From O Proletariado
Organ of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Brazil
November 1995

300 Years of Zumbi

The system of slavery in Brazil was the longest and well structured of the Americas, with about 4 million Blacks being brought here who, enslaved over three centuries, built the fortune of the Brazilian ruling classes and increased that of the Europeans. But while they were enslaved in Brazil, the blacks resisted it in various forms: assassination of masters, of overseers, of jungle captains, flights, guerrillas, urban insurrections, quilombos. The quilombos were built into a form of basic resistance and spread from the XVII century to the XIX century, the most famous of these being Palmares.

The Republic of Palmares resisted with arms for almost a century, being defeated in 1695, 300 years ago, with the assassination of its chief, Zumbi.

Since then, Zumbi has become an example of courage and human dignity which inspired blacks throughout the country to break their shackles and he is today one of the heroes of the Brazilian people.

Palmares, more than signifying a place to which the blacks fled and found refuge, became a check on the slave system adopted in Brazil by the Portuguese colonizers. Initially formed by a few slaves who fled at the end of the XVI century, its population approached 25 to 30 thousand inhabitants, which for its population density in that epoch (the XVII century) was not insignificant. Located in the province of Pernambuco, today the area belongs to the State of Algoas, between the cities of Serinhaém (PE) and Vicosa (AL), in the Zone of Mata, an area of difficult access.

Palmares was an elected Republic, of free, united people, living communally and in prosperity. Besides blacks, there were also Indians and poor whites who fled the misery in which they lived on the sugar plantations.

Unlike the monoculture of the sugar cane of the colonizers destined for export, in Palmares they planted maize, beans, manioc, sugar cane, potatoes and vegetables. Ownership of land was collective, a tradition that the blacks brought from Africa, as well as for reasons of security, since to protect themselves from the attacks of the colonizers the whole population had to relocate from time to time to other regions.

There was also fishing and hunting, and the raising of hens and pigs. They extracted oil from the pulp of the palm trees. They worked in iron which was present in the region. They did artistic work in wood and ceramic. Their legislation was severe and there was the death penalty for robbery, adultery, murder and desertion. They spoke their own language which was a mixture of African languages, Portuguese and some indigenous languages. They practiced a synthetic religion which was a mixture of African and Christian beliefs.

Periodically the inhabitants of Palmares came down to the nearby cities to rescue other slaves, obtain arms, powder, tools and mete out justice to overseers.

The Torture of Slavery

The form utilized by the colonizers to cultivate the land in the country and to produce products for export was slavery. Initially with the Indians, later with the blacks. The system alienated the condition, the human identity of the slave. In the legislation in force in that epoch, the buying and selling of Negro slaves was regulated in the same section as that dedicated to animals.

The slaves worked from morning to night, without rest on Sundays and holidays. Those who worked in the cane fields and sugar mills had an average productive life of five to seven years. At 30 years, generally, they were physically exhausted and to the masters were no longer worth what they ate. Some were killed, others emancipated, but these were not suitable for any job or task and were only able to beg.

They were incessantly subjected to the terror of punishments, of tortures so that they would not stop working. For the slightest faults, they were tied to a tree trunk, with their feet, hands and neck immobilized in pieces of wood, for days, weeks or months. The whipping in the pillory, leaving the skin as raw flesh and afterward pouring salt and vinegar on it, were frequent and witnessed both by the slaves as by the master of the plantation and his family. Other forms of torture and sadism were employed to subjugate them. While there were many deaths, others sought to recapture their humanity by fleeing.

40 Expeditions Against Palmares

During almost a century, the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and then again the Portuguese attacked Palmares, in the hope of recapturing fugitive slaves and defeating the Republic which threatened them with new attacks and with a life that was more abundant, egalitarian and happy. There were about 40 expeditions, with the most experienced fighters of the crown, which achieved little or no results. The inhabitants of Palmares utilized the so-called "jungle warfare," in which they avoided the enemy, with very rapid encounters, confusing him and hiding themselves in the jungle. The Palmareans also relied on news of the enemy expeditions from the slaves in the plantations and from the settlers with whom they maintained contact to buy arms and tools.

In 1677, an expedition commanded by Fernao Carrilho managed to wound Ganga-Zumba, at that time the supreme chief of Palmares, and to capture 200 Negroes, among them sons, nephews and grandsons of Ganga-Zumba. Carrilho reached the city of Porto Calvo announcing that he had destroyed Palmares, but he was not able to convince the governor Pedro de Almeida who understood that the Republic, with more than 25 thousand people, had not been defeated. He resolved then to seek negotiations with the Palmareans, which would provide him a breathing spell, since he was already without the resources to organize more and more expeditions.

Zumbi - General in Arms and Grand Chief

After the surrender [or capitulation] of Ganga-Zumba Zumbi, who was already recognized as a great warrior, a geat "general in arms," led the resistance and took up residence in the capital of Palmares, having been acclaimed Grand Chief. Knwoing that he would have to confront new attacks of the oppressor, he organized life in the Republic in a manner that would prepare it for imminent war.

The Grand Chief was born in Palmares in the beginning of 1665, the year in which one of the expeditions against the Republic took some prisoners, among them Zumbi, who was only a few days old. The child was given as a present to a Portuguese priest, Antonio de Melo, who baptized him with the name Francisco. The priest taught him to read and to be an altar boy at the age of ten. According to a letter from the priest himself, the lad demonstrated "skill which I never imagined in the black race, and which I have very rarely seen among whites" and at the age of ten "knew all the Latin that he needed and continued with Portuguese and Latin very satisfactorily." Surprisingly to the priest, at the age of 15 Zumbi fled with other blacks to Palmares. He would return three more times, as chief of Palmares, to visit the priest, whom he found in a situation of misery and he suffered rebuke from the residents for having been with Zumbi.

"Better to Die than to Live as a Slave"

For about twenty years, Zumbi was at the head of Palmares, defending at the side of his people the Republic which they had established. Many masters of plantations condemned these attempts at negotiations, but the most categorical of the arguments - against - was that of priest Antonio Vieira, who influenced the crown to desist from them and to prepare for a more decisive confrontation. For this, there was called up a Paulist, the colonial expedition leader Domingos Jorge Velho, the hunter of Indians and blacks, known as the major assassin of the country for his cruelty and barbarous methods. Jorge Velho made various expeditions against Palmares, from the end of 1691, without managing to succeed i his intentions.

In January of 1694, at the head of an army of nine thousand men, he left for the capital of Palmares. The solidity of the fortifications of the city left those who came there to fight surprised. Jorge Velho ordered his men to raise a counter-wall to be able to fight, but there army was bombarded by the Palmareans in this assault. The expedition leader ordered his men to construct, during the night, a second counter-wall, at an oblique angle to the Palmarean fortification. Zumbi, at dawn, saw the enemy maneuver and ordered the sentry to be executed for allowing this to take place unnoticed.

Next to this, there was an abyss and along this was a passageway that Jorge Velho did not manage to shut. Zumbi organized a contingent, which he joined, that moved along this passageway at night to attack the enemy from the rear. When a good part of the warriors had begun to pass the enemy sentry saw the maneuver and gave the alarm signal. Jorge Velho ordered his men to fire on them and against the city, with cannons, arms with which Zumbi had not counted. The soldiers penetrated the city and killed and decapitated those whom they saw in front.

The soldiers returned to the coast exulting in the defeat that they had inflicted on Palmares, believing that the valorous Zumbi had fallen. Domingos Jorge Velho was not so optimistic. In fact, Zumbi escaped with his life, at 39 years old, suffering much of the time from a leg that had been hit in combat. Shortly thereafter he was seen with his comrades attacking a small town in search of arms. He regrouped the surviving Palmareans and continued the activity of armed groups.

Antonio Soares, the leader of one of these groups, was captured and handed over to a Paulist column. He was subjected to tortures to tell the whereabouts of Zumbi. Having achieved nothing, they proposed to guarantee his life and liberty if he located the warrior chief. Antonio gave in and went to look for Zumbi. Having the enemies close but , Soares called for Zumbi. He appeared and prepared for an embrace when he was struck in the stomach by a blow of a dagger from Antonio Soares. Zumbi still struggled, killed his enemy, wounded several and fell dead. This was November 20, 1965.

His body, struck by fifteen bullet holes and innumerable dagger wounds was further mutilated, and then his head was separated from his body and carried off to Recife, wrapped in salt. There the governor ordered it impaled on a stick and it was placed in a public place in the city. The warriors who survived hid in the jungle to build new quilombos. One of the most famous was Cumbe, in Paraiba, which was only destroyed in 1731. In the XVIII century, revolts took place principally in Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Goias and Mato Grasso.

[Sidebar to an article: "Public Servants: Take the Streets to Defeat the Policies of FHC"]

In the capitalist system, which consists of irreconcilably hostile classes, the State is the institution organized as "a special force of repression" of the proletariat exploited by the bourgeoisie, the ruling class. It is fundamentally an instrument to guarantee the domination of the bourgeoisie, the exploitation of the working class and the other working people and all sorts of injustices against the people, repressing with violence the protests and revolts of the dominated, seeking to extend to the maximum the time of the domination of a minority of rich people over the great majority of the population. Therefore the most important sectors of the bourgeois State are those dedicated to repression (armed forces, police, justice and prisons) followed by the sectors responsible for the collection of taxes. These sectors never lack human or material resources.

Shaken by the proletarian revolutions that shook the world stimulating the rise of the mass movement and in the framework of the profound crisis of the capitalist system at the end of the 1920s, imperialism, trying to alleviate tensions in society, moved to combine repression with the provision by the State of some services demanded by the population. In the USA, in the 1930s, the "New Deal" signified heavy investment by the State in economic activity, providing jobs and seeking to avoid the aggravation of the crisis and the growth of revolutionary activity in that country. The resources of the State in health, education and public welfare programs led to the recognition of certain rights of the working people including the right to trade union organization. This is what the bourgeoisie calls the "welfare State."

In the new framework of the world relation of forces, with the end of the USSR combined with a new period of aggravation of the crisis of imperialism, which demands the extraction on an ever increasing scale of the resources of the dependent countries, the politics of the "minimum State," adopted by the governments, has as its objective to cut the resources applied in the social arena, with a consequent reduction of the framework of public servants, concentrating the state apparatus in its essential functions: the forces and structures of repression and the sectors for collecting taxes.

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