In the early 17th century, escaped slaves in Brazil formed the legendary Quilombo dos Palmares. This community was led in its fight against slavery by the famous Zumbi dos Palmares. However, although his story is celebrated, very little is known about his wife Dandara, a fierce warrior and leader. Her origins are shrouded in mystery and lore.
Described as a hero, Dandara dominated the techniques of capoeira and fought many battles alongside men and women to defend Palmares, the place where escaped slaves would go to live safely. Palmares was established in the 17th century in the Serra da Barriga, in the state of Alagoas, because it was difficult to access the area due to its dense vegetation.
It is unknown if she was born in Brazil or in Africa. When she was a young girl, she joined a group of Afro-Brazilians to fight against slavery in Brazil. She helped create strategies to protect Palmares. Dandara was known as a fighter, but she also had interests in hunting and agriculture. She planted corn, mandioca, beans, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and bananas.
The people of Palmares, known as Palmarinos, produced tools for agriculture and weapons for war. They also worked with wood, ceramics, and metals. Initially, all of the activities and work of the Palmarinos was to create their self-sustaining community, but some did trades with villages and mills in the region.
Attacks to Palmares became frequent starting in 1630, with the Dutch invasion in Brazil. According to the stories regarding Dandara, she had an important role in making her husband cut ties with his uncle Ganga-Zumba, who was the first big chief of Quilombo dos Palmares. In 1678, Ganga-Zumba signed a peace treaty with the government of the state of Permambuco. The treaty stated that people of Palmares who had been arrested were to be released. Also, all those born in Palmares were to be free people, not slaves, and they were granted permission to engage in commerce. In exchange, the people of Palmares had to hand to the authorities runaway slaves that went there for shelter. Dandara and Zumbi dos Palmares are said to have opposed the deal because it did not end slavery. Ganga-Zumba was killed by one of the Palmarinos who opposed his proposal.