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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Brazil 'ex-slaves' recover tradition
By Isabel Murray
Sao Paulo, Brazil

Brotas Quilombo
The quilombo aims to recover traditions
Property speculation is threatening the stability of 30 families who live in a "quilombo" - a community established by runaway slaves located in Brazil's richest state, Sao Paulo.

The Brotas Quilombo lies on the outskirts of the town of Itatiba, and is just 89 kilometres from the state capital, the modern mega city of Sao Paulo, but stepping into the quilombo is like taking a trip back in time.

Located alongside the dirt roads, which have no public lighting, the old houses are home to 127 people who are trying to maintain the historical traditions of their ancestors who arrived here from Africa.

The task they face is an uphill one.

Brazil is generally regarded as one of the last countries to have abolished slavery, which it did in 1888.

Paulo Sergio Marciano
Paulo's ancestors were freed slaves
Prior to this, many slaves had already been freed.

And many of those who remained slaves, refused to obey the orders of their white masters, and fled to live in the quilombos, which were hidden deep in the forests.

Brazil currently has 743 quilombos that are already officially recognized or asked to be recognised by the federal government. However, the unofficial estimate is that there are around 2,000 such communities.

Our priority is the recovery of our traditions, of the connection between Brazil and Africa
Paulo Sergio Marciano, Communications Director for the Brotas Quilombo

"My ancestors were freed slaves," recounts Paulo Sergio Marciano, Communications Director for the Brotas Quilombo. "Some time around 1850, they sold everything they had, the crops they had planted and harvested and the animals they had raised, and bought this property, which was already the site of a quilombo, with the proceeds.

"For the people who sold them the land, it was good deal, as by doing so, they managed to get rid of land that was being squatted on."

Poor community

"Today, eight generations later, most of the residents of the quilombo are of mixed race," Paulo adds. "But our priority is the recovery of our traditions, of the connection between Brazil and Africa."

The community is a very poor one, and very few of the residents have any sort of professional training. Some of them work in the nearby town and others look after the community's vegetable garden.

Paulo wants to change this reality and has plans to set up a museum within the quilombo, and establish an eco-tourism site.

Visitors come to the Brotas Quilombo's cult-house
At present most of those who visit the place are people on their way to the cult-house of the Afro-Brazilian religion "umbanda", which holds its ceremonies in one of the local houses.

According to Paulo, this cult is frequented by a number of important Brazilian politicians, and even on occasion by foreigners, in search of "good vibes".

The smallholding, which covers just over 42 acres, is surrounded by the native tropical vegetation and borders an area that is being split into lots and sold off as part of a property development.

The deeds from when the quilombo was purchased do not provide exact details as to the area included. For this reason, it is proving hard to demonstrate that the original quilombo covered a far larger area than it currently does, and that a substantial part of its land has been occupied by the construction project.

Traditional Quilombo house
The Quilombo houses are basic forest-dwellings
"We had to lay pipes under the neighbouring property because it was necessary, but we had authorisation from the president of the quilombo," claimed Luciano Consolini Filho, who is one of the owners of the site that is being turned into a condominium.

"In exchange, we were going to carry out some improvements in the quilombo, but the state's environment department has not yet given us the go-ahead," he explained.

The solving of this confusing situation will depend on the opinion of the State of Sao Paulo's Land Institute, the government department that is going to undertake a proper mapping of the area.

Legal confusion

"We are not in a position to say whether or not there has been an invasion of this property, because there are no obvious borders," stated Carlos Henrique Gomes, from the Land Institute.

"We will only know for sure when we measure the area, which will take place as a part of the official recognition process of this quilombo, which is scheduled to get under way in October."

"Once the area gets official recognition as a quilombo there is a guarantee that its borders will be respected, and it will become a listed property," Carlos Henrique added.

Ana Teresa Barbosa da Costa
Ana Teresa Barbosa da Costa: Peaceful and unified community
"The Brazilian constitution states that both the material and intangible components of these traditional communities is to be preserved by the state."

On a totally different note, 65-year-old Ana Teresa Barbosa da Costa, made a point of putting on her Sunday best when she knew she would be photographed as part of this story. She was born in the quilombo, worked in the state capital as a cook, and came back here 25 years ago.

Ana Teresa says that life in the community is peaceful and that the best thing is the sense of unity that exists between the people living there.

"If someone has a problem, everyone runs round to help," she says with a big grin.

Hundreds of slaves freed in Brazil
30 Aug 03  |  Americas
Brazil unveils anti-slavery plan
12 Mar 03  |  Americas
US decries 'modern-day slavery'
12 Jul 01  |  Americas
Brazil's rainforest slaves
24 Jul 02  |  Crossing Continents

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