National Geographic : 2012 Apr
' of all: Palmares, which at its height in the mid- 17th century held sway over 10,000 square miles in the north coastal mountains. e founder of this maroon nation was said to be Aqualtune, an Angolan princess and general enslaved in a Congolese war in about 1605. Soon a er arriving in Brazil, the pregnant Aqualtune escaped with some of her soldiers and ed to the Serra da Barriga, a series of abrupt basal- tic extrusions that dominate the coastal plain like a line of watchtowers. On one high crest was a pool of water sheltered by trees, with an indigenous community living around it. Here, according to legend, Aqualtune built Palmares. Today Palmares is a national park in the state of Alagoas reached only by a rutted, muddy, un- marked road that can easily rip out a car's oil pan. A plaque by the high-crest pond recounts Aqualtune's story---to the distress of historians, because nobody knows how much of it is true. What researchers do know is that the quilombo's dozen villages became a haven for as many as 30,000 Africans and Indians, as well as a few renegade Europeans. It had roughly as many inhabitants at the time as all of British North America. By the 1630s, Aqualtune's son, Ganga Zumba, ruled Palmares from a palace with rich decorations, lavish feasts, and cringing minions. Ganga Zumba's subjects used African-style forges to make metal plows and scythes for use in Indian-style mixed elds of corn, rice, and manioc and agricultural forests of palm and breadfruit. Around the settlements were protec- tive palisades, pits lled with deadly stakes, and paths lined with lacerating caltrops. If attackers struck an outlying village, its people ed to the high outcrops, where fertile soils and artesian water made it possible to outlast any siege. Lisbon saw Palmares as a direct challenge to its colonial state. Not only did maroon troops raid Portuguese settlements; they also blocked further European expansion into the interior. En- raged and fearful, Portugal launched more than 20 attacks on Palmares, always unsuccessfully. But the constant strife wearied Ganga Zumba, who agreed in 1678 to stop accepting new fugi- tives and move out of the mountains. Rejecting what he viewed as a betrayal, Ganga Zumba's nephew Zumbi poisoned his uncle and tore up the treaty. In reprisal, colonial forces assaulted the Serra da Barriga year a er year. e Portu- guese nally destroyed Palmares a er a terrible siege in 1694, killing hundreds of its residents. Twelve Africans landed on Brazil's shores for every one who arrived in North America.