São José da Serra Quilombo

Intangible Cultural Heritage - Valença


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The São José da Serra Quilombo (a "quilombo" is a hinterland settlement founded by fugitive slaves, mostly, but also revolutionaries and refugees during colonization) was founded by Congo, Guinea and Angola-native slave fugitives who lived in São José da Serra Farm lands.

It is the oldest "quilombo" in Rio, originated in 1850. In a 476 hectares area in the Beleza Mountain Range, it hosts more than 150 inhabitants, who keep African traditions alive.

Inhabitants reminisce on the past: Mãe Tetê (Terezinha Fernandes de Azedias) is 67 years old and a community leader. She says the "quilombo" has had electricity for less than a decade and that she misses the dark nights: "I was raised with oil and gas lamps and no TV. Our elders were storytellers and we used to play in the streets and see the Mãe do Ouro (Golden Mother) - a fireball which would wander in the fields, lighting everything around it with different colors". She is an Umbanda practitioner, in charge of the "terreiro" (an outdoor area where African origin religious practices take place) which belonged to Mãe Firina, whose fame attracts foreign visitors.

A giant Jequitibá tree found at the site's quarry was refuge to the resident's ancestors. "It is like our matriarch, our guiding light, and it answers to our prayers", says 67-year-old Maria Santina do Nascimento Roque. Under the tree, there are grottos, roots, and bone remains.

Local residents make their living off of corn, potato, manioc, beans, guava, and other vegetable and fruits production. Many children were born with the help of midwives, such as 87-year-old Florentina do Nascimento, known as Tia Lora, Mãe Tetê's aunt and her granddaughter was a Congo native slave who did not speak Portuguese. She has more than 50 successful births under her belt: "The secret is warm milk with cinnamon and, then, a good bath with Job's Tears and Saint John herb for the mother".

The leader of the "quilombo", Toninho Canecão, left the city when young, but returned. He lives in Vila Isabel, but pays daily visits to his homeland. Since 2007, all houses have plumbing and a bathroom.

 The "quilombo" receives visitors for the Preto Velho Festivity (Preto Velho is an Umbanda divinity), on May 13. More than 3,000 people set camp in the region. The highlight is the bonfire blessing. The traditions are kept alive by a community effort, led by Luciene do Nascimento. Children learn about jongo (a dance and musical genre of communities of African origin from Southeast Brazil), slavery, and the history of the "quilombo". Through jongo, slaves and, over time, also former farm owners gathered, which is why the tradition is still alive. Craftwork from the "quilombo" is also a point of interest, and the resulting work is sold in Conservatória and Valença.

General Information

Address: Conservatória-Santa Isabel do Rio Preto Road (RJ-137), km 57, Valença - RJ
Phone: (+55 24) 2457-1130
E-mail address: quilombosaojosedaserra@gmail.com

Secretaria de Cultura do Estado do Rio de Janeiro Petrobras

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