Q is for Quilombo

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

At every stage of slavery there was fierce resistance, whether in Africa, on the ships or the plantations. Enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and the Americas would rebel and runaway, freeing themselves from their oppressors shackles. There were countless of what are known as Maroon communities, of those who had freed themselves. In Brazil, where between 38 and 52 percent of all those enslaved were taken, the Maroon communities were called Quilombos.

The largest Quilombo in Brazil was Palmares, which was founded around 1600 and had up to 30,000 citizens at its peak. Palmares is sometimes described as the first Black republic because of its independence and system of governance. The most famous leader of Palmares is Zumbi who seized power from his uncle because he was considering a truce with the Portuguese. Zumbi refused a treaty that would stop Palmares raiding the plantations to free more of the enslaved. Portugal was not able to overwhelm the Quilombo until 1695. To this day Brazil has many Quilombo communities that remained free from the grasp of Portugal.

The eventual Portugeuse conquest of Palmares is a reminder that flight is not the same as freedom. Maroons had a measure of liberty but always had to guard against the forces of slavery. We remember figures like Zumbi and Nanny in Jamaica because they refused to sign treaties with slaveholding colonies. But after Nanny died her brother Cudjoe signed such a treaty that protected the Maroons on the island but meant they had to collaborate with the British. This may be understandable given the consequences in Brazil for Palmares after Zumbi refused to deal with the Portuguese. But it also led to the Maroons being the ones who caught Paul Bogle after the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865, handing him over to the British to be hung. The Maroons have technically been free in Jamaica since 1655, but it is a strange kind of freedom.

Perhaps the best example of a modern day Maroon is Assata Shakur, who was falsely imprisoned for killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. In 1979 she managed to escape and has been living with political asylum in Cuba ever since. But there is currently a $2 million bounty on her head and she has to live in hiding, cut off from family and the movement. When asked what freedom meant her response was ‘you asking me about freedom? I know a whole lot more about what freedom isn’t than about what it is, because I have never been free’. If we do not destroy the system that oppresses us we can never be free from it.

Resources

Assata Shakur Assata: An Autobiography

Common A Song for Assata

Marcelo D’Salete Angola Janga

Nanny of the Maroons

Neil Roberts Freedom as Marronage

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