Quilombola community sets an example
Residents make progress in reinforcing Afro-descendent culture.
|Josť Pedro Martins
Every day at 5:30 a.m., Nego do Neco’s voice awakens the Quilombola community of Alto Alegre, in the municipality of Horizonte in the northeast state Ceará. He’s the radio host of the local community station Roots of Quilombo, which informs 800 residents on general issues, rights, and upcoming cultural events put on by the Association of Quilombo Remnant Communities in Alto Alegre and the Vicinities, known as ARQUA.
Community radio is one of the tools being used to salvage that Afro-descendant culture, and it has set an example for other groups in Ceará.
The struggle of the people of Alto Alegre for their historical rights is an example of the country’s Quilombola communities. Quilombos were the communities formed by escaped black slaves during the colonial era (1500-1822) and the monarchy (1822-1889).
The 1988 Constitution, known as the Citizens’ Constitution, granted remnant Quilombo communities the right to their lands. The Palmares Cultural Foundation is the governmental institution that initiates the formal recognition of those rights, and so far has registered 3,524 Quilombos in the country, although some sources cite as many as 5,000 of these communities in Brazil.
Alto Alegre was definitively acknowledged as a Quilombola area on Feb. 15 by the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform, or INCRA, seven years after the foundation recognized it. Land regularization will be carried out following this event.
“After the recognition, we gained strength. Everyone is proud of their origins,” said ARQUA President Francisco Haroldo da Silva. Supported by various agencies, Alto Alegre is going through a period of great excitement right now. New ARQUA headquarters were built in 2011 with funds from the Brazilian Development Bank, or BNDES. With that in place came more social, education, and cultural activities in the community, which contribute to advancing the recuperation and affirmation of identity.
As a result of the struggle by its inhabitants for their rights, Alto Alegre is emerging more and more as an example of the mobilization by Afro-descendents in the country, and the concern for education, for the future of their children, is one of its tenets.
One of the current projects is Play Time, an educational project funded through a public-private partnership that uses games as learning tools. The project at an area school, coordinated by the nongovernmental Childhood Institute, is sponsored by the Together for Education Fund, a joint effort between the private Arcor Brazil and C&A institutes. ARQUA and Horizonte’s Municipal Secretariat of Education are also partners.
“After participating in the project, the boys and girls of Alto Alegre gained self-esteem. They are less self-conscious, they express themselves with more ease,” said history teacher Cícera Erlandia da Silva, who coordinates educational programs for Horizonte’s Municipal Secretariat. Da Silva gave the example of how children conducted Roots of Quilombo and FM Horizonte radio shows.
“In the initial diagnosis of the community, it was noted that a lot of young people had a hard time assuming their own identity. Now, with the recognition of the Quilombo and the projects in the community like Play Time, we see a positive change,” she said.
A symbol of renewed cultural identity is the production of artisanal items in the community, especially by women. The black dolls, made by residents, are one of the main products. At the end of August, the dolls were prominently on display at the Ceará Crafts Center, or CEART, the state’s primary space for exhibiting and selling artisanal goods, located in Fortaleza.
“Today I feel very proud of the community,” said Maria de Fátima da Silva, a participant in the ARQUA doll-making workshop, “because I know what we’re worth.”
Obstacles to land deeds
Despite the support at government, business, and civil society levels, Quilombolas communities still face challenges. For example, in 2004 the Liberal Party — now called the Democrats — lodged a complaint of unconstitutionality against Decree 4887/2003, which regulates the title for Quilombolas territories. The Federal Supreme Court first reviewed the case last April, but the ruling was suspended the same month after Justice Rosa Weber asked for the complaint to be reassessed by the justices.
The National Coordination of Articulation of Black Rural Quilombola Communities launched a countrywide campaign to defend the rights of the Quilombo descendents as provided for in the Constitution and regulated by Decree 4887/2003. The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, or CNBB, and the Brazilian Anthropology Association backed the campaign and issued statements in its defense.
“Articles 215 y 216 of the Federal Constitution guarantees the Quilombolas the right to conserve their cultural and intangible heritage. The constitutional guarantee of their lands is therefore fundamental to maintaining that trajectory of resistance,” the CNBB declared. Moreover, the organization noted, Article 68 of the Temporary Constitutional Provisions Act establishes that the state must guarantee the property of the occupants of the remaining lands of the Quilombos.
For its part, the Brazilian Anthropology Association notes that “the decision to be taken by the plenary session of the [Federal Supreme Court] will have serious implications on the effectuation of the constitutional provision of appreciation and respect for cultural rights in Brazil and, as such, require a broader discussion on the topic, preferably by conducting public hearings which, in recent cases in the [Supreme Court], have proven a fundamental tool for the maturation of the decisions taken by the highest body of our judicial system.” —Latinamerica Press.