Quilombos are the Living African Communities at the Heart of Brazilian Black Identity

In every image of Preto Velho, he is depicted him as an old white-haired black man sitting down, holding a cane and sometimes smoking a pipe. He looks like a grandfather, full of wisdom from a difficult life. Preto Velho (Old Black Man) isn’t a real person, but he represents the spirits of old enslaved Africans and blacks and his presence is felt the strongest in Brazil. Worshipped in the Umbanda religion, Preto Velho is the spirit of the African ancestors who were taken from their homelands and forced to work as slaves in Brazil.

“Pretos Velhos and Pretas Velhas are all the men and women who were enslaved and became old,” says Thiage Henrique, a follower of Umbanda. “Being that they are old, they are people who overcame hardship. Even with their suffering and bondage, they succeeded in…

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