Remembering Antônio Bispo dos Santos

We mourn the passing of Antonio Bispo dos Santos, a Brazilian quilombola intellectual and valued member of the AGITATE! community. AGITATE! Journal is proud to have published Antonio Bispo dos Santos’ first work translated into English—We Belong to the Land (2020)— a powerful commentary on colonialism, indigeneity, and “counter-coloniality”. AGITATE! also published Caatinga, Hierarchies, and Pandemics (2021) a video project in which Antônio Bispo dos Santos reflects on the pandemic by centering quilombola worldviews and the particular quilombola relationship with the territory, seen as a space of reciprocity between people and the environment. We invite you to remember and honor his life and work with us by engaging with these pieces that not only shed light on the knowledges and struggles of quilombola communities in Brazil but also have deep relevance to other contexts of colonization and struggles for freedom.

We are sharing a eulogy penned by Carmela Zigoni and Antonádia Borges that highlights Antonio Bispo dos Santos’ powerful work and his legacy as a philosopher, poet, writer, teacher, and a defender of understanding and preserving the culture and identity of quilombola communities:

Photo Credit: Carmela Zigoni

Antonio Bispo dos Santos, our eternal master of disobedience, was buried yesterday afternoon in his quilombo. According to his family and friends, his seed was planted in the ground and will bear fruit. He taught us that for their community, they belong to the land, not the contrary. They also taught us that he will be alive when we disseminate his knowledge: his concepts were practical and aimed at social change. Nêgo Bispo, as he used to say, has transflowed.

Nêgo Bispo, as he was known in Brazil, was recently on tour for the launch of his book “A terra dá, a terra quer” (The Land Gives, the Land Wants). He was also the author of the book “Colonização, Quilombos” (Colonization, Quilombos), and left a priceless legacy as a philosopher, poet, writer, teacher, and also a defender of understanding and preserving the culture and identity of quilombola communities. In his works, he coined the concept of “counter-colonialism”, an active response from quilombolas, indigenous and peripheral urban territories, to contemporary dilemmas generated by colonial relations, which are still very current.

His path as a quilombola leader in the State Coordination of Quilombola Communities of Piauí (CECOQ/PI) and in the National Coordination of Articulation of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (CONAQ) expressed his fight for the right to land and territory, as well as the preservation of the Caatinga biome that, according to him, was dismissed even by environmentalists, who would be openly engaged in struggles for the preservation of biomes that are globally “more profitable”, such as the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest. In the video, Caatinga, Hierarchies and Pandemics, produced by the NGO Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (INESC) and directed by him and the film director Dacia Ibiapina, Bispo presents his theory about the relationship between biome prejudice and pandemics in the contemporary world.

Antonio Bispo dos Santos lived in the quilombola community of Saco-Cortume, located in Piauí, a state in the Northeast of Brazil, where he developed the “Roça de Quilombo” project (@rocadequilombo), a periodic meeting with the presence of the local knowledge masters, academics, students, capoeiristas, and artists, in addition to his family, relatives, and friends. With this project, and in all his public speeches, he sought to apply the concept he created, “confluence,” an encounter marked by sharing, outside the framework of individualistic relationships. To rekindle his commitment to a politics averse to seizing power, to seeking an end to the existence of those who dare to reconnect with the land, we should follow Bispo’s wise words and commitment. Among many lessons, he was very concerned with the duality of dad and son, so fundamental to Christianity. He called our attention to the obliteration of grandparents in this symbol, a missing essential link to our understanding of who we are, the land we came from and our commitment to the future. Bispo taught us that to carry on with the potent living force of our ancestors, we should not forget the unshakeable relationship between elders and younger generations: “There is no dead-end, only a start, the middle, a start again…” (começo, meio, começo)