Our stories: The history of quilombo Palmares, one of the greatest stories of black resistance to slavery, is now in comic form in ‘Angola Janga – A history of Palmares’

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Note from BW of Brazil: It goes with saying that, in terms of Black History, the story of the great quilombo known as Palmares is one of the greatest. Just to have an idea, in the six plus years of the existence of this blog, the word “Palmares” has appeared in more than 150 articles to this point! And there is good reason why. Quilombos, which were known as maroons in English and palenques in the Spanish-speaking Americas, were independent civilizations established by Africans and their descendants that escaped from the brutal regime of slavery. There were literally hundreds of quilombos established throughout Brazil, with the Republic of Palmares being the greatest of all. Established in the 17th century, Palmares resisted constant invasions and attempts of destruction for nearly century and eventually grew to a population of over 30,000 inhabitants.

Located in the modern day states of Alagoas and Pernambuco, in terms of black resistance, historian Clovis Moura (1988) stressed that “blacks in Brazil demonstrated having a spirit of association beginning in the early days of slavery. Without that spirit there would not have been any chance of resistance to the violence of slavery and, later on, to racism in the post-abolition era” (Rahier 2012). The decimation of this famous symbol of resistance began with the murder of its greatest leader, Zumbi, in 1695, on November 20th. And today, the importance of that struggle is celebrated every year on that date, which is recognized in more than 300 cities as the Day of Black Consciousness. Similar to other stories of black resistance such the Haitian overthrow of the French in the late 18th century and the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831 in the state of Virginia in the United States, the story of Palmares was also immortalized in the 1984 film Quilombo.

Still today, we continue to learn new things about Palmares, and in the struggle against modern day racism, white supremacy and exploitation these stories can NEVER be told too often and today we have yet another platform with which to tell this story: a comic book. Although comics tend to be thought of as children’s stories, as we recently saw in the comic images of African orixás, the  genre can be a powerful mechanism for bringing stories to life, especially when they are well-researched historically and presented in a book of more than 400 pages! I hope to get my hands on a copy of this book, but for now, learn a little about the book and its author in the material below courtesy of Trip magazine. 

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BLACK INK

The story of the largest quilombo in Brazil is now in the comic strip in Angola Janga – Uma história de Palmares, by the hands of Marcelo D’Salete

By Carol Ito

A graphic novel Angola Janga – Uma história de Palmares (Angola Janga – A history of Palmares) has 432 pages and was based on research done by comic strip designer Marcelo D’Salete for 11 years. He investigated records about the quilombo, its main characters and strategies of resistance to slavery in the colonial period. The book was released in November by publisher Veneta and is expected to be released in Portugal and France in the next semester.

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Cover of the graphic novel Angola Janga, by Marcelo D’Salete (Credit: Marcelo D’Salete)

He says that the name chosen for the book comes from the Kimbundu language and means “little Angola”, which is how the members referred to Palmares, made up of more than ten mocambos (huts), that housed between 20 and 30 thousand people. “It was another country, another nation within the territory of Pernambuco. Angola Janga ends up meeting a need that is to speak of a very rich historical period that people don’t know,” believes D`Salete.

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In November of this year (2017), Serra da Barriga, which housed the quilombo in the colonial period, received the title of cultural heritage of Mercosur, which means that government and civil society must commit even more to the conservation and management of the area. In 2007, the Quilombo dos Palmares Memorial Park was founded in Alagoas, where part of the region is located.

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Marcelo D’Salete is one of the prominent comic book names in Brazil

Marcelo D’Salete is a professor, master in art history from USP (University of São Paulo) and has published comics for about 17 years. He is the author of Noite Luz (Via Lettera, 2008), Encruzilhada (Leya, 2011) and Risco (Cachalote, 2014), comics dealing with urban conflicts, with a careful look at racial issues. The graphic novel Cumbe (Veneta, 2014) placed him among the most prominent comic artists in Brazil and was published in Portugal, France, the United States, Germany, Austria and Italy.

In an interview with Trip magazine, he says that Angola Janga’s goal is to foment the debate over Palmares, noting that this it’s only the most well-known episode in the history of more than three centuries of resistance by the enslaved.

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Where did the idea of making a comic book about Quilombo de Palmares come from?

I started my research in 2006, starting with the classes I had with Professor Petrônio Domingues, in a História do Brasil (History of Brazil) course focusing on the black population. Later I worked at the Afro Brasil Museum, where I had good references both from historical sources and from images of artists of the time, such as Albert Ekhout, Frans Post and Debret. What caught my attention was the possibility of constructing a good story from the available documents.

How was the creation process?

I started the script in 2006 and it took me 3 years to finish it. At first, I thought I would be a 200-page story, but ended up with 430 and all were drawn in A3 size. I wanted the narrative to work as action and movement, the focus was not to provide historical data, because the glossary and maps would already have that function. I like very much to see the page just for the images, then think about the text.

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What do school textbooks not tell about Palmares?

Palmares had around 30 thousand people in all. Usually, they think it was a mocambo (hut) only that it housed a few hundred people, but it was totally organized and articulated. It was another nation within the territory of Pernambuco. It’s something incredible that we almost completely don’t know. We hear a lot about Zumbi and the Palmares mocambo, which ended in 1694, but it resisted until at least 1710, only in the form of guerrillas. The main strategy of the palmaristas (inhabitants of Palmares) was not having a fixed location. They were traveling from one mocambo to another working above the fatigue of the troops, who didn’t know the place.

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Was Zumbi a controversial figure?

What we know is that Palmares was a heavily militarized place, really because they fought against groups of 100, 400 soldiers practically every year. The palmaristas attacked the mills and also captured people who could not have wanted to go to Palmares, especially women. In the beginning, they were prisoners, but obviously, it was not the same type of slavery of the colonial period. It may have been a way of watching who came in and out of the mocambo. When these prisoners participated in attacks against the mills, they were freed.

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Do you follow the works of other black comic artists? Which ones?

I can mention Robson Moura (Black Friday comic), Geuvar Oliveira (Mugambi) and Maurício Pestana, who was editor of Raça Brasil magazine and started publishing comics at Pasquim.

What are your references outside of comics?

I grew up listening to rap, it was part of my political and artistic background. Nowadays there are many lines of rap connected to the church, there is even gospel rap…It seems that they don’t end up discussing some important things, such as religiousness of African origin, like Candomblé and Umbanda. I miss rappers bringing a story of resistance that doesn’t just go through these evangelical currents. (Rapper) Rincon Sapiência manages to rescue this very well, the clips have a very interesting African aesthetic as well.

Source: Rahier, Jean Muteba (ed). Black Social Movements in Latin America: From Monocultural Mestizaje to Multiculturalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2012. Revista Trip

About Marques Travae 2894 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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