Cultural Elements

Most residents of Palmares were involved in agriculture, with corn being the community’s principle crop. Aside from corn, beans, sugarcane, platanos, and other vegetables were grown, giving the community an ample supply of food. [1] The interesting aspect of agriculture in Palmares, however, is not what was planted, but rather how it was planted. The people of Palmares, in order to be able to cultivate such a wide variety of crops, combined agricultural techniques that they had brought with them from Africa and those they had learned on Brazilian plantations.[2]

While most members of Palmares were involved in agriculture, there were others who worked as blacksmiths and potters.[3] The pottery found in Palmares is particularly interesting, as it reflected the cultural syncretism taking place. Glazed ceramics, which had been developed by the Moors, found their way into the jungles of Pernambuco’s interior and went on to influence the ways in which pottery was made in Palmares.[4]

This picture is an artist's representation of life in Palmares.

An artist’s representation of the life of enslaved Africans in Brazil.[5]

Religious belief systems were also syncretized as those living in Palmares had blended their ancestor’s traditional religious practices and beliefs with the Catholicism they encountered in the New World. Fernão Carrilho, a militia captain who attacked Palmares in 1676, noted that

although these barbarians have so forgotten subjugation, they have not wholly lost recognition of the Church. In this town they have a chapel to which they resort in their need, and statues to whom they commend their petitions. When this chapel was entered, there was found a quite well-made statue of the infant Jesus, another of Our Lady of the Conception, and another of Saint Blaise. They choose one of their most ladinos whom they venerate as pastor, who baptises them and marries them. The baptism, however, is without the form prescribed by the Church, and their weddings are without the particulars required by natural law. Their appetite is the rule of their choice.[6]

Quite clearly, the cultural practices of Palmares, from agriculture to religion, show that elements of African and Portuguese life had been mixed, creating entirely new practices that would have been impossible except for Atlantic and global processes.

[1] Diggs, Irene, “Zumbi and the Republic of Os Palmares.” Phylon (1940-1956) 14, no. 1 (1953): 62-63.

[2] Ibid., 62-63.

[3] Funari, Pedro Paulo A, “Conflict and the Interpretation of Palmares, a Brazilian Runaway Polity.” Historical Archaeology 37, no. 3 (2003): 86-87.

[4] Ibid., 86-87.

[5] P, Reynolds. “The Jesuits and Slavery in Colonial Brazil.” African Slavery. Accessed April 25, 2017.

[6] Anderson, Robert Nelson, “The Quilombo of Palmares: A New Overview of a Maroon State in Seventeenth-Century Brazil.” Journal of Latin American Studies 28, no. 3 (1996): 554-556.