Rebellion, lit the flame of freedom
In Quilombo, the dream of happiness
Ilê Ayê, Ara Ayê Ilu Ayê
a loud scream echoed
Hope, in the quarter
the black embraced
Samba 1994 plot of Unidos da Viradouro
A little more than 240 years after Tereza de Benguela’s death, the Brazilian government – which, at the time, had Dilma Rousseff as president – instituted Law 12.987/2014, which created the National Day of Tereza de Benguela and the Black Woman , a commemorative date so that the memory of Queen Tereza, a quilombola leader, is not lost, as well as to honor the many black Brazilian women who survive the harsh reality of being who they are. The date is also in line with the International Day of Black, Latin American and Caribbean Women.
Tereza de Benguela lived during the 18th century in the region of Vale do Guaporé, in Mato Grosso. Although both her origin and her death are uncertain, the revolutionary brings in her name Benguela, which is an Angolan region. According to historical records, the Queen was leader of the Quilombo do Quariterê, which is also called Quilombo do Piolho, due to the indigenous roots that form the word: Guariteré is literally “louse” in Tupi-Guarani.
The name also denotes the presence of indigenous peoples in the territory, and history imposes what the ancestors of this land have practiced for a long time: the processes of resistance must be built in unity so that concrete progress can be made.
::Article | Tereza de Benguela’s struggle and the women of the resistance::
After the death of her partner, José Piolho, Tereza de Benguela takes command and leads the quilombola community with mastery for two decades, being an example of matriarchy and democratic governance.
Some say that Tereza de Benguela committed suicide after being captured by explorers in what is called a “great punitive expedition”; others, that she was killed and had her head exposed in the quilombo itself, which has its first records in 1748 and was extinct in the same action that took the life of the Queen of Quariterê.
Regardless of the way her death happened, we know that a great revolutionary and leader died fighting for her freedom and the freedom of hers under the government of a state that to this day continues to claim the lives of black women for the sole maintenance of a reality that does not fits.
Tereza’s memory, as well as that of other black heroines, was lost in the Brazilian historiography that ignores the capacity of black women in the construction of processes of liberation and popular organization in Latin America. Although almost forgotten for more than two centuries, Tereza has been increasingly rescued and referenced: in addition to the samba that opens the paths of this text, it is also recorded in the work 15 Heroínas Negras Brasileiras, a collection of cordéis written by Jarid Arraes and published in 2020 by the Next Publisher.
It is also remembered in Enciclopédia Negra, by Flávio dos Santos Gomes, Jaime Lauriano and Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, published this year (2021) by Companhia das Letras.
In addition to the books, we see that samba, which has always been an instrument of black resistance, pays homage to the “black queen of the Pantanal” in the story of the Unidos do Viradouro samba school, which in its verses written in 1994, exactly twenty years before Law 12.987/ 2014 be established.
Remember here: Tereza de Benguela, a queen who defied slavery
Samba describes the queen’s trajectory in the collective struggle for freedom and her rights. Tereza de Benguela lives in song, literature and the black and Latin American blood that runs through the veins of the Brazilian people.
There is an Angolan proverb that says it doesn’t matter if the night is long, because the day always comes. It is in this sense that Tereza de Benguela is a bastion for black men and women who hope the revolution of this world for a new world, that it is possible to truly live in freedom. May they not stop Terezas from rising up in Brazil, and may these be the hope of a new Quariterê.
*Sofia Isbelo and Andresa Costa are militants of the Popular Youth Movement. Text originally produced for the extension project “Luz Negra”, by the State University of Paraíba.
**This is an opinion piece. The author’s vision does not necessarily express the newspaper’s editorial line Brazil in fact.
Source: BoF Paraíba
Edition: Heloisa de Sousa