LONG ignored by official textbooks, the story of Zumbi has been kept alive for centuries in Afro-Brazilian story-telling, song, and dance.
Zumbi was born at Palmares in 1655. As a toddler, he was kidnapped in a Portuguese raid and given to a Jesuit priest named Antonio Melo, Brazilian historians say. By the age of 10, he had learned both Latin and Portuguese.
At 15, Zumbi escaped from his Portuguese mentor and made his way back to Palmares. Eight years later, he became king, replacing his uncle, Ganga Zumba, who had accepted a peace treaty with the Portuguese. Zumbi was said to be so angry with his uncle that he had him poisoned.
Defying the treaty, Zumbi kept up a relentless war on slavery, raiding sugar plantations and freeing slaves. Plantation owners financed annual military expeditions against Palmares, but Zumbi's warriors resisted with a combination of guerrilla warfare and European-style defense, including the digging of trenches bristling with sharpened sticks.
AT last, desperate sugar barons turned to Domingos Jorge Velho, a notorious mercenary who brought his personal army of 1,000 Indians and whites to assist some 8,000 Portuguese soldiers, according to historian Decio Freitas. The final battle in 1694 lasted 22 days. Palmares was destroyed.
Today, Palmares, some 50 miles from the Alagoas state capital of Maceio, is a registered historical landmark. In 1992, archaeologists began digging at the site, finding pieces of ceramics, arms, walls, and palisades. A monument to Zumbi at Palmares is in the works.