She took command, posting rearguard detachments to stop the enemy invasion; and then she finally attained her African name, which she bore like a crown from then on. . . .



Slavery is the world of silence. Very little is known about the millions of lives that disappeared under the skies of the Americas. But the merchants of human meat left behind their chilling ledgers. The innumerable auction notices where the sale of blacks  was advertised alongside that of furniture and domestic animals—these can be found in old, yellowed local newspapers or posters. Records of rewards for the capture of runaway slaves’ features, names, and brand marks; but these details were given as if they applied to faceless animals that mere happenstance had lent something of a vaguely human appearance.


Rare were the figures who stood out in this sea of anonymity, especially in Latin America and in the West Indies, where the abolitionist movement scarcely bothered to heed the voice of the enslaved.


Women, almost completely ignored by the curious-minded, the researchers, and the historians, were even less likely to stand out in people’s eyes, much less register and remain in their mind.


Only exceptional circumstances allowed such heroines such as Nanny, Aqualtune, Paanza, and a few others—-among millions—-to traverse the endless, silent, and vast expanses of historical oblivion.


Today, in the 21ST Century, their names, yea, their faces, strike us as those of astronauts who would have crossed galactic distances to bring back visions beyond words, visions next to which human speech is as poor as the language of insects.

Of the faces that have reached us, one of them is that of the woman Dandarah, born a slave on a plantation in Puerto Calvo and who died a queen in the Maroon Kingdom of Palmares, on the foothills of Mount Barriaga, two hundred kilometers from the town of San Salvador, Salvador da Bahia, the first colonial capital of Brazil, one of the oldest cities in the country and in the New World : Bahia, infused with all the saints of the calendar, all 365 of them.


Dandarah’s name comes from the mists of time. It belonged to a Yoruba goddess whose breasts were always full of milk. Dandarah’s mother was a captive by the name of Nozunga, who had so much milk that it flowed day and night, whether she was lying in the shade of the quarters or standing in the sun of the sugar cane fields, busily cutting and piling endless stems of sugarcane while waiting for the moon’s first rays.


It was for the sake of all this milk that fell to the ground that she named her girl Dandarah.


As with so many millions of enslaved people, little Dandarah was born the child of an enslaved woman who was raped by her slave master.


The plantation of Zendoio Baracha was known for its inhumane slave “breeding”. An enslaved woman who gave birth to many children forced on her, was considered a good load-bearer, full of promise, and never went two years without giving birth—all the things that a slave breeding master looked for in a defenseless enslaved woman or girl. And just as so many women were given to enslaved men for impregnation, just so did many masters themselves take part in the infamous natural increase of creating more slave children to fill their plantations and financial coffers, to increase their human livestock.


That was how little Dandarah came to be a mule child, or more properly, a mulatto.


Little Dandarah was taken from her mother, in the slave shacks, and sent to labor in the master’s house. She lived her life serving the master and mistress of the Big House. She would see the sufferings encountered by the enslaved blacks; the acts of utter brutality committed against them by their white masters.




She would observe from the house the many slaves who fought against enslavement in so many ways: running away; breaking tools to slow or stop labor in the fields; shamming; and outright defense of themselves against the brutal aggressions of those who kept them in bondage.








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She also saw that many of the enslaved, no matter what rancid promises the masters made to them, wanted nothing to do with the world of slavery, and some would lash out at their masters, knowing that only Death itself could release them from the living death of slavery; and some, when the time came, ran away to the Sagrados Mountains, where they with many, many other runaway Maroons, formed a kingdom in the African manner—-Palmares, led by their ruler Ganga Zumba, the “Great Lord.”


One night, Dandarah, awakened to the sounds of the enslaves attacking their master and mistress household, the Nova Lusitania Plantation. They killed him, his wife, and many whites, and burned the plantation. They took Dandarah with them to Palmares, where she was brought before Ganga Zumba, who took a liking to this young woman who would eventually become his wife, and the daughter-n-law of the great Aqualtune.


There Dandarah would live among people who refused to be enslaved and would die before returning back to such a dreaded life. Men, women, and children, whose only desire was to live a life of freedom from the tyranny of slavery.




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Palmares. Place of refuge. Place of capoeira.




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Place of freedom.



Two months later, a group of Bandeirantes attacked the royal city of Palmares to avenge the burning of Nova Lusitania.They were led by Manuel Lopes Galvao, a specialist in the eradication of quilombos, and he was followed by lancers. These black militiamen were trained to fight the Maroons andd were even more merciless towards the rebels than were their enemies, the whites.


The lancers, accustomed to the rain forests, were used as guides, and the group surprised the Maroons. They immediately set to fire the dwellings and the thorn-covered hills were pierced by artillery fire.


Ganga Zumba and his rebels fought; they did not retreat an inch. They fought valiantly against their attackers.


Ganga  Zumba was later killed (he was betrayed by some of the loyal followers of Zumbi [his grandson]—-by rebels who gave him poisoned wine stolen from a villa in Puerto Calvo, saying that it was a special gift for the king.


Dandarah was no coward during the battle against Galvao’s forces.


During the most fiercest part of the battle, she took command, organized an orderly retreat, posted rearguard detachments to stop the enemy advance: she became Dandarah, the true Dandarah, finally risen to her African name, which she then wore like a crown.



Dandarah died on the battlefield protecting her right to remain free.





“In Praise of Black Women: Heroines of the Slavery Era,”, by Simone Schwarz-Bart.


Art as a Representation of Resistence:

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