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We are glad you're interested in knowing more about the historical Dandara! It can be difficult to find information about her, even more so in English – so we figured we’d include this text as a starting point.
If you got here from another context, we are Long Hat House and we created a game called Dandara. It is an exploration game – you can find more about it here. We let it be known through our interviews and articles about the game that the protagonist was inspired by a historical character, but the game itself does not try to tell the history behind her. That is why we felt it was important to write a bit about her somewhere –here!
This text was actually taken from the section “Dandara dos Palmares” in our guidebook, an item from the Super Rare Collector's Edition of the game. Even though it is quite short, we also think it should be available to all.
Dandara, the titular character, was inspired by the heroine who, centuries ago, faced some of the cruellest moments from the Brazilian past and became a symbol in the fight for freedom and dignity. Although the game setting is only loosely connected to reality, her name carries a lot of meaning to the story we tell. Hopefully, we can bring some of that meaning into your life, as well.
Slavery was legal in Brazil for over 300 years, bringing more than 5 million African people here through vile traffic. Estimates show that hundreds of thousands of people died while still in the ships, because of the conditions they were held in. However, those who stepped on Brazilian ground weren't rewarded with better circumstances, as they were forced to work until their death, dehumanized.
Where there is oppression, there will always be resistance; a continuous fight that only ever culminates with the end of such cruelty. Against slavery, much of that resistance was formed by those who managed to escape and established settlements called Mocambos, where they got together and fought against the attacks from whoever tried to recapture or destroy them. Sometimes many Mocambos formed a single entire community, structured along the lines of African societies. Those communities were called Quilombos.
Quilombo dos Palmares was the largest one to exist in Brazil, housing, at some point, an estimated population of 20,000 – its largest Mocambo was as populated as the city of Rio de Janeiro, which held over 6,000 inhabitants then. Its people were said to be experts in strategy and in a technique for combat and resistance that relates to contemporary Capoeira, through which they withstood almost a century of attacks from the much more heavily armed opponents. Palmares had notorious leaders who became generally known in Brazilian history – it was the case for Ganga-Zumba, Zumbi, and Dandara dos Palmares.
We don't know her face; we have found some other interpretations of Dandara’s appearance on the internet, some of which without due credit (those whose original information are available were included here with links). As they were difficult to find, that shows the importance of keeping the legend alive. If you feel we got the credits wrong here, please contact us.
Dandara, differently from the others, was not documented in reports from that period. These were written by the enemy, minimizing Palmarino actions and always omitting the influence of women. This sparked some debate around her stories and even her existence, elevating her to the realm of a legend. However, even if she is to be considered a fictional character, she represents very real, and not few, women who have fought and still fight against centuries of oppression, whose names have been effaced by these oppressive forces. You can find people, social movements, and places named after her today. It is impossible to deny the strength of her symbolism in the continuous fight for black women's rights.
In Dandara's tales, she is described as an outstanding leader, fighter, and strategist alongside Zumbi; she was directly responsible for many of Quilombo’s victories. It is said that, after the Quilombo fell, when ambushed on a cliff, she took her own life, refusing a life of subjugation.
Slavery legally ended in 1888, but the law didn't bring a solution for social segregation and the terribly difficult situation those people were forced into, today inherited by millions. A whole culture of racism built throughout those centuries was perpetuated as thoughts and habits that, more than a hundred years later, remain common. It left in Brazil more than a scar, but an open wound that is far from healing.
This text was written under supervision of Brazilian historian Felipe Santos Deveza.
Some more reading in case you are interested:
BLACKBURN, Robin. The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern 1492–1800. New York: Verso. 1997. Pp. v. 602.
TOMICH, Dale W. Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital, and World Economy (World Social Change), Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.
ARRAES, Jarid, As Lendas de Dandara. Editora Cultura.
ALENCASTRO, Luiz Felipe de, O trato dos viventes (The Trade of the Living): a formação do Brasil no Atlântico Sul. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras, 2000.
GOMES, Flávio dos Santos. A hidra e os pântanos: Mocambos, quilombos e comunidades de fugitivos no Brasil escravista (séculos XVII-XIX). São Paulo: Polis/Unesp, 2005.
LARA, Silvia Hunold. Quem eram os "negros do Palmar"?. in: RIBEIRO, Gladys Sabina; FREIRE, Jonis Freire; ABREU, Martha e CHALHOUB, Sidney (orgs.). Escravidão e cultura afro-brasileira: temas e problemas em torno da obra de Robert Slenes. Campinas, Editora da Unicamp, 2016, p. 57-85.
SCHWARCZ, Lilia e GOMES, Flávio (organizadores). Dicionário da escravidão e Liberdade - 50 textos críticos, São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2018.
SCHWARTZ, Stuart, Escravos, roceiros e rebeldes. Bauru, Edusc, 2001. (1992)