(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Hundreds
of years after Brazilian slaves first fled to rebel communities called
quilombos, remnants of those outposts of freedom live on in the heart of
Rio de Janeiro.
Often the quilombos were established in remote places — better to get away from pursuers.
three founded in Rio have survived as living testaments to a tradition
at the core of Brazil's complicated racial history.
Afro-Brazilians do not need to escape slavery anymore, but in a country
riven by racial inequality and historic injustices, the quilombos now
serve as focal points for resistance of a more contemporary kind.
Sacopa quilombo is one of the city's best kept secrets, a beautiful
area of tropical forest that has ended up being surrounded by the
high-rent Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas neighbourhood.
Back in the 19th
century, long before the fancy apartment buildings sprang up, this was
where slaves seeking freedom would gather, starting new lives. The
population grew and, around it, so did Rio.
'We're still here because
I have been very stubborn. They tried everything to take this land from
us but we have the rights, said Luiz Sacopa, 74, who is the eldest
living descendant of the original slaves.
He says he has lost count
of the attempts by people to oust the quilombo. One neighbour planted
marijuana on the plot to try to incriminate them.
Then, citing noise
complaints, the Rio state court stopped the quilombo from hosting
cultural events like feijoada feasts and classes in capoeira, a
dance-like martial art developed by fugitive slaves.
That was 'a very hard blow, Sacopa said.
were very respectful, always ending everything by 8 or 9pm, said
another family member, Jose Claudio Torres Freitas, during an event
staged on official Black Consciousness Day.
'This is the only day we're allowed to do anything, he said.
modern-day quilombos like Sacopa do have some legal protection. In
2003, then leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed a decree
regularising boundaries and titles for descendants of quilombo slaves,
who are collectively known as quilombolas.
However, the bureaucratic
procedures are complex and while the three quilombos in Rio de Janeiro
have been recognised, they are still waiting for the second stage of the
paperwork to be completed.
The Pedra do Sal quilombo, right in the
centre of Rio near the port, is where many slaves went soon after
arriving on ships from Africa.
The site is also rich in cultural
significance as a key location in the development of the still thriving
Afro-Brazilian religion candomble.
But legal uncertainties mean few
of those from the 25 families descending from the original Pedra do Sal
community live there anymore.
'The neighbourhood wasn't like this back then — it was very isolated, said Damiao Braga, the quilombola leader.
'But it was gradually invaded and swallowed by the city.
There were many disputes, including with the Catholic church.
Even recognition from Unesco for the nearby Valongo Wharf, where slave ships used to dock, has not helped much.
have international support but the disputes remain. Empty buildings
have been taken over and once that happens, it's not easy to reverse,
Out in the west of Rio, where most of the Olympic Games
took place in 2016, quilombola descendant Adilson Almeida helps oversee
yet another of these pockets of history.
His ancestors founded the
Camorim quilombo after escaping back in the 16th century. When slavery
ended, the family returned and set up a community there.
In this out
of the way area, the quilombolas went about their lives until 2014 when
the 20 resident families woke up to find construction work starting: the
woodland that was historically theirs had been picked as the site of
housing for Olympic referees.
In this case, the quilombo had yet to
receive the paperwork from even the first stage of the registration
procedures to obtain legal protection, and the land was never returned
to the community. But Almeida still has hopes.
thousands of artefacts from the 16th and 17th centuries during research
there last year, and the disputed area has been named an official
archaeological site by the National Institute for Historic and Artistic
'Now we have a solid legal base and it would be hard for something like the 2014 invasion to happen again, Almeida said.
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