself or by state and local governments. “From there they will receive rural technical assistance and their production will be certified with the seal of the Quilombolas do Brasil (Quilombolas of Brazil), which adds value to the product,” Barbara says. “The goal is to strengthen the production.”
Quilombolas have less access to basic services such as sanitation and electricity, than the rest of the population, according to the report: 48.7% of them live in homes with dirt floors, 55.21% do not have running water, 33.06% don’t have toilets and 15.07% have an open sewer. In all, 79.29% have electricity.
One of the data that draws the most attention, according to Barbara, is the high rate of illiterates: 24.81% of them don’t know how to read. The illiteracy rate in the country is 9.1%, according to the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostras de Domicílio (PNAD or National Research by Household Sample). “Although we have won a series of programs for quilombola education, that guarantee a budget, teacher training, teaching materials and equipment, there is still a great challenge to provide Educação de Jovens e Adultos (youth and adult education) and to go beyond education at the elementary level, including guaranteed access to high school and college,” she says.