National Geographic : 2012 Apr
' created by runaways. Yet all of them were au- tonomous communities founded by Africans, joined by Indians, with hybrid cultures, lengthy histories of bad treatment, and no recognizable legal titles to their land. Should they be pushed out of their homes? To resolve the disputes, then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ruled in November 2003 that a quilombo was any community that identi- ed itself as a quilombo and had "African ances- try related to a history of resistance to historical oppression." Following Lula's decree, quilombos came out of the shadows in such numbers that they overwhelmed the agencies evaluating their claims. Some 1,700 quilombos have been o - cially recognized, and the number is growing as previously invisible communities come forward. As the list of claimants grew, business inter- ests and environmentalists realized with alarm that these small Afro-Indian settlements stood to acquire huge swaths of the Amazon. Worse yet, from their perspective, since many quilom- bos were built on fertile land with river access, some of the maroon land was the most valuable property in the river basin. the farm owned by Ma- ria do Rosário Costa Cabral and her family in the state of Amapá looks like an untouched tropical landscape: tall trees and luxuriant vines, muddy soil covered with rotting vegetation. Yet almost every species in it was selected and tended by Costa Cabral and her siblings. Over the years they planted lime, coconut, cupuaçu (a relative of cacao), and açaí (a palm fruit popular for its allegedly high antioxidants). At the river's edge they carefully encouraged shrubs and planted fruit trees that lure sh into the forest in high water. Yet it all looks wild, at least to outsiders. The farm is near Mazagão Velho, a town founded in 1770 by Portuguese colonists from State shall issue the respective title deeds." "Nobody understood the implications at the time," says Alberto Lorenço Pereira, undersecre- tary for sustainable development in the Brazilian ministry of long-term planning, which formu- lates land policy. e framers of the constitution, he says, pictured "a few remnant quilombos somewhere in the forest" whose elderly mem- bers would be rewarded with their elds. Now it is widely believed there may be 5,000 or more maroon communities in Brazil, many of them in the Amazon Basin, occupying at least 30 million hectares---115,000 square miles, an area the size of Italy. Con ict was inevitable, Pereira says. "A lot of other people want that land." Irate ranchers, miners, planters, land specula- tors, and plantation owners charged that many quilombo territories were not ancient legacies of slavery but modern land grabs---squatters trying to make a quick buck by pretending to be some- thing they weren't. " ere was an explosion of resentment," says Manuel Almeida, head of the Terras Quilombos de Jambuaçu, an association of 15 maroon communities in the lower Amazon. "People in the state senate questioned our legiti- macy and tried to help the oil palm farmers and mining companies" that wanted quilombo land, he says. Between 1988 and 2003, just 51 land titles were granted to quilombo communities. Jambuaçu got its titles in the fall of 2008, but only a er a long, bitter ght with ranchers and miners. Brazil has had trouble deciding exactly what a quilombo is. Initially the de nition---a commu- nity of descendants of escaped slaves---seemed unproblematic. But how should the law treat places like Frechal, in Brazil's eastern forest, where slaves who helped rid their master of debt were given land as a reward but still were persecuted by postcolonial planters? What about Acará, in the lower Amazon state of Pará, where an owner is said to have given his plantation to a slave he loved---but didn't provide her with the title? Or the lands in Tocantins, the state southeast of Pará, that in the 1860s were given by the government to slave militias as a reward for serving in a war against Paraguay? Strict- ly speaking, not one of these settlements was e land the quilombos are claiming is the most valuable in the Amazon.