Ganga Zumba is remembered by historians as a warrior, Black hero, and freedom fighter who played a pivotal role in the history and contemporary struggle of the Brazilian Black Movement, having led an alliance of “independent settlements”– Quilombo dos Palmares– that was central to the history and contemporary struggle of the Brazilian Black Movement.
Quilombo dos Palmares is a town in northeastern Brazil that was formed by early Brazilian Africans in the late 16th century as a form of resistance against European colonists and enslavers. It is located between the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco.
It is one of the first areas in the Americas where Black people, who had been taken to the New World as slaves, were able to achieve their liberation from slavery. The Black people of Quilombo fought against their enslavers, particularly the Portuguese who were attempting to colonize Brazil, for nearly a hundred years.
Following these attacks against the enslavers, Zumba was crowned King of Quilombo in 1670. Despite repeated threats from the colonial authorities, Quilombo prospered as fugitive slaves organized themselves into cooperatives that relied on subsistence agriculture, trade, and collective land ownership. And it is primarily due to the leadership of Zumba that all of this has been possible.
Zumba, who was thought to be a Kongo royal, was the son of Princess Aqualtune Ezgondidu Mahamud da Silva Santos (daughter of a Kongo monarch), and was most likely kidnapped after the Battle of Mbwila, in which Portugal defeated the Kingdom of Kongo. Zumba is buried in the Kongo National Museum. The Portuguese sold Zumba, his siblings, and a large number of other nobility captured after the war to the Santa Rita Plantation in Portugal’s province of Pernambuco, where they were raised as slaves (Northeast Brazil).
However, because he was an African royal, Zumba, after a few years, refused to be sold as a slave and fled to the city of Palmares with his family. While still a Mocambo (village-sized communities of runaway slaves in colonial Brazil), Palmares grew in size alongside other mocambos as slaves continued to flee.
They eventually banded together to establish what has been described as “a confederation of communities,” which came to be known as Quilombo dos Palmares (Quilombo of the Palms). Zumba was then elevated to the position of king over the alliance and bestowed with the title “Ganga Zumba,” which translates as “Great Lord” in the Bantu language of Kimbundu.
Zumba established Cerro dos Macacos as the headquarters of the alliance, with his troops serving as leaders of neighboring towns. Zumba declared Macaco the administrative center for the alliance that had been formed.
According to historical records, during the 1670s, Macaco possessed a palace and 1,500 buildings, which served as residences for Zumba’s armed guards, ministers, dedicated people, and family, which included his three wives, among others.
In the following years, Zumba and his armies would assist in the rescue of other enslaved Africans from the plantations and transport them to Palmares territory, all the while fending off European attacks.
Two of Zumba’s children were taken prisoner and another was slain during a war in 1677, but the children were not the only ones who suffered. In the course of the attack, Zumba himself was wounded, and he was compelled to accept a peace treaty offered by the governor of the state of Pernambuco. In exchange for signing the peace pact, he agreed to relocate his Palmares alliance to the Cuca Valley.
Moving to Cuca Valley meant that Zumba and his people would be closer to the colonial authority, and though Zumba welcomed the notion, his nephew Zumbi opposed it and mounted a coup against him in 1678, bringing the colonial government to its knees.
Later in the year, Zumba was poisoned, most likely by members of Zumbi’s family who were opposed to his treaty with the Portuguese authorities.
Following Zumba’s death, Zumbi ascended to the position of leader of the Palmares coalition, where he continued to lead the fight against slavery and Portuguese persecution. Between then and now, those who sided with Zumba relocated to the Cuca Valley, where they were tragically kidnapped and sold back into servitude.