Quilombos are Brazil’s version of Maroon communities, consisting predominantly of the descendants of escaped African slaves, who define themselves in terms of their relationship to the land, family ties, territory, ancestry, traditions, and cultural practices. Over 3.5 million Africans were imported to be slaves in Brazil beginning in the mid-1500s. Today, the largest number of African descended people outside of Africa live in Brazil. As of 2007, the Brazilian federal government mapped over 3,500 Quilombo communities still in existence nationwide.
Kalungas are small Quilombos located in northeastern Goiás. Kalungas existed in complete isolation until about 1970. The expansive Kalunga territories, now protected by the state decree “Kalunga Historical Site,” cover 250,000 hectacres (almost 1,000 square miles), which is approximately 90 percent of their original land mass in the Chapada dos Veadeiros. Kalunga settlements are nestled mostly in the valley regions near Cavalcante, about an hour north of Alto Paraíso de Goiás by car. The founders of these communities escaped the harsh conditions of bondage in the gold mines of Arraias, Monte Alegre, and Cavalcante. It is also said that some of the founders were part of a royal African entourage who saved themselves upon disembarking from the Middle Passage ships and were never actually enslaved. Kalunga communities situated along the Paranã river include: Contenda, Vão das Almas, Vão do Moleque, Vão do Kalunga and Ribeirão dos Bois (also known as Ribeirão dos Negros). Today, their resident populations total approximately 5,000 citizens.
Considered one of the last isolated communities of the modern world, the ethnic and cultural wealth of the Kalungas were preserved intact thanks to their extreme geographic isolation, protected by mountain cliffs, canyons, rivers, and waterfalls. But despite their inaccessibility, since the last 30 years of contact the Kalunga communities (spread throughout the rural municipalities of Teresina de Goiás, Cavalcante, and Monte Alegre) have suffered major challenges preserving their cultural integrity, harmony with the environment, and communal way of life.
Cavalcante, a gold-rush town founded in 1736, is one of the oldest settlements in Goiás, with a current population of about 10,000. Its municipality includes the largest number of Kalungas. In the year 2000, Cavalcante ranked near the bottom (241 out of 242 municipalities) in the state on the Human Development Index, the standard measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living, GDP per capita, well-being and child welfare. In 2003, Brazil’s Special Secretariat for Policy and Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR) began a development program targeting Kalungas for inclusion and quality of life improvements.
The Palmares Cultural Foundation (an entity created by the 1988 Brazilian Constitution under the Brazilian Ministry of Culture) defines “quilombo” as a “space of freedom, of refuge.” It then clarifies, “Currently, the historiography redefines the concept, not to cling to only the flights and escapes but the autonomous forms of living, with the pattern and model of common use.”
Kalungas have existed nearly 300 years in Goiás. Considering their incredible longevity, Kalungas have much to teach CEC about the cooperation, community, and solidarity required for renegade intentional communities to survive.