Celebration in Serra da Barriga honors legacy of Quilombo dos Palmares

Palmares Foundation promotes event to mark Black Awareness Day

Published on 25/11/2023 - 09:00 By Daniel Mello - Agência Brasil*

After a four-year hiatus, festivities for Black Awareness Day resumed on Monday (Nov. 20) at Serra da Barriga, in the Quilombo dos Palmares Memorial Park, in the state of Alagoas. This historical site served as the headquarters of the quilombo—community of runaway slaves—led by the iconic Zumbi, leader of the resistance against slavery. The chosen date for celebrating the fight against racism in Brazil corresponds to the day of Zumbi's death.

A pre-dawn ritual by priests of African religions on Monday involved ascending Serra da Barriga to pay homage to ancestors. Early in the morning, floral offerings were presented at the park's lagoon in reverence to the female orishas (gods or spirits) of the waters. "Water is the force of nature," emphasized Pai Célio Rodrigues, or Father Célio Rodrigues, one of the leaders orchestrating the celebrations.

Mãe Mirian, or Mother Mirian, an 89-year-old matriarch of the African matrix religions of Alagoas, also played a significant role. "It's a day filled with emotion, where we come to pay homage to over 300 years since the death of the son of Palmares," expressed the revered leader. "I hope that this place is respected and valued, because it's a historical heritage, not just of Alagoas, but of Brazil, and perhaps the whole world, where a hero lived who fought for the freedom of black people," added the priestess.

Rio de Janeiro (RJ), 11/04/2023 - O presidente da Fundação Cultural Palmares, João Jorge Rodrigues, visita o Cais do Valongo com representantes do movimento negro. Foto: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil
João Jorge Rodrigues, the head of the Palmares Cultural Foundation and organizer of the event - Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil

Anti-racism advocacy

João Jorge Rodrigues, the head of the Palmares Cultural Foundation and organizer of the event, stressed the importance of preserving the memory through the November 20 celebrations in Serra da Barriga as a crucial part of the anti-racism struggle in the country. "From now on, it has to be a ritual to do things all over Brazil on November 20. It must be a ritual to do things every week, it must be a ritual to support the black community, it must be a ritual to protect people for whom we will, today and tomorrow, speak and ask for minutes of silence like Mãe Bernadete, or Mother Bernadete," advocated João Jorge, remembering the quilombola leader murdered in August in the state of Bahia.

Sense of belonging

Vanda Machado, a researcher, and education doctor, intimately connected with the creation of the memorial in the 1980s, conveyed the profound sense of belonging upon approaching Serra da Barriga. "It's like I'm coming home," she expressed, describing the feeling during her first visit to the Quilombo dos Palmares site.

An emotion that is renewed with each return. "I always say how happy I am when the [flight] attendant says: 'in a few moments we'll be landing at Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport in Maceió'. That means a lot to us, it's Zumbi dos Palmares. [The name of the airport] in my city is named after a white man."

For Machado, Zumbi's figure, commemorated through Black Awareness Day, deserves celebration for the enduring legacy he left. "Zumbi was an impressive figure because of his intelligence and his ability to unite people out of necessity. Many joined because they too yearned for freedom, and here, freedom was a reality. This is what capoeira dance and other rituals, teach us," she reflected amid the resonating sounds of atabaques and berimbaus.

União dos Palmares (AL), 20/11/2023 - A pesquisadora e doutora em educação Vanda Machado participa das festividades do Dia da Consciência Negra no Parque Memorial do Quilombo dos Palmares, na Serra da Barriga. Foto: Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil
Vanda Machado, a researcher, and education doctor, intimately connected with the creation of the memorial in the 1980s - Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

Returning activism

Despite years dedicated to black activism, this was the first time that historian Wania Sant'anna visited Serra da Barriga. She underscored the importance of the celebration, particularly following “four years of a profound denial and disqualification of the struggle of black people in Brazil against racism,” during the government of former president Jair Bolsonaro.

"This moment of reclaiming Serra da Barriga is significant, but it's also a time to once again demand public policies to confront ethnic-racial inequality," emphasized the activist, who was joining an entourage with various social movements as part of the Black Coalition for Rights. "We came here to celebrate a struggle for freedom and, at the same time, to value the idea of the nation of Palmares, a nation of equals," she concluded.

*The reporter traveled at the invitation of the Palmares Foundation.

Quilombo dos Palmares na Serra da Barriga, em Alagoas
Serra da Barriga, in the Quilombo dos Palmares Memorial Park - Agência Alagoas

Translation: Mário Nunes -  Edition: Maria Claudia

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