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Capoeira, Runaway Slaves & The Dutch-Portuguese War

Through a curious accident of history, Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country in all of South America. The ethnic mix is very different too, largely down to the legacy of slavery.

An estimated 6 million African slaves were “imported” into Brazil between the 1500s and the 1800s. One consequence of this was that the colonists were vastly outnumbered.

Brazil’s inhospitable geography (a vast, barren interior surrounded by impenetrable jungle), meant settlements hugged the coastline. When a slave escaped, the first thing they did was head inland.

The harsh Brazilian interior, known as the sertão, became home to scattered runaway communities known as quilombos. The word itself derives from the Kimbundu word kilombo – Angolan tribes who organized themselves into defensive communities to resist slavers – and the tradition crossed the Atlantic with those taken.

But the quilombos didn’t just consist of escaped slaves and their free-born children, they also sheltered Brazilian Indians, oppressed Portuguese, army deserters, fugitives, as well as Jews and Arabs escaping religious persecution by Catholic zealots. Continue reading

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