Brasilien: Procópia dos Santos Rosa

I speak slowly and always looking in the eyes of powerful people.

— Procópia dos Santos Rosa

Procópia dos Santos Rosa (1933) is leader of the Calunga's Quilombo. At first, ‘quilombos’ were places where runaway slaves used to found secret and free communities. Procópia can not read or write, but she knows everything about the grammar of life.

To get to the Calunga's Quilombo, in Brazil's countryside, you have to cross streams and balance yourself on the edge of mountains. It is like going back in time: the rediscovery of a subsistence economy. Procópia dos Santos Rosa has been a midwife her whole life. “When you help in the birth of a child, he or she grows up calling you mom. I go out and hear: ‘Bless me, mother Procópia.’” They are the Calunga people of Monte Alegre, a region in the State of Goiás. They are about 1500 people whose ancestors, running away from the violence of slavery, established the community two centuries ago. Nowadays–even though they have rights such as land titles, recognized by the Constitution–they suffer with threats of invasion. Procópia dos Santos Rosa is a natural leader. She does not belong to any associations. For decades, she has been fighting. Along with her friend (who has already passed away), she used to take a canoe and row up and down the river. They would go talk to the mayor, to the governor, to the minister or the president in their offices. They managed to get a school and teachers. “My children and I are illiterate; however, my grandchildren can read and write.” An Afro-Brazilian woman who knows how to stop Caucasian people's greed: that is how she was able to stop the building of a dam, on the Paraná River, which would flood the Calunga's land. “They have offered me a house in the city and a piece of land with orange trees. I said no to all that! I want to stay in my ancestor's land, and I fight for it, so my great-grandchildren's kids can stay in it.” At age 63, Procópia's current battle is for a health center.