The runaway slave community (quilombo) at Palmares in Pernambuco confounded authorities during its long existence (through the seventeenth and into the eighteenth centuries, according to some) and continues to generate controversy among modern-day historians. This revised edition of Freitas’ narrative offers an abundance of data on the political implications of Palmares but contributes little to the debate on whether the quilombo represents an African-inspired, self-sufficient economic unit or is an example of early social revolution in Brazil. On the contrary, Freitas explicitly rejects conceptualizing Palmares as a revolutionary phenomenon on the grounds that the community did not effectively attempt to rupture the slave system itself (p. 197).
Certainly, Freitas’ conclusion contradicts much of recent writing on the Afro-American experience. In today’s historical treatments the maligned runaway slave is frequently recast as freedom fighter: the elevation of Cudjoe from a “sell-out” to one of Jamaica’s national heroes is a case in point. Clearly, Freitas’ work would have benefited by at least a sidelong glance at recent writings on marronage in the Caribbean and the Guiana highlands (for example, Barbara Kopytoff, Richard Price, Sylvia De Groot, Orlando Patterson). While this literature may not have been available to the author, one expected to find references to the familiar analyses of Roger Bastide and R. K. Kent, who have dealt with Palmares conceptually. Even more frustrating are the alphabetization of the bibliography by first name and the lack of textual citations or notes to indicate the source of his data (although archival sources, including those consulted in a 1974 Portuguese trip, are listed at the end).
One is tempted to view all literature emanating out of Brazil on the Afro-Brazilian experience as a possible metaphor for discussing contemporary social relations in that nation. That this is a second edition in this decade testifies to the intellectual thirst for treatment of such issues. However, Freitas’ work tantalizes rather than reveals. It remains a one-dimensional narrative and adds little to our total knowledge of the community’s raison d’être.