In the late 1600s, the Republic of Palmares was home to thirty thousand “fugitive” slaves. Palmares controlled an area the size of Portugal. For nearly a hundred years, Palmares repelled attacks from both the Dutch and the Portuguese. It was and remains a beacon of hope and a symbol of resistance for all oppressed Brazilians.
The drama unfolds as the warriors of Palmares battle against the Portuguese to maintain freedom from slavery in Brazil. King Ganga Zumba and his brilliant general, Zumbi, defeat the European invaders. Weary of constant warfare, Ganga Zumba frees the captured Portuguese soldiers, including the Bush Captain (a hunter of fugitive slaves), hoping to initiate a truce with the newly appointed Portuguese Governor. The Bush Captain soon returns to Palmares with a royal invitation to review terms for peace. Despite the protestations of his people, Ganga Zumba accepts the invite and travels to Pernambuco to meet the Governor.
Zumbi and Dandara (the Queen of Palmares) are left behind to govern the republic while Ganga Zumba is gone. They fear that Ganga Zumba has walked into a trap and discuss contingency plans if Ganga Zumba is betrayed. Good news! Ganga Zumba returns safely. He brings with him a signed treaty from the Governor and announces his grand vision for a peaceful co-existence with the Portuguese. But when he explains that the terms of the agreement include giving up Palmares relocating the all its citizens to a valley closer to the Portuguese and the return all fugitive slaves not born in Palmares back to their Portuguese masters—Zumbi and his followers revolt.
A battle between Zumbi and Ganga Zumba ensues. Zumbi triumphs and usurps Ganga Zumba as the King of Palmares. But his victory is short lived, because he soon faces the full brunt of the Portuguese army, lead by the very Bush Captain that Ganga Zumba once freed.
“Palmares” is a unique synthesis of modern story telling, combined with the profound richness of Afro-Brazilian culture, including aspects of Capoeira, Maculelê, Afro-Brazilian dance Candomblé, drumming and singing. On one level, the play represents the historic conflict between two formidable opponents, but on a deeper spiritual level—the play channels and portrays the myths of Orixá folklore (West African Deities). Throughout the narrative the characters in the play are “mounted” by Orixá, who then express themselves via the traditional Afro-folkloric dances and songs associated with each deity.