Zumbi (1655?–1695)

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Zumbi (1655?–1695)

Zumbi (b. 1655?; d. 20 November 1695), organizer and leader of the free black republic (quilombo) of Palmares, in Alagoas state, northeastern Brazil. Little information is available concerning the early life of Zumbi and that which is known is subject to speculation. In 1685 he murdered his uncle Ganga Zumba, who had attempted to live in peace with the Portuguese, and proclaimed himself king of Palmares. He was responsible for the strengthening of a series of fortifications that made Palmares almost invincible to attackers. Zumbi's leadership proved effective in defeating a Portuguese expedition against the quilombo in 1686. When the forces of the bandeirante Domingos Jorge Velho attacked Palmares in 1691, Zumbi's ambushes and counterattacks devastated them. In 1692 attempts were initiated to surround the quilombo, but Zumbi's forces were able to hold out until 1694, when a Luso-Brazilian expedition backed by artillery and reinforcements was finally able to destroy Palmares. Zumbi was decapitated and his head displayed in public in order to prevent any further legends of his immortality, but tradition grew about a heroic suicide in which he threw himself off a cliff rather than surrender and submit to enslavement. The actions of Zumbi forced the Portuguese to change their military strategy with regard to Maroon communities; henceforth, special military units were given the task of finding and destroying potentially dangerous fugitive Maroon settlements. Zumbi is considered an African Brazilian hero; his date of death is commemorated each year.

See alsoMaroons (Cimarrones); Palmares.


R. K. Kent, "Palmares: An African State in Brazil," in Journal of African History 6 (1965): 161-175.

Leda Maria De Albuquerque, Zumbi dos Palmares (1978).

Additional Bibliography

Gomes, Flávio dos Santos. Palmares: Escravidão e liberdade no Atlântico Sul. São Paulo: Contexto, 2005.

Lins, Audemário. Zumbi: o rebelde herói negro. Maceió: Edições Catavento, 2001.

                                    Michael L. James