Who are they? What is their story?

Quilombo is the denomination for communities of black slaves who resisted the slavery regime that prevailed in Brazil for over 300 years and was abolished in 1888. Quilombos were formed from a wide variety of processes that include the escape of slaves to free and generally isolated lands. However, freedom was also acquired through inheritance, donations and land revenues as payment for services rendered to the state or for stays on the lands they occupied and cultivated. There are also cases of land purchase both during the term of the slave regime and after its abolition. What characterized the quilombo was the resistance and the acquisition of autonomy. The formation of the quilombos represented the transition from the condition of slave to that of free peasant.

Contemporary Quilombos

The quilombos continued to exist even after the end of slavery. The remaining quilombo communities or contemporary quilombos are social groups whose ethnic identity still distinguishes them from the rest of society. The ethnic identity of a group is at the root of its organizational form, its relations with other groups and its political action. The way in which social groups define their identity is the result of a convergence of factors of their choice: from common ancestry, forms of political and social organization to linguistic and religious elements.

The existence of contemporary quilombos is a Latin American reality. Such communities are found in Columbia, Ecuador, Suriname, Honduras, Belize and Nicaragua. Additionally, in many of these countries – as is the case in Brazil – the right to traditional lands is recognized in national law. The rights of quilombola communities are also ensured in the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169, 1989) of the International Labour Organization, ratified by Brazil and several Latin American countries.

How many are they? Where do they live?

According to data from the federal government (Census 2022), the quilombola population in Brazil is 1,327,802 people living in all regions of the country. Northeast Region is the home of 69.19% of the quilombolas in Brazil. In the Legal Amazon, the 2022 Census found 426,449 quilombola persons, which meant 1.6% of the population in this area and almost one third (32.1%) of the quilombolas in the country.

© Carlos Penteado

The struggle for land

It was only in 1988 – 100 years after the abolition of slavery – that the Brazilian Constitution recognized the existence and rights of contemporary quilombos for the first time. The 1988 Constitution guaranteed quilombo communities the right to own their collective territories. Howeve, enforcing quilombola’s rights to their land is a huge challenge to this day. The first land title award was granted only seven years after the recognition of the right to land by the Federal Constitution. It was in November 1995, when the Quilombo Boa Vista (located in the Brazilian Amazon) became the owner of its territory.

Currently (July, 2023), only 211 quilombola territories are titled throughout Brazil. Moreover, 62 of them are only partially titled with the other portion of the territory still in the process of regularization. 1,787 land-titling processes of quilombola lands are pending before federal authorities. Process is slow; 44% of them have been opened for more than 10 years without completion. When titling is not assured, quilombolas are more vulnerable to disputes involving their territories and have less autonomy to plan their future.

Follow the evolution of the titles here (in Portuguese).