Quilombo land title struggle in Brazil


Duration: 8:15

Available in 5 languages

Released: December 2015

Click to play video

Brazil’s African slave descendants, the Quilombola, have fought a long and hard struggle for recognition. After the abolition of the slave trade they were left abandoned and ostracised, devoid of rights and outside of Brazilian mainstream society. But things are slowly changing amongst rural communities.

In the 1988 constitution Brazil’s Quilombola were granted access to land rights and since then they have been actively building a way to secure land titles on the sites where many have lived for generations. Community mapping is an important tool in this process, as is increasing awareness amongst the Brazilian population through education and ecotourism.

‘Freedom’ looks at two Quilombola communities, one with no land title and one benefitting from legal recognition, and examines the disparities between them.

On the 3rd March 2018, subsequent to this film’s release, Cachoeira Porteira finally won land titles for more than 220,000 hectares, following a 23 year struggle. 

Quilombo refers to a community of people of African origin, originally made up of largely escaped slaves living in remote areas to avoid discovery by the colonial authorities and former owners.

Quilombola refers to a resident of a quilombo and descendant of former Afro-Brazilian slaves.

Quilombagem refers to the rebel social change movement driven by slaves throughout the national territory, having the quilombos as its centre of organisation. It harnessed insurrectionary and guerrilla tactics to continually and significantly undermine the slave system and be a provocative movement for social change.

  • Interesting facts & key figures

    • 4 million African slaves were brought to Brazil during the Atlantic slave trade.
    • Brazil has the 2nd largest population in the world of people of African descent, after Nigeria.
    • There is no definitive figure for the number of quilombos in Brazil because there has been no accurate national survey and each government agency provide different estimates. CONAQ (National Coordination of Quilombola Communities) estimates around 5,000 while the government refers to 3,000 quilombo communities.
    • More than 2600 quilombos have been certified as of March 2016, yet only 217 (2014) have land titles.
    • There are 1533 land title applications currently open, moving through the slow and bureaucratic land titling process.
  • History of the Quilombola

    The Atlantic slave trade saw 10 million Africans taken to be sold across the Americas, 40% of which arrived in Brazil, mostly destined to work in gold mines and on sugar plantations in brutal conditions. Many thousands fled to form communities of runaways known as quilombos, often hidden from the colonial authorities in remote areas. Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, making it the last country in the Americas to do so. However, many quilombola continued to remain concealed in remote corners until the 1960s when the country’s military rulers encouraged huge numbers of land speculators and cattle ranchers to enter the forests. Anyone found on their new property was considered a squatter and many quilombos were destroyed.

  • Quilombola Land Rights

    Grassroots campaigning by the national black movement throughout the 1980s succeeded in having quilombola land rights introduced into the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. This promised land titles to descendants of the quilombos, the first recognisable government action towards the reparation of historical injustice against slave descendants. Hundreds of black peasant communities in Brazil began the legal process for land titles. However, there was growing criticism of the categorisation of rural black communities solely as the result of colonial social relations.

    In 2003, the government declared that quilombo descendants be categorized as ‘self-designated ethno-racial groups.’ This meant that quilombos should be defined by their being communities formed by black peasants in general, part of the present agrarian structure and contemporary society, not only by their relation to the past as runaway-descendants. The number of recognised quilombos increased from 29 in 2003 to over 2600 in 2016, with many more communities applying that have yet to be recognized.

  • Challenges

    There is strong opposition from large-scale industry due to the fact that once title deeds are issued to a quilombola territory it can no longer be bought or sold. These areas include much preserved forest cover that they consider valuable for exploitation or to meet quotas for compliance with environmental legislation. Attempts have been made to disqualify the procedures for land titling, such as a challenge to the decree granting quilombo status as a self-designated ethnicity. If such a challenge were to be successful it would severely undermine the progress made in the defense of quilombola land rights. The process of titling itself is also long-winded and bureaucratic. There are constant delays due to the necessity of negotiating compensation with property holders.

  • 6-Step Process of Land Titling:

    1. Self-Identification Certification: a community obtains a certificate of self-recognition.
    2.  Technical Report of Identification and Delimitation (RTID): the community must produce a report with cartographic, land tenure, agricultural, ecological, geographic, socioeconomic, historical, ethnographic and anthropological information.
    3. Publication of the RTID: stakeholders have 90 days to challenge the RTID. The judgment of the challenges allows for a single appeal within 30 days.
    4. Ordinance of Recognition: publication of the decree officially recognizing the limits of the quilombo territory.
    5. Decree of Expropriation: where there are private properties in the territory, compensation is negotiated according to market prices.
    6. Titling: a collective, inalienable and indivisible title is granted to the community.
  • Community Mapping

    The New Social Cartography of the Amazon project (PNCSA – Projeto Nova Cartografia Social da Amazonia) is a participatory community mapping initiative enabling traditional Amazonian peoples’ communities and social movements to map their territories through a collaborative process with researchers. The resulting material improves understanding about the process of occupation of the Amazon and, most importantly, provides another way of strengthening the social movements and grassroots campaigning of marginalised communities.
    PNCSA describes cartography as ‘an element of combat’. In this context indigenous groups, communities affected by mega-development projects, landless workers, ranchers and multinational corporations are engaged in a continuous physical and ideological struggle over the future of the Amazon. Such ‘counter-mapping’ is not just about depicting cultural landscapes. It is about taking an ideological stand against the continuing exploitation of marginalized communities and about decolonising knowledge, using this former tool of imperialism for grassroots campaigning.

  • Sustainable agriculture in quilombo territory

    At the time when quilombola communities kept themselves hidden in remote areas, they dropped farming practices and continued agricultural forest practices. The difficulty gaining land titles further inhibits their ability to develop agriculture. The most typical quilombola agricultural activities include digging up manioc roots and grinding them into flour, harvesting and hulling rice, extracting oil from the seeds of babassu palms and harvesting brazil nuts. Communities with land titles have been able to develop more varied agricultural practices.

  • Screenplay

    History of Resistance and the Struggle for Recognition
    00:00:00 to 00:03:16
    Quilombos are rural Afro-Brazilian communities, descendants of those escaping and resisting slavery. They are still subject to much discrimination even though their rights to their lands are enshrined by the Brazilian 1988 Constitution. They have been here for many generations and are demanding recognition through land titles to their territories. Without land titles there is no security against industries such as mining, paper production and large scale agriculture that are competing for land.

    Community Mapping as a Political Instrument
    00:03:17 to 00:05:50
    The communities are receiving counter mapping training from the New Social Cartography Project of the Amazon to produce maps of their territory, a political instrument for recognition, which they can use in legal proceedings, in defense of their territorial rights and to secure land titles.

    Sustainable Agriculture
    00:05:51 to 00:06:21
    In the Atlantic forests of Quilombo Ivaporunduva they produce organic bananas using sustainable agricultural methods. Within the community there is a great knowledge of the forests, from which they can gather many products without destroying nature.

    Using Education in the Struggle for Collective Identity and for Territory
    00:06:22 to 00:07:53
    Education of the Brazilian population about the history of the Quilombola and Quilombos, especially through tourism with schools and students, is moving the story forward. The struggle for identity is also the struggle for equality. However, the Quilombola require land titles for the proper protection and affirmation of their rights, which thousands of communities have still not received.

  • Further reading


Freedom has been recognised in the Equality International Film Festival 2015 and screened in Sacramento, USA. It was also part of the official selection at the Cinevana – Rio film festival in Rio de Janeiro 2016. It has been screened in Paris during the Climate Change conference in 2015. This story has also been selected by Alimenterre Film Festival, a global festival aimed at French-speaking audiences in October 2016.

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Recognition to Land, Territories and Resources

Communities need ownership over their ancestral land in order to protect forests. With no formal land title traditional communities often face serious conflict when trying to evict illegal loggers, poachers and land grabbers. Who will believe their claims without precise maps and legal title deeds?

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