Study unveils reality of quilombola territories in the Brazilian Amazon

Partnership between ECAM, USAID/Brazil, Google Earth and other organizations employ unique methodology, involving communities at all stages and valuing their culture and tradition 

It is now possible to learn more about the quilombolas who live in the Amazon through research instruments developed by the communities themselves. Their findings can be used to promote new discussion and select paths for the future, while still valuing culture and tradition. All of this is included in the publication "Quilombos and quilombolas in the Amazon: the challenges of (re)cognition,” – the result of more than three years of work with communities in six states of Brazil.

The study was led by the Sharing Worlds program, a partnership between ECAM, USAID/Brazil and Google Earth Outreach under the PCAB.  Additional support came from the National Coordination Office of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (CONAQ). 

Using innovative methodology, questionnaires were sent to 3,203 households in 107 quilombola communities, covering a total of 12,483 people of all ages. Unlike previous studies focusing on these groups, Sharing Worlds trained community members on how to collect data – Primarily through local youth. The objectives included supporting them in researching their own history, while strengthening ties with other communities and securing access to public policies. Now the idea is to replicate this methodology beyond the Legal Amazon.

“It was a game changer in the life of quilombola territories. Modern tools and technologies were used to strengthen the actual communities,” says Chagas Souza from CONAQ. 

The study was organized in different blocks: (1) who we are (focused on communities’ historical and cultural aspects); (2) our infrastructure (access to water, energy, and sanitation); (3) our work (presenting the concept of work and income from the perspective of these populations, in addition to their main sources of livelihood); and (4) our rights (including those related to citizenship, benefits, credit, basic rights, security, etc.). 

Results – All information, data and publication graphics are available online. In all six states included in the program – Maranhão, Tocantins, Amapá, Rondônia, Mato Grosso and Pará – communities were found to be predominantly young. Quilombola youth are deemed responsible for finding new ways of developing their territory, without abandoning their values or the respect for their griots. "The concept of griots comes from Africa, and is used as a reference – a source of inspiration. They act as a repository of oral traditions, and promote respect for the elders”, explains the publication. 

The study points that in total 40% of the people living in these communities are under 19 years old, 31% are between 20 and 39 years old. On the other hand, only 2% are above 80. Regarding access to public services and improved infrastructure, there has been some progress, but CONAQ  concludes that 75% of the quilombola population in Brazil still struggle to overcome social inequality. The survey has revealed that most households (67% of respondents) are not connected to a public sewer, and use septic tanks instead, and only 0.3% have access to sewage treatment. In addition, 55% get their water from wells. 

"May these results help to empower CONAQ and the communities in the pursuit of their rights. This is a chance to promote participatory and collaborative policymaking, with inclusion of the demands of each community. At the same time, there are challenges for women and men who, for centuries, have fought for their rights ” concludes the study.

Access – "We realized that there was no centralized information about quilombola communities. When we asked funding organizations why they no calls for projects focused on these regions, they said that they lacked data to direct resources in an informed way. With Sharing Worlds, we want to get information about communities and included it on the map. We want to understand how they live, what their reality is, and from there, have a better understanding of diversity in Brazil”, says ECAM Executive Director Vasco van Roosmalen.

The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) does not have general data on the people that identify themselves as quilombola in Brazil. This will be included – for the first time – in the next General Census, postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the IBGE estimates that Brazil has 5,972 quilombola communities, divided into 1,672 municipalities. In total, 404 are officially recognized territories; 2,308 are called quilombola groups; and the remaining 3,260 are identified as other quilombola locations.

For project coordinator Meline Machado, the idea "is not just to share the stories of the communities, but also realities.This work has shown how strong and resistant they are, and how powerful they are in defending their culture and customs. On the other hand, they face immense challenges.”