The Threat of Palmares

Palmares was forced to endure numerous invasions and attempts to destroy it. This is an artist's depiction of one of those battles.

Palmares was forced to endure numerous invasions and attempts to destroy it. This is an artist’s depiction of one of those battles.[1]

Palmares’ reputation and large size made it a target for attacks by both the Dutch and Portuguese. The first attempt to destroy the quilombo was made in 1612, six years after its founding.[2] While the attempt was unsuccessful, Palmares’ continued growth made it a serious threat – it came to be home to one-third of enslaved Africans in the colony – warranting further expeditions.[3] The Governor of Pernambuco, Fernão de Sousa Coutinho, expressed his concerns about Palmares in 1671, saying

These settlements are growing daily in number and becoming so bold that their continual robberies and assaults are causing a large part of the inhabitants of this captaincy who live nearest the mocambos to leave their land. The example and permanence of the mocambos each day induces the other Negros to flee and escape from the rigorous captivity which they suffer and to find freedom amid fertile land and the security of their own dwellings. One might fear that with these advantages they could grow to such numbers that they might move against the inhabitants of this captaincy, who are so few in relation to their slaves.[4]

Because of the serious threat that Palmares presented to the engenhos and Brazilian slave society, between the years 1654 and 1694, the quilombo fought off nearly one Portuguese attack per year.[5]

[1] “Zumbi dos Palmares: An African warrior in Brazil – The legend of the nation’s greatest black leader continues to be a topic of debate and inspiration.” Black Women of Brazil. August 18, 2014. Accessed April 10, 2017.

[2]  Orser, Charles E., and Pedro P. A. Funari, “Archaeology and Slave Resistance and Rebellion.” World Archaeology 33, no. 1 (2001): 66.

[3] Ibid., 68.

[4] Ennes, Ernesto, As gueras nos palmares: The Conquest of Palmares. Sao Paulo: Compania Editorial Nacional, 1938.

[5] 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): 552.