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Zeferina

Zeferina (fl. nineteenth century), participant in a slave rebellion, was the daughter of a woman named Amalia, who was probably born in Angola and forced aboard a slave ship bound for Brazil, according to the narrative of Maria Oliveira (1988). Zeferina lived in Bahia, a northeast Brazilian port that served as colonial capital until 1763 and a site of transatlantic slave trading into the mid-nineteenth century. She was one of the mocambeiras (runaways) of Quilombo do Urubu, a community inhabited by fifty other mocambeiros and former slaves (most of them Nagô) situated in Lagoa do Urubu, Cajazeiras, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Salvador.

In 1826 Zeferina took part in what would be later known as the Revolta do Quilombo do Urubu, an uprising that sought to secure land and fight against the slave system. João Reis (2003) has argued that the uprising broke out after the quilombolas (Maroons) had been found smuggling meat and flour to their hideout. As they feared being denounced to local authorities, on 16 December, the quilombolas preemptively took up arms against those who might accuse them, also attacking farmers who lived nearby in retaliation for their discovery. After that, the rebels headed toward Urubu, in Cabula—another neighborhood in Salvador—where their revolt was marked by shouts of “Morra Branco E Viva  Negro” (Die White and Live Black), based on official documentation provided by the authorities and the few sources available for research on rural communities in colonial Brazil. In their fight against repression, the quilombolas killed three slave hunters and injured three others. Those same survivors reinforced a picket line formed by twelve policemen from Salvador and twenty-five militiamen from the district of Pirajá. 

According to Pierre Verger (1987), the armed forces believed that the quilombolas were plotting a rebellion and attacked the area. Among many statements made by members of the punitive expedition that vanquished the revolt, a soldier claimed he had seen algumas pretas (some black women), among them one named Zeferina, In the absence of much prior mention of women joining the quilombos or mocambos, what is known about Zeferina is impressionistic. She is mentioned as having fought back oppressors using the bow and arrow, instilling in her companions the courage to resist those who wanted to put an end to Quilombo do Urubu. Zeferina was later captured by an anti-mocambo expedition and became the sole woman sentenced to hard labor in prison. Zeferina stated in an official inquiry that, alongside her companions, she had awaited the arrival of numerous slaves who, it had been rumored, arrived in Salvador on Christmas Eve. They had chosen such a date to invade the capital city in order to kill white people and gain their freedom.

Zeferina was recognized as the bravest warrior during the uprising, and would be the last one to surrender; she was arrested by many soldiers but mistakenly considered a rainha (queen) by the president of the province. Whether as a queen, leader, quilombola, or warrior, Zeferina’s saga in the woods of Urubu will forever remain alive in the minds of activists and inhabitants of the Salvador neighborhood of Cabula. Zeferina demonstrated how women played a prominent role in inspiring people to rebel during the era of slavery in Brazil. 

Read the full, original biography by Giovana Xavier in the The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography.

View complete story (pdf)

Online Resources

“Brazil: Five Centuries of Change.” Brown University Libraries | Center for Digital Scholarship, https://library.brown.edu/create/fivecenturiesofchange/chapters/chapter-3/slavery-and-aboliton/.

The Brazilian Report. “Slavery in Brazil.” Wilson Center, 13 May 2020, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/slavery-brazil.

Bibliography

Gomes, Flávio dos Santos. Histórias de quilombolas: Mocambos e comunidades de senzala no Rio de Janeiro, século XIX. Rio de Janeiro: Arquivo Nacional, 1995. 

 

Oliveira, Maria Inês Cortes de. O liberto: Seu mundo e os outros. São Paulo: Corrupio, 1988. 

 

Reis, João José. A rebelião escrava no Brasil: A história do Levante dos Malês em 1835. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2003. First published 1986. 

 

Silva, Silvia Maria. “O poder de Zeferina no quilombo do Urubu: Uma reconstrução histórica político social.” M.A. thesis, Universidade Metodista de São Paulo, São Bernardo do Campo, 2003. 

 

Verger, Pierre Fatumbi. Fluxo e refluxo do tráfico de escravos entre o Golfo de Benin e a Bahia de Todos os Santos: Dos séculos XVII e XIX. São Paulo: Corrupio, 1987.

Adapted by

Jennifer Mojica Santana

Contributing Institutions

Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center

Key Events

Late 18th century

Zeferina’s mother, Amalia, is enslaved in Angola and forced on a slave ship to Bahia, a major slave trading port in Brazil, where Zeferina is born.

1826

The Revolta do Quilombo do Urubu, an “uprising that sought to secure land and fight against the stave system” takes place. According to historian João Reis, the uprising started after “quilombas” (Maroons) were found smuggling meat and flour. On December 16, they took arms against those who might accuse them, even against farmers nearby. Afterwards, they headed towards Urubu, a neighborhood in Salvador, marking their revolt with shouts of “Die White and Live Black”. Among the fighters was Zeferina, who fought back with a bow and arrow. She was captured and was the only woman sentenced to hard labor in prison. Zeferina stated that she had been waiting the arrival of slaves to Salvador on Christmas Eve, who intended to “invade the capital city in order to kill the white people and gain their freedom”. Legend has it that Zeferina is the last of the rebels to surrender.

After 1826

Zeferina disappears from the public record. Slavery continues in Bahia.

1835

The Malê Revolt by Muslim West African slaves takes place. It is known as one of the greatest slave rebellions in Bahia.

1871

The Law of the Free Womb is enacted in Brazil. This law grants freedom to all children born to enslaved people, an important step towards eventual abolition. Although the law granted freedom, these children were still subjected to work for their parents’ masters until reaching adulthood as a form of “compensation”.

May 13, 1888

The “Golden Law”, which abolishes slavery Brazil, is enacted by Princess Isabel of Bragança.