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West African Chronicles

Escaped slave communities (Quilombo, Palenque, Mocambo, Maroons)

Latin America

Escaped slave communities (Quilombo, Palenque, Mocambo, Maroons)

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By the mid to late 1600s, following the start of the transatlantic slave trade, the Mali and Songhai Empires are now in decline and West Africa is shaping up to the new socioeconomic paradigms taking place across the Atlantic.  The first voyages from Africa directly to the new world of enslaved Africans took place only about 20 to 30 years prior. South America and the Caribbean see large import of West and Central enslaved Africans to places like Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica among others.

The Portuguese, Spanish and British Empires have started reaping from the benefits of this new slave economy, as sugar and cotton plantations are booming internationally, while enslaved Africans are forced to work in hundreds of plantations.

This is not met without strong resistance.  Enslaved Africans flee whenever they can, fight whenever they can, and when successful, they create ‘free’ communities all across Latin America and the Caribbean.  The runaways are called Maroons in British colonies and mainly Cimarron or Seminoles in Spanish colonies. The settlements carry various names such as Quilombos (in Brazil), Palenque (in Latin America), and Maroon Towns in British colonies.

The enslaved Africans would run away and band together in these settlements, establish a community equipped with a governing body, leader, and an army.  Full scale battles would occur whenever the Spanish, Portuguese, or British tried to destroy the settlements, and in some cases the Africans were victorious and left to live in their isolated settlements as free men and women.  In some of these settlements, the freed Africans would live and dwell with the indigenous people (usually Native Indians) which resulted in unique descendants, sometimes culturally different from the larger populations of blacks in the country or Island.  Many of these settlements, particularly in Brazil and Jamaica still exist today and some of their languages and customs are still distinctly African in nature, having preserved much of this Heritage over centuries since. Quilombos are officially accounted for and protected by the Brazil Constitution today.  

Quilombos / Mocambo

The settlement of Palmares is one of the well known free settlements in Brazil.  It is believed to have been founded mainly by Angolans as they constituted a large percentage of enslaved Africans around this particular time.  The settlement was later destroyed in the late 1600s.

NY Times Article
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Akindele Decker is a Sierra Leonean poet and writer with ancestral links across West Africa and the other side of the Atlantic. He resides in Maryland, USA with his family.

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