Zumbi was born in 1655 in the countryside near Recife, in the Pernambuco. He was caught at 6 years old, in one of the communities of the Quilombo de Palmares. He was educated by the priest António Mélo, who taught him to speak latin, portuguese and to be a Christian. When he turned 15, he ran away in the jungle, heading to Palmares. It is told that when he was only 20, he took part to a battle opposing the Quilombo and the sergeant-major Manuel Lopez’s men. Zumbi fought and won, ruining every portuguese offensive, showing a complete mastery and a great agility. Zumbi was already considered as a good war strategist. In 1678, the governor Pedro Almeida de Pernambuco proposed a « restricted » peace treaty with the actual king Ganga Zumba, but Zumbi intervened, refused the treaty and asked for total freedom for Palmares and elsewhere black slaves. Of course, portuguese people refused the proposal.
That agreement was a trap set up by the portuguese, aiming to extermine Quilombo’s black people. King Ganga Zumba died. In 1680, Palmares is commanded by a new king : Zumbi. The king of Portugal proclamed the destruction of Palmares and the death of Zumbi, considered as a big shame for the portuguese colonies.For the portuguese, it was very important to extermine them at all costs. The portuguese army set up a big campaign throughout the country, recruting men for the war against Palmares. In 1694, the Portuguese army attacked Palmares, leaded by Domingos Jorge Velho and Vieira de Melo. Palmares is invaded and destroyed, the whole population is slaughtered.
In the conflict between Quilombos and portuguese, Zumbi is harmed, but managed to escape, but not for long. The following days, he is betrayed by a general of the Quilombo, who had been tortured and revealed where Zumbi was hiding. Once found, Zumbi is killed by the portuguese army. His body has been mutilated, kept in salt to preserve it, and sent to Porto Calvo. His body showed how he had been ill-treated : more than 15 bullets, numerous knife strokes, his penis cut off and placed in his mouth. His decapitated head was exposed like a trophee on a place of Recife, to show the slaves Zumbi wasn’t immortal and that the struggle against Palmares was over. Some people of the Quilombo managed to escape from the total destruction of Palmares. After Zumbi’s death, his fellow-countrymen kept on fighting for black freedom, against colonial oppression, creating new quilombos on Brazilian territory. Zumbi and Palmares are considered as most important facts in Brazil’s history. The Quilombo de Palmares had a population of more or less 30 000 inhabitants.
In Brazil’s history books, there has been several attempts to erase the whole story of the legendary king Zumbi de Palmares. But today, in São Paulo there is an university named after him, as a tribute to the fighters, human rights and Black people freedom. « That struggle, that war for freedom must never be forgotten by the international community, for us to remain united. We cannot suffer again that agression, that crime : slavery. »