Quilombo Communities in Brazil

Recognition through Ethnic Tourism

Brazil is the country with the highest number of Afro descendants in the Americas outside Africa. The African legacy lies in every aspect of Brazil’s culture until the present day. However, it is still not recognized by Brazilian society.

Quilombos are historically defined as communities of fugitive slaves . The Quilombo, which in the Bantu language means "settlement," was the physical space of resistance to slavery. Escaped from coffee and sugarcane plantations, blacks who refused to submit to exploitation and violence within the slave-owning colonial system clustered in the woods and formed communities.

The lasting effects of slave trade

During the Atlantic slave trade era, Brazil imported more African slaves than any other country. An estimated 5 million slaves from Africa were brought to Brazil between 1501 and 1866. Brazil was the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery in 1888. As descendants of African slaves, many Quilombo communities still face racism on a daily basis.

Under the 1988 Constitution, descendants of Quilombos gained the rights to their traditional lands. However since then, few have received land titles. For example, out of 44 Quilombo communities in the State of Rio de Janeiro, only five have formal land rights. Institutional racism hampers the process of recognizing their land titles by the state and further marginalizes Quilombo communities. The advance of industrial agriculture threatens their land rights and forces many communities to move the urban environment in order to ensure their survival. This has a severe impact their traditional way of life.

Access to education became law after the constitution of 1824. However, in that period, black people were not considered citizens. Therefore, they had no right to study. Even today, most of the Quilombo communities are facing a lack of education. Many children need to leave their communities to visit schools. They either have to commute long and expensive distances or to move in with relatives in the city centres. Many never finish school. Because of this lack of education it is difficult for themn to find good jobs.

Tourism as a way of healing

African heritage in Brazil is a fundamental part of the social, historical and economic construction of the country. Although the story was not written, oral history kept the memory alive.  Ethnic Tourism plays an important role in bringing together individual and collective memories and values the traditions and histories of marginalized populations. Combined with Community Based Tourism principles it is a sustainable way to make the culture and history visible to the visitors, and also generates income for the Quilombo communities.

Bringing up the difficult memories of Brazil´s slave trade period and reflecting on the injustices their ancestors faced is not easy. But it is also a healing process for the communities as it shows hardship has created strong and resilient communities. In narrating their own stories, they bring tourists closer to the reality of Quilombola fighting and resistance and gain appreciation for their culture and territory. Tourism in this case enables dialogue and gives voice to stories that have been invisible for many centuries.

Sharing Stories and Traditions

Quilombo do Grotão, a small community located in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro State, opens its traditional Samba gathering for interested visitors and tourists. These so called Rodas include different types of Samba:  roots Samba (Samba de Raiz), faith Samba which happens every first Sunday of the month and honors your protector or saint (Orixa), and most recently women’s Samba, in which only women sing and play. 

Other experiences can be scheduled with the community upon demand and include Capoeira and the history of Samba among others. Renatão, the leader of Grotão Community sais that “23 people work every Sunday. Most make a living by selling traditional handicraft or dishes to tourist, such as Feijoada, a stew of beans with beef and pork”. More than 30 per cent of the residents are directly involved and benefit from the project. Thus, the community keeps alive its cultural traditions and Afro Brazilian memories. 

For the visitors is a way to learn about their history and to exchange about their issues. For the Quilombo communities, tourism is a way to increase public visibility for their struggles and to advocate for their rights. They use their Afro-Brazilian heritage and strong ties to their land as a form of resistance against cultural erasure, environmental destruction and even racism.

Thaís Rosa Pinheiro holds a Master of Science in Social Memory. She is the founder of Conectando Territorios and research about Ethnic Boundaries and the Effects of CBT in quilombo communities.

Conectando Territorios is a regional tour operator specializing in small scale sustainable ethnic tourism projects that helps to show local culture and history. The purpose is to bring people closer to the history, memory and culture of traditional Brazilian communities such as quilombos and urban communities through community based tourism, making these communities visible to society and generate an income for them.

Link for the quilombo do Grotão community video: