On this day in 1694, warrior queen Dandara, a leader of free Alagoan Afro-Brazilians, committed suicide in order to avoid enslavement. Dandara was renowned throughout Alagoas for her expertise in capoeira – a form of martial combat developed by Brazilian slaves – and since a young age, she had fought against Dutch and Portuguese colonizers. She was a part of the Quilombo dos Palmares, a group of free Afro-Brazilians who resisted enslavement and sought to cultivate their own autonomous nation. The Palmares were ostensibly independent, but were forbidden from sheltering freed slaves; when Dandara and her husband Ganga-Zumba resisted this deal, she and a number of her compatriots were captured after a brutal battle with colonial troops led by Domingos Jorge Velho, a vicious slavedriver from São Paulo.
The story of Dandara lived on amongst freed slaves communities well after death. Although few can remember if she was born in Angola or Brazil, she came to symbolize the fierce local resistance to the brutal Portuguese regime. Brazil – the largest of Portugal’s colonies, and the key to its wealth and power within the European system – was and is the largest single unified state in South America. Without Brazil, Portuguese elites would never have enjoyed such wealth and opulence back home in Europe – and Dandara’s story serves as a reminder of the true cost of colonial wealth.