Visiting a quilombola community is a deep dive into the history, culture, and art of the Afro-Brazilian people. If, after reading the article, you want to see more of what we did during our visit, check out this short video too.

In the previous weeks, I wrote about the Guarani communities that we met here in Paraná, trying to share with you the unicity of each of them, even though they are all made of one people, the Guarani people. In Brazil, by the way, there are not just indigenous communities, like those formed by Guarani or Kaingang: some of the heirs of the black slaves who worked the land in the past centuries now live in more than 6000 communities, known as quilombos, spread all around the country. We went to visit one of these communities, Paiol de Telha, located across the municipalities of Guarapuava, Pinhao and Reserva do Iguaçu.

A light blue house in the countryside

“After 60 years that my people was expelled from their land, we are beginning to retake our territory”

Ana Maria Santos da Cruz, member of the executive coordination of CONAQ

Ana Maria Santos da Cruz, a leader of the community, told us the story of her people from the beginning: in 1860 Balbina Francisca de Siqueira donated a part of the land she owned to 11 slaves who were working for her. In the documents, it is said that the land is gifted to the slaves for their “good service”. Ana Maria strongly disagrees with this declaration: to her, this is not true, as the “good service” was not a choice, because her ancestors were forced to work there. Nevertheless, the man and women who had been slaves were then free and they had a territory of their own. Skipping forward to a century later, in the 1960s and 1970s, the families who were living in that territory were expelled with violence by the German immigrants that in the same land founded the Cooperativa Agrária Agroindustrial Entre Rios.

Before 1978, when the new Brazilian constitution was signed, black people, as well as indigenous people, didn’t have the same rights and the same instruction as the colonizers, so it was easy for the founders of Agrária to produce fake documents that stated that the territory of Paiol de Telha had been sold to them. Without the possibility to defend themselves and prove that the documents were counterfeit, the real owners of the territory, the heirs of the 11 slaves, were stolen the land with violence. Since then, they started struggling to retake their territory. Only after decades, in 2013, the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (INCRA) recognized part of that territory as property of its legitimate owners. Still, most of it is occupied by Agrária, so the fight didn’t come to an end yet.

The history of the Afro-Brazilian people, by the way, is not only made of suffering and troubles: having been living in Brazil for centuries, they have developed a unique culture starting from the roots of African traditions and beliefs. Djankaw Kilombola De Lima Marques, together with other members of Paiol das Artes, introduced us to Afro-Brazilian dances, songs, and crafts. Paiol das Artes is a local group aiming to redeem the history and culture of the people of the quilombos. First, they performed music with percussions: the number of different instruments they had was impressive, as well as the number of different materials they were made of and the sounds they produced. Then Djankaw showed us a dance, explaining how every movement in that dance is related to a specific deity and asked us to join her in the dance. Then they taught us how to make bonecas pretas, little dolls representing black women. While they are very easy and cheap to make, they carry an important value: they support the racial awareness of the quilombolas.

The legend tells that the first dolls were made by the black women in the slave ships by cutting their dresses, in the attempt to make the journey less burdensome for the children. Nayan Vanessa, sister of Djankaw and coordinator of Paiol das Artes, told us that this legend is not true, but still, it is important as it connects a tradition that is still alive with the history of the black slaves, ancestors of the quilombolas. Not forgetting the past: that was the key point of our visit, as the slaves and their descendants had to suffer for centuries, and still are suffering to reclaim their own territory. Despite this consideration, we didn’t leave Paiol de Telha feeling sad for the quilombolas, but proud of them, as Djankaw, Nayan Vanessa, Ana Maria, and all the members of CONAQ (Coordenação Nacional de Articulação das Comunidades Negras Rurais Quilombolas) are fighting day by day for the rights of the quilombolas of the whole country, building step by step a better life for the next generations.