A quilombo (Portuguese pronunciation: [kiˈlõbu]; from the Kimbundu word kilombo, "campsite, slave hut") is a Brazilian hinterland settlement founded by people of African origin including the quilombolas, or maroons and others sometimes called Carabali. Most of the inhabitants of quilombos (called quilombolas) were escaped slaves. However, the documentation on runaway slave communities typically uses the term mocambo, an Ambundu word meaning "hideout", to describe the settlements. A mocambo is typically much smaller than a quilombo. Quilombo was not used until the 1670s and then primarily in more southerly parts of Brazil.
Quilombos are identified as one of three basic forms of active resistance by slaves. The other two are attempts to seize power and armed insurrections for amelioration. Typically, quilombos are a "pre-19th century phenomenon". The prevalence of the last two increased in the first half of 19th-century Brazil, which was undergoing both political transition and increased slave trade at the time.
Legal slavery was present in Brazil for approximately four centuries, with the earliest known landing of enslaved Africans taking place 52 years after the Portuguese were the first Europeans to set foot in Brazil in 1500. The demand for enslaved Africans continued to increase through the 18th century, even as the Brazilian sugar economy ceased to dominate the world economy. In its place, crops such as tobacco increased in prominence.
During the sugar boom period (1570–1670), the sugar plantations in Brazil presented hellish conditions, even including the personal brutality of some slave owners. There was high physical exertion on workers, especially during harvest season. In addition, enslaved people were held to nearly-impossible daily production quotas while having to contend with lack of rest and food. Economically in sugar plantations, it was cheaper for owners of enslaved Africans to work them to death and get new replacement enslaved people. Conditions were so bad that even the Crown intervened on at least two occasions, forcing plantation owners to give their slaves sufficient food.
Settlements were formed by enslaved Africans who escaped from plantations. Some slave owners, such as Friedrich won Weech, regarded the first escape attempt as a part of "breaking in" process for new slaves. The first escape attempt would be punished severely as a deterrent for future escapes. Slaves who tried to escape a second time would be sent to slave prison, and those who tried a third time would be sold. In general, slaves who were caught running away were also required to wear an iron collar around their necks at all times, in addition to the punishment they received.
Not all slaves who ran away formed settlements in Brazil. Escape from a life of slavery was a matter of opportunity. Settlements were formed in areas with dense populations of slaves, like Pernambuco, where the biggest collection of mocambos formed the quilombo that became Palmares. Some, among them Mahommah G. Baquaqua, escaped to New York because his multiple attempts at escape and suicide led to him being sold to a ship’s captain.
It is widely believed that the term quilombo establishes a link between settlements and the culture of central West Africa where the majority of slaves were forcibly brought to Brazil. During the era of slave trafficking, natives in central Angola, called Imbangala, had created an institution called a kilombo that united various tribes of diverse lineage into a community designed for military resistance.
Many quilombos were near Portuguese plantations and settlements. To keep their freedom, they were active both in defending against capitães do mato and being commissioned to recapture other runaway slaves. At the same time, they facilitated the escape of even more slaves. For this reason, they were targets of the Dutch, then Portuguese colonial authorities and, later, of the Brazilian state and slave owners.
Despite the atmosphere of cooperation between some quilombos and the surrounding Portuguese settlements, they were almost always eventually destroyed. Seven of 10 major quilombos in colonial Brazil were terminated within two years of formation. Some mocambos that were farther from Portuguese settlements and the later Brazilian cities were tolerated and still exist as towns today, with their dwellers speaking Portuguese Creoles languages.
The most famous quilombo was Palmares, an independent, self-sustaining community near Recife, established in about 1600. Palmares was massive and consisted of several settlements with a combined population of over 30,000 citizens, mostly blacks. It was the only quilombo to survive almost an entire century, with the second longest-standing quilombo in Mato Grosso lasting only 25 years. Part of the reason for the massive size of the quilombo at Palmares was because of its location in Brazil, which was at the median point between the Atlantic Ocean and Guinea, an important area of the African slave trade. Quilombo dos Palmares was a self-sustaining community of escaped slaves from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil, "a region perhaps the size of Portugal in the hinterland of Bahia".
At its height, Palmares had a population of over 30,000. Forced to defend against repeated attacks by Portuguese colonists, the warriors of Palmares were experts in capoeira, a dance and martial art form.
Ganga Zumba and Zumbi are the two most well known warrior-leaders of Palmares which, after a history of conflict with, first, Dutch and then Portuguese colonial authorities, finally fell to a Portuguese artillery assault in 1694. Portuguese soldiers sometimes stated it took more than one dragoon to capture a quilombo warrior, since they would defend themselves with a strangely moving fighting technique. The governor from that province declared "it is harder to defeat a quilombo than the Dutch invaders".
In Brazil, both men are now honored as heroes and symbols of black pride, freedom and democracy. Zumbi's execution date (as his birthday is unknown), November 20, is observed as Dia da Consciência Negra or "Black Awareness Day" in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and his image has appeared on postage stamps, banknotes and coins.
In the Castilian language of the Southern Cone the word quilombo has come to mean brothel; in Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay, a mess, noise or disorder; in Venezuela, a remote or out-of-the-way place.