Select The Nations of Latin America
Welcome to Born in Blood & Fire Student Website
Select Country

Quilombos and Palenques

Click here to Bigger View     Print this page

Questions | Bibliography

Chapter Reference: Colonial Crucible

Possibly for reasons of climate, settlements of escaped slaves, called quilombos and palenques, were much more frequent in Latin America than in the United States. The unfamiliarity of the English equivalent term "maroon settlement" aptly indicates the infrequency of the phenomenon in U.S. history. In contrast, quilombos, great and small, existed by the hundred throughout Brazil. There was a particularly large and lasting one in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, for example. But none can rival the kingdom of Palmares, inland from the sugar coast of Northeastern Brazil, where African slaves fled from plantations and created backland village settlements governed by African social institutions. Palmares lasted for most of a century, but many tiny quilombos and palanques lasted only a few years. Students interested in Spanish American palenques should direct their attention to the circum-Caribbean region. A paper on quilombos and palenques can explore the ways in which runaway slave communities tried to reproduce familiar African lifeways. Another aspect worth investigating is the complex relations that existed between quilombos or palenques and the slave societies from which they had escaped.

Questions for Analysis and Further Reflection:

  1. How did maroon societies in different regions of Latin America differ from each other—be it in size, ethnic makeup, or ability to ward off Spaniards and Portuguese?

  2. Slaves and free blacks in Latin America often formed nations, or groups linked by a common linguistic heritage and the same geographic roots in Africa. Were these sources of community driving forces behind the development of quilombos and palenques? What other factors led to the formation of the strong bonds and group identities that characterized some maroon societies?

  3. To the extent that maroon societies were able to recreate African social institutions and practices in Latin America, what can quilombos and palenques suggest about the power of slaves to preserve African heritage and, on the other side, the efforts of colonial powers to integrate slaves into the new colonial societies?

Bibliography: (Titles with ** are good starting places.)

** Anderson, Robert Nelson. "The 'Quilombo' of Palmares: A New Overview of a Maroon
           State in 17th Century Brazil." Journal of Latin American Studies, 28, no. 3 (1996):

Students will enjoy this well-written introduction to the largest and most important quilombo, Brazil's Palmares.

De Queirós Mattoso, Kátia M. To Be a Slave in Brazil, 1550—1888. Translated by Arthur
           Goldhammer. With a foreword by Stuart Schwartz. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers
           University Press, 1986.

To be a Slave in Brazil is denser reading than other listings here, but it is comprehensive and authoritative.

Baquaqua, Mahommah Gardo. The Biography of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua: His Passage
           from Slavery to Freedom in Africa and America.
Princeton: Markus Wiener, 2001.

Baquaqua's life story, including his youth in Africa, his slavery in Brazil, and his time as a maroon in the United States.

Kent, R. K. "Palmares: An African State in Brazil." The Journal of African History, 6, no. 2 (1965): 161—75.

A dated but classic piece of scholarship in English on maroon societies in Brazil.

** Manzano, Juan Francisco. The Autobiography of a Slave / Autobiografía de un esclavo. Translated by Evelyn Picon Garfield. With an introduction and modernized Spanish version by Ivan A. Schulman. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996.

A slave autobiography, the only known source of its kind from Latin America.

** Montejo, Esteban. Biography of a Runaway Slave. Edited by Miguel Barnet. Translated
           by W. Nick Hill. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1994.

This engaging narrative account of Montejo's life as a slave, then a runaway slave or cimarrón, and then a paid worker will introduce students to the world of slavery in nineteenth-century Cuba. Montejo lived to be more than one hundred years old and recounted his life to Barnet.

** Price, Richard, ed. Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas, 3rd ed.
           Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1996.

This collection of essays offers the most complete portrait of runaway-slave communities in the Americas, with Brazil, the Caribbean, and Spanish America receiving the most attention. Students looking for an overview of quilombos and palenques in Latin America will want to begin here.

Other Resources:
Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
Slavery and Abolition
African Background
Neo-African Religions