Zumbi dos Palmares (d. 1695)
Zumbi was the last leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares, an autonomous community of people of African descent, many of them former slaves, located in what is now Alagoas, Brazil, and which once reached a population of over 30,000.
Born in Palmares, he is said to have been captured by the Portuguese and given to a Catholic missionary as a child, when he was baptized with the name Francisco, was taught the sacraments, learned Portuguese and Latin, and helped with daily mass.
Zumbi escaped at the age of 15, returning to his birthplace, Palmares, where he became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle by the time he was in his early twenties. He practiced capoeira, a martial art developed by Black slaves in colonial Brazil which was used by the people of the Quilombo to defend themselves against repeated attacks by Portuguese and Dutch colonists who ruled the area in the seventeenth century.
Zumbi eventually took on the leadership of Palmares after the Quilombo’s leader, Ganga Zumba, was offered a deal by the region’s colonial governor which would bring the independent community under Portuguese rule, which Zumbi found to be unacceptable as it ensured the freedom of the Quilombo’s Black community but did nothing to end slavery elsewhere in the colony.
The Portuguese eventually succeeded in destroying part of the Quilombo, ending over half a century of autonomous rule. After this great loss Zumbi went into hiding, but was ultimately captured and beheaded by the Portuguese on November 20, 1695. His head was taken to the city of Recife to be displayed to the public as a warning.
Today Zumbi is celebrated as a hero in Brazil and the day of his death has been proclaimed a holiday, the Dia de Consciência Negra (Day of Black Awereness).