Archaeology: South America's lost African kingdom: David Keys reports on the search for remains of a state established in 16th-century Brazil by runaway Angolan slaves

BRAZILIAN, American and British archaeologists are searching in a remote corner of South America for the remains of a long-forgotten African kingdom.

It is hoped that excavations in north-east Brazil will shed light on the history, economy and religion of an extraordinary black state established in around 1590 by runaway African slaves.

With a population of some 20,000 and an area of around 3,000 square miles, it succeeded in remaining independent for just over 100 years. Now archaeologists - including a team from University College, London - are excavating the long-deserted site of the kingdom's capital, Quilombo dos Palmares. The dig is becoming a major focus for the political and cultural aspirations of Brazil's 75 million black and mixed-race citizens.

So far the site has produced quantities of locally made and imported pottery, and this summer the archaeologists succeeded in locating the remains of a section of the ditch and palisade which once ran for a full three miles around the capital.

Defence was essential because virtually every year from 1640 to 1694 the Dutch and then the Portuguese attacked the tiny black state.

The excavations should reveal much about life in the beleaguered kingdom. History only records the names of two of Palmares' rulers - King Ganga Zumba and King Zumbi - and only the briefest detail of the Dutch and Portuguese attacks on it.

The kingdom's founders were Angolan slaves who had escaped from sugar plantations in what is now the Brazilian state of Pernambuco. They were first brought from Angola to Brazil in the 1550s, when they were used alongside local Amerindian slaves. The importation of Angolan slaves then increased substantially in the 1570s so that in the last decades of the 16th century some 4,000 Africans were being imported per year.

Then in around 1590 it seems that there was some sort of slave revolt in Pernambuco, and substantial numbers succeeded in escaping and forming the Kingdom of Angola Janga (little Angola) known to the Portguese and Dutch as the Kingdom of Palmares.

Ten major settlements, including two towns, were established by the escapees. After a century of freedom, however, the little kingdom was finally extinguished by the Portuguese in 1695, and its leaders - and last king - were executed.

Today Quilombo dos Palmares (literally, in an Angolan Bantu language, the 'warrior town' of Palmares) is fast becoming a politically potent symbol of black consciousness within Brazil - the country with the world's second largest black population after Nigeria. Around half of Brazil's 150 million people are black or mixed-race, yet they only account for 12 of the country's 503 members of parliament and only two of its 26 state governors.

So important is Quilombo becoming that there is now an annual commemoration at the site attended by leaders of the black cultural movement and by politically alert white governors and government ministers. The Brazilian government has even helped establish an organisation - called the Palmares Foundation - to promote black consciousness.

Behind the excavations of the Palmarian capital (near the modern town of Uniao dos Palmares) is a black history lecturer at the University of Alagoas, Dr Zezito de Araujo, who has been using the long-vanished kingdom as a way of developing black identity and exploding the myth of Brazilian racial equality.

The Quilombo dos Palmares dig - directed by Dr Pedro Funari of the University of Campinas (near Sao Paulo) and Dr Charles Orser of Illinois State University, USA - is being carried out by Brazilian, American and British archaeologists. The project will form a key part of a wider co-operation programme on the archaeology and history of slavery being planned between University College London and Campinas University.

Future British participation will include attempts to track down the descendants of the Palmarians. For of the kingdom's 20,000 inhabitants, only 1,000 were killed or captured. Somewhere in north-east Brazil the heirs to South America's lost African kingdom lie waiting to be discovered.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Maths Intervention / Learning Mentor

£60 - £80 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: We are loo...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day + Flexible with benefits: Randstad Education Group: Key St...

Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album