A samba concert in the Quilombo district Pedra do Sal in Rio against a background of Zumbi Dos Palmares, one of the leaders of the fight against slavery in Brazil, December 19, 2017
In Rio de Janeiro, three communities of descendants of slaves who have fled their masters cultivate the memory of this ancestral struggle. Unlike other „quilombos“, they are in the city and are now fighting against real estate speculation.
Since the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, these knots of resistance, often set apart from civilization, have passed through the centuries. The 2,000 or so quilombos that still exist in the country bring music, food and culture to Afro-descendants.
Some were caught by the concrete. The quilombo of Sacopa, originally a vast forest, is now surrounded by the residences and luxurious buildings of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas district, which adjoins the very chic areas of Ipanema and Leblon.
In the 19th century, a family of slaves who fled the city of Macaé (200 km north) settled there. The group grew up at the same time as the city.
Tourists and locals dance in the Quilombo Pedra do Sal neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on December 18, 2017
„If we’re still here, it’s because I’ve been very stubborn, they’ve tried everything to get this land back, but it’s up to us right now,“ says 74-year-old Luiz Sacopa, who is the oldest descendant. founders.
He says he no longer counts attempts to expel them from this 18,000 square meter plot: from the neighbor who tried to plant marijuana there and then denounced them to the three days of non-stop surveillance of the police, going through the court decision forbidding them cultural activities, because of noise in the early morning.
– ‚Hard blow‘ –
„It was a very hard blow because we lived from these events, feijoadas (the Brazilian national dish made from beans, ed), capoeira courses.We were very careful, everything stopped at 20:00 or 21:00“, assures José Claudio Torres Freitas, nephew of Luiz, during the celebration of Black Consciousness Day, a public holiday in many Brazilian states.
„It’s the only day we can organize something, they would not dare to ban it, right?“, He says ironically.
The fight of Sacopa and other quilombos regained vigor in 2003, when then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) issued a decree regulating the demarcation and ownership of lands of descendants of slaves who founded these communities.
A couple in the street during a Samba concert in the Quilombo district Pedra do Sal in Rio de Janeiro, December 19, 2017
But this recognition process, which has been delayed in some places, still needs to be finalized.
The quilombo of Pedra do Sal, located in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, near the port, welcomed many slaves who had just arrived from Africa. This place also has a very symbolic dimension, being one of the first places of worship candomble, Afro-Brazilian religion still very popular in the region.
„This area was not like today, it was very isolated, but it was invaded, swallowed up by the city,“ says Damiao Braga, who was also responsible for the place, which also had to be scrapped, especially with the church, which He disputed in court the property of several houses in the neighborhood.
– Olympic Destruction –
Because of this, few of the 25 descendant families of the Pedra do Sal community live there today. The inscription of the quai de Valongo, the gateway to nearly one million slaves in Brazil, a Unesco World Heritage site, did nothing to make matters worse.
„Now we have international support, but there are still conflicts, empty buildings have been occupied and it is not easy to get them back,“ Braga explains.
To the west of the marvelous city, which has received many venues from the 2016 Olympic Games, Adilson Almeida proudly recalls the story of his ancestors, slaves who fled in the 16th century to found the Camorim quilombo.
In this area away from the busiest neighborhoods, the 20 families of descendants lived peacefully until one morning in 2014. On waking, part of the forest had been torn off and work had started: on a portion of this land steeped in history was going to stand a building to host the referees of the Olympics.
In this case, the land could not be recovered.
But Almeida keeps hope. Archaeological excavations made it possible to find remains of the 16th and 17th centuries on this site, which has since been classified as an archaeological site by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan).
„Thanks to that, we have a solid legal base, and it’s hard for the 2014 invasion to repeat itself,“ he says.