On July 25, Brazil has celebrated the National Day of Tereza de Benguela and Black Women since 2014. Tereza, also known as Queen Tereza, is a symbol of the struggle against racism and patriarchy in the 18th century.
Information about Tereza’s life is limited due to the erasure of the contributions of African peoples in Brazil. Historians theorize that he was born in Angola or perhaps Brazil. Tereza was a slave who, together with her husband José Piolho, led the Quariterê Quilombo in Mato Grosso.
What is the meaning of “quilombola”?
The term ‘quilombola’ has significant historical and cultural importance, especially in the context of Afro-Brazilian history. Derived from the word kimbundu ‘kilombo’, it originally referred to socio-political organizations formed by Africans who had escaped from Portuguese slavery in Brazil. Over time, ‘quilombo’ came to mean communities of resistance, both metaphorically and literally. Consequently, the term ‘quilombola’ refers to the inhabitants of these communities and carries an inherent connotation of struggle, resilience and resistance.
Today, ‘quilombola’ represents an identity deeply rooted in a shared history of resistance against oppression. It is a term given to the descendants of these original communities, the people who continue to live in quilombos scattered throughout Brazil. These communities, despite the passage of centuries, continue to maintain their unique cultural practices and are a testament to their ancestors.
Fighting against Slavery and Quilombola Oppression
Tereza de Benguela fought against slavery and the oppression of the Quilombola people, but her struggle extended beyond those fronts. In the 18th century, she emerged as a formidable leader, combating not only slavery, but also the entrenched patriarchy of the time. Taking leadership after the death of his partner, he led the Quilombo de Quariterê, a community in the present-day Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Under his guidance, the community thrived and resisted Portuguese oppression for decades, serving as a beacon of hope and resistance for its people.
Some believe she led the quilombo after the murder of her husband by the colonizers. Tereza was a revolutionary who kept a parliamentary system in the quilombo, harboring blacks and Indians for two decades. By 1770, the Quilombo de Quariterê was home to more than three thousand residents.
Its Legacy and Significance Today
Tereza was eventually captured and executed by the Portuguese army, but her legacy lived on, inspiring generations of resistance against patriarchal systems and colonial oppression. Tereza de Benguela’s courageous leadership in the 18th century remains a powerful symbol of women’s strength and resilience, especially within the Quilombola community.
The impact of Tereza de Benguela shows how the organization of a black woman can impact a socio-political structure. Angela Davis, an American philosopher, states, “When black women move, the whole structure of society moves with them.”
Tereza’s life and death still resonate today. In 1992, black Latin American and Caribbean women gathered in the Dominican Republic to demonstrate against racism. Brazil included Tereza’s celebration day, July 25, in the national calendar in June 2014 under the presidency of Dilma Rousseff.
In 1994, the samba escola Unidos do Viradouro honored Tereza during Carnival. Last year, Barroca Zona Sul made a triumphant return after 15 years with the story of the quilombola leader.
The Impact of Your Leadership on Gender Inequality
When examining the impact of Tereza de Benguela’s leadership on gender inequality, it is imperative to delve into the social dynamics of the 18th century, especially within quilombola communities. A fierce and resilient woman, Tereza emerged as a potent force within a deeply patriarchal society, challenging gender norms and cultivating a society that promoted gender equity.
1. Pioneering Female Leader: Tereza was one of the few women of her time to assume a leadership role in her community. Her leadership served as a beacon of hope and an example of resilience, challenging the entrenched patriarchal norms of the 18th century. Not only did she lead the Quomboil do Piolho, also known as Quariterê, after the death of her partner, but she also maintained her economic, political and cultural autonomy in the midst of constant threats.
2. Gender Equity Advocate: As a leader, Tereza implemented policies that promoted gender equity within her community. She ensured that women were involved in decision-making processes and that their voices and perspectives were not only heard, but valued. Tereza’s commitment to gender equity radically changed gender dynamics within the Quilombola community, paving the way for more equitable social structures.
Challenging and defying patriarchy, Tereza de Benguela sowed the seeds of resistance, which eventually evolved into a broader movement for women’s rights and gender equality. Its impact transcends centuries