November is the Month of Black Consciousness, but where are the black heroes in the history of Brazil?

Afro-Brazilian heroes - Zumbi, Ganga Zumba, Dandara, Aqualtune

Note from BW of Brazil: As another Month of Black Consciousness winds down in Brazil, we must as always approach a very fundamental question: Where are the black heroes in the history of Brazil? Sure for one month some of these figures are celebrated but in reality real knowledge about these figures continues to be cloaked in mystery, sometimes mythology and even as such they remain mostly unknown by the vast majority of Brazilians. As we have exposed, Brazil remains a country that is ruled by an obsession with whiteness and European supremacy which leads many Afro-Brazilian children (and later adults) to a lack of confidence, a profound shame of assuming their racial identity, having no knowledge of self and thus identifying with white figures that often contribute to their sense of invisibility. Even with a law to address this issue, it hasn’t been properly implemented and thus remains ineffective. Thus this issue of black invisibility as much in the past as in the present remains an issue that Brazil must comes to terms with and not just for one month out of the year. 

Where are the black heroes in the history of Brazil?

By Marcos Canetta

The resistance of Palmares* (legendary maroon society) leads us to numerous reflections. There is an intense emotional depth when we deal with this ancestral theme. Some questions are asked every year: how did those of the quilombos (maroon societies) communicate with each other? How did they manage to resist the onslaught of the Portuguese Crown for a century? Who was Zumbi*, Aqualtune (1), Acotirene (2), Dandara? Brazilian historiography owes much to black people. By having denied to them throughout history the feats that are their right, they put them in the ostracism of modern civilization.

Unfortunately all the black heroes make up a second category of context in textbooks, literature and media. The necessary space for the fruition of another understanding of the slavery period other than the official story is not given to them. Who were the Malês (3) who consolidated a historic uprising in the city of Salvador, in January 1835? Who was Luisa Mahin and what was her role in this episode? There is no visibility to the feats of our historical blackness, in particular those of Palmares.

The Quilombo of Palmares was the only free space of inter-ethnic relationship of the Brazilian colonial period. The black in the quilombos received different groups of people fleeing slavery and persecution of the Catholic Church at the time. Among them, Indians, Jews, blacks and poor. All sat at the same table, they nurtured themselves with their cultural differences and socialized contributions to the maintenance of the Palmares cause. Palmares was a space of freedom, work and resistance to slavery.

From 1595 to 1695 the Quilombo dos Palmares* was a model of socioeconomic organization that countered the slave system. Its leaders reacted bravely not only against the armies and bandeirantes*, but against agreement and co-optation attempts, which would free the leaders and return to slavery nearly 20,000 men and women of the quilombo. If this feat constructed by any other ethnic group other than blacks and Indians, it would be printed in all the newspapers and magazines for centuries. They would make movies, documentaries and would tell this story even in the comics. What impedes the knowing of this history is the racism that prevails in the relationship of power in a society unable to distance itself, even in modern times, from the privileges of the Casa Grande (Big House). Obviously, by question of logic, it only left to blacks the modern senzalas (slave quarters). Everything is very complex and full of multifaceted nuances.

Racism permeates every facet of society and feeds back into itself by the lack of public confrontation and by the dominant Eurocentric mindset. The embranquecidas (whitened) ideologies dialogue in a way imposed daily in universities, in the daily life of cities, in churches and in the bars of life. In this particular case, whoever doesn’t fit this ethnic model ends up being historically disregarded. It seems that there was no previous history built by their ancestors.

There is a vacuum that doesn’t allow the visibility of the human groups that were forcibly taken to the seas or enslaved in autóctone (native) environment, that is, blacks and Indians would be seen and treated in Brazil as a human subspecies. The Juruna case confirms my assertion. The Indians fell and, unfortunately, there was no new Chief Raoni “Caiapó” or another Zumbi of “Palmares” to carry on this fight for space, visibility, cultural identity and respect for religious traditions. They made of indigenous and black religion a tangle of fetishes and witchcraft. They turned them into the demonic.

How does one support this denial? How do you re-construct the identity of a people that denies its origins by dogmatic and fundamentalist impositions of others? This is our big problem: to rescue a past that part of the Brazilian population wants to forget. As such, to speak of racism, racial discrimination, quotas and affirmative policies, means a taboo in modern times. The same people who said they were not racists know someone who is. Who knows if it is because of these contradictory issues that the Month of Black Consciousness is still necessary. We need to give answers to these constant questions. Also, we need to increase educational and cultural horizons so that the ignorance ceases and racism dissipates in the air of hope and mutual respect.

Marcos Canetta, professor of da Faculdade Anhanguera de São José (SC), and a member of the  Instituto Liberdade

Source: DM


* – Please read the post “Zumbi dos Palmares: An African warrior in Brazil – The legend of the nation’s greatest black leader continues to be a topic of debate and inspiration”

1. Aqualtune is, according to tradition, Ganga Zumba’s mother and maternal grandmother of Zumbi dos Palmares. She was an African princess, the daughter of the King of the Congo. She could also have been Ganga Zumba’s grandmother. Aqualtune led, in 1665, a force of ten thousand men in the Batalha de Mbwila (Mbwila Battle) between the Kingdom of Congo and Portugal, and was captured with the Congo’s defeat. Source

2. Acotirene is known as the founding matriarch of Palmares, which represent Iemanjá the Queen of the Waters, mother of mothers. She is known as Princess of Aiocá, the land of happiness.

3. The Malê Revolt (also known as The Great Revolt) is perhaps the most significant slave rebellion in Brazil. On a Sunday during Ramadan in January 1835, in the city of Salvador da Bahia, a small group of black slaves and freedmen, inspired byMuslim teachers, rose up against the government. Muslims were called malê in Bahia at this time, from Yoruba imale that designated a Yoruba Muslim. Source

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. We need to celebrate our own history, produce our own comics, books and films and stop relying on our oppressors to celebrate our history. Its that simple.

  2. It’s easy just get a group of blacks to start writing down and then copy the black history go door to door in the black areas with the copies get a donation go back make more ………

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