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Two thousand people, including 800 indigenous individuals of the Kaingang, Guarani and Xeta peoples, took part, in the ruins of São Miguel Arcanjo (or São Miguel das Missões), state of Rio Grande do Sul, in a demonstration to pay homage to Sepe Tiaraju and mark, for the South Region, the launching of the "500 Years of Indigenous, Black and Popular Resistance" Campaign. The demonstration, which was very mystical, was sponsored by Cimi (Indianist Missionary Council) in cooperation with the indigenous movement and the "Outros 500" Committee. A small indigenous village located in the outskirts of the city was the site chosen by the sponsors of the demonstration to show that the ruins of São Miguel are symbolic in that they reveal the marginalization of indigenous peoples in Brazil today. For the indigenous people who came from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Parana, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, Sepe Tiaraju was a martyr in the fight for resistance. In 1756, the Guarani leader and 2,500 warriors were slaughtered by the Spanish and Portuguese armies in the fight to defend their land. Showing no signs of fatigue, the indigenous peoples emphasized through their chants, dances and speeches that they want to occupy the physical, political and cultural space that was denied them in the last 500 years. A particularly touching moment was when the shamans blessed the participants as they hugged each other in solidarity for a long time. Late in the afternoon, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Olivio Dutra, arrived and heard reports about the situation of indigenous peoples and lands in the South and Southeast regions. Of the 127 areas that have been recognized by Funai, only 28 have been registered and had their boundaries assured. The indigenous people, together with members of Christian churches and of the 41 organizations that represent the landless movement, female rural workers, individuals affected by dams, blacks and unemployed asked the governor to declare February 7 as a holiday in the state. They also requested a special participative budget for indigenous communities and firm actions of the state government to put an end to the prejudice against indigenous peoples. Because of all that was experienced on this day, one can say that São Miguel das Missões, far from being a historical museum, has become the sound box of a war that is not over yet. With much vitality and hope, indigenous peoples in the South and Southeast have shown that they want to celebrate other things in 500th anniversary of the "discovery".
Source: Cimi (Indianist Missionary Council)
Zumbi and November 20th: the Brazilian National Day of Black Consciousness
During the era of slavery in Brazil, the enslaved African peoples developed different ways of resisting slavery, oppression and colonization. One story, which marks the history of black Brazilians, is when a group of forty men and women ran away from their masters, walked many miles through valleys and mountains, and discovered the beautiful, fertile, vast land, located in the northeast of Brazil in the current state of Alagoas. This group of refugees settled in this beautiful land, which was known as Palmares (land of the palm trees). These runaway African slaves settled in the land of Palmares, forming a village known as the "Quilombo dos Palmares" (the refuge of the black people in the land of the palm trees). This community thrived for almost one hundred years from 1600 to 1695.
In the Quilombo dos Palmares, the slaves lived the experience of their African culture freely; men, women and children lived in equality respecting one another. The land belonged to all and the harvest from the land was shared equally. The population of Quilombo dos Palmares grew up to 70,000 people. It was believed that there were also poor white and indigenous people who all lived together in harmony in the Quilombo dos Palmares.
Zumbi of Palmares was the leader of this community. Zumbi was a strong, courageous and determined man, who many Afro-Brazilian people today consider to be their hero. As the leader of the Quilombo of Palmares, Zumbi taught and showed a good example to his people. He was not afraid of the government officials, but kept his community united and strong in the face of colonial opposition. On the other hand, the government officials were very threatened by his leadership skills and the unity that the people in his community had developed. The imperial government was afraid that many slave owners would lose all of their slaves if they learned about Zumbi and his community. For this reason the Governor of the nearby city gave an order for the assassination of Zumbi. He was assassinated on November 20th of 1695.
Throughout Brazil there were many other small quilombos where black people found refuge and lived their culture in liberty. In 1888 the law which declared the freedom of slaves was passed in Brazil. Actually, contrary to freedom, this law created more suffering and abandonment of the black people. In the quilombos, the black, indigenous and poor white people did not have titles to their land. The land that quilombos held belonged to everyone in common. Most of the blacks that were already living in the Quilombos lost their land, as it was distributed to the big landowners. Many of the black people were pushed out to live on the outskirts of the cities. For some of the blacks who decided to continue living in the quilombos, the land was taken away from them, but they had to pay for the right to live on the land through their hard work. The most common way of paying was to give a half of the year's harvest to their landowners. This unjust situation of indentured servanthood created poverty and economic problems, especially when the rains were scarce.
The history of Quilombo dos Palmares inspires many black activists who are fighting for their liberation, human's rights, dignity, respect and equality. Zumbi, a famous hero among Afro-Brazilians, left the spirit of courage, good example and persistence in fighting for civil rights. Many Afro-Brazilian movements have been using Zumbi as an example to be followed by everyone. The memory of Zumbi (his way of thinking, acting, and reacting against the oppression of black people) has to be carried into the future for bringing about a change in the racist, Brazilian society which still discriminates against black and indigenous peoples.
Afro-Brazilian peoples and movements in Brazil have been fighting for over 300 years to overcome oppression and discrimination. It was not until 1995 that the 20th of November was recognized as a special commemorative day in Brazil's calendar. Now the 20th of November, the anniversary of the death of the hero Zumbi, is a very special day throughout Brazil for Afro-Brazilians to commemorate, celebrate their culture, and use the opportunity to educate and raise black consciousness among those who are not yet aware.
Efu Nyaki and Dennis Moorman are Maryknoll Missioners who work with Afro-Brazilians. This year the Black Movement, with whom Efu and Dennis work, will be promoting a two-week program of activities in primary schools and various communities to celebrate black identity and raise awareness about racial discrimination. The programs will end with a celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture on November 20th. Thanks to Zumbi who initiated the freedom struggle over 400 years ago, we carry on this legacy today. VIVA ZUMBI DOS PALMARES!
By Efu Nyaki.
NEWS FROM BRAZIL supplied by SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz). Number 459, November 22, 2001
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