Escaped slaves gathered and established primitive remote settlements called quilombos. Some quilombos grew, attracting more fugitive slaves, Brazilian natives and even Europeans escaping the law, and some became independent multi-ethnic states.
Life in a quilombo offered freedom and the opportunity to revive traditional cultures away from colonial oppression. In this multi-ethnic environment, constantly threatened by colonial attack, capoeira evolved into a martial art focused on war.
The biggest quilombo, the Quilombo dos Palmares, consisted of many villages which lasted more than a century, resisting at least 24 small attacks and 18 colonial invasions. Portuguese soldiers sometimes said that it took more than one dragon to capture a quilombo warrior, since they would defend themselves with a strangely moving fighting technique. The provincial governor declared «it is harder to defeat a quilombo than the Dutch invaders.»