Capoeira, which is a dancelike martial art, with its roots from the slavery in Brazil by the Portuguese colonialists has become very popular in many cultures outside Brazil. It has spread to al the continents and has been fused in many entertainment activities. This paper discusses the history of capoeira, how people relate to it in Brazil, where it went after the end of slavery in Brazil and its popularity worldwide.
Capoeira is dancelike martial art practised in Brazil especially in the northeastern regions of the country. It combines elements of sport, martial art as well as music. Whenever it is performed, it is normally accompanied by call-and-response choral singing as well as percussive instrumental music (Capoeira 3). The basic aesthetic elements of the dance were brought to the country by slaves, majorly from West-central Africa (Capoeira 3).
The elements were then integrated with traditional Brazilian dances, reinterpreted in the diverse slave population of Brazil to form a unique dance as well as way of self defense. Capoeira is famous for its complex and quick moves, quick leg sweeps and kicks, integrated with aerial plus ground acrobatics, take-downs, headbutts as well as punches. Although slavery ended in the late 19th century, the dance continued to flourish in the country.
History of Capoeira
The existence of Capoeira can be traced from the 16th century when African slaves were taken to South America to work in European farms (Capoeira 3). Most
Capoeira, Nestor. The Little Capoeira Book. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2003. p. 3.
slaves who were brought from West and Central Africa by Portuguese slave traders were taken to Brazil since the country was a Portuguese colony. The main economic activity of the Portuguese in Brazil was sugarcane farming. They had large plantations which required huge labour and therefore they had to enslave workers from elsewhere since the native Brazilians had proved to be too difficult to work with. The slaves worked in inhumane as well as humiliating conditions.
They worked under pressure and often received physical punishment for small mistakes. Initially, the slaves could not rebel against the Portuguese even though Portuguese colonialists were fewer since they lacked or were afraid of the weapons, they also lacked knowledge of the land, and besides, they could not reason together as they had come from different African cultures (Capoeira 5). As such, it became necessary to develop a means of self defense to survive in this environment.
It is these circumstances that prompted the development Capoeira. Slaves created a more than fighting style which could enable them survive in an environment where they were completely unequipped. Capoeira gave them hope to survive in the hostile environment where they were often at the mercy of the colonial agents who were responsible for finding escapees.
Due to the hostilities that the African slaves endured, they began to escape from the farms to move to faraway places where they could not be found easily. In those places, they built primitive settlements, Quilombos (Capoeira 7). These settlements
Capoeira, Nestor. The Little Capoeira Book. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2003. p. 5.
attracted more escapees which also included native Brazilians and Europeans running away from Catholic extremism. Since they always faced the risk of being raided by the Portuguese troops, Capoeira progressed from being a survival tool to war tool, martial arts. The elements of the martial art were highly influenced by the diverse cultures that were found in the quilombos. They used the capoeira to defend themselves against Portuguese soldiers who often attacked them.
In 1808, Napoleonic troops invaded Portugal and King Dom Joao VI moved with Portuguese court to Brazil (Assuncao 33). Things began to change and soon the Portuguese dominance ended as Brazil opened its ports to allow for trade with other nations. Towns and cities began to grow and people migrated to urban centres.
This increased the rate of interaction which allowed more slaves or former slaves to move to towns. The social life in the towns and cities increased the notoriety and diffusion of capoeira. In Rio de Janeiro, capoeira became so problematic that it attracted sever punishment from the colonial government.
Slaves were detained for practising Capoeira. However, constant raids on properties that still adopted slavery by quilombo militias led to the softening of the slavery laws. Finally, slavery came to an end in 1888 (Assuncao 34). Unfortunately, the free black people were unable to find work as more Asians and Europeans workers came into the country limiting job opportunities. As a result, the black population maintained capoeira as a martial arts practice as well as recreation.
Assuncao, Matthias. Capoeira: A history of an Afro-Brazilian martial art. New York: Routlede, 2005. p. 33.
Where did Capoeira go?
After the end of slavery, capoeira practitioners diverted their abilities elsewhere. Many people employed them as body guards, henchmen, hitmen, as well as mercenaries. Some groups of Capoeira practitioners began to terrorize Rio de Janeiro (Talmon-Chvaicer 20).
Eventually, the government banned capoeira practice in the country as police reports indicated that capoeira gave undeserved advantage to its practitioners in a fight. As a result, anybody who was caught practising capoeira particularly in a fight would be arrested and severely punished, and in most cases mutilated by the police.
After the prohibition, the practice of capoeira went underground. Cultural practices such as roda de capoeira were performed in secluded places while somebody kept an eye on the police. Later on in 1932 when the repression on capoeira had slowed, Mestre Bimba, who was a strong fighter in illegal as well as legal fights founded the first Capoeira school in Salvador (Talmon-Chvaicer 21).
He integrated the styles used by other capoeiristas to entertain tourists, to improve martial arts. He reintroduced the styles that had been adopted by the Quilombos and added certain moves from traditional fighting styles. He also designed the first systematical training method on capoeira. Bimba founded another school, Centro de Cultura Fisica e Luta Regional in 1937 with permission from Salvador’s Secretary of Education (Talmon-Chvaicer 21).
Talmon-Chvaicer, Maya. The Hidden History of Capoeira: A Collision of Cultures in the Brazilian Battle Dance. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. p. 20.
Ibid. p 21.
Ibid. p 21.
The elements of Capoeira have since been applied in many sectors particularly entertainment. Since it resurfaced, it has been largely adopted in sports, games and other entertainment activities like films, comics, television shows among others.
How do people relate to Capoeira in Brazil?
Capoeira is a symbol of the Afro-Brazilian culture. It symbolizes the ethnic amalgam of the Brazilian population as well as resistance to oppression. Thus, it has become the image as well as source of pride to the people. The people of Brazil consider it as an intangible cultural heritage. For example, samba de roda, which is a traditional Afro-Brazilian dance as well as musical form, has been performed in Brazilian communities for many years (Talmon-Chvaicer 26). The dance and music is associated with capoeira.
Today, capoeira is more than just martial art in the Brazilian society. It has become a major exporter of Brazilian culture throughout the world. Brazilians view it as a means of earning income. Masters in the art of Capoeira have emigrated to the US and other countries since the 1970s to go teach the art. Each year, many Brazilians move to other countries to go train capoeira and earn income. Prominent capoeira masters are normally invited to train abroad while some go to establish their institutions.
Again, most Brazilians see it as a way of earning income from tourism. Each year, Capoeira attracts many people to Brazil including students, tourists as well as foreign capoeiristas who come to learn the Portuguese language, which is the official Brazilian language, to better understand as well as become part of the art.
Talmon-Chvaicer, Maya. The Hidden History of Capoeira: A Collision of Cultures in the Brazilian Battle Dance. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. p.
How popular is Capoeira?
Elements of capoeira such as theatrical, acrobatic as well as martiality have become very common across the globe. The Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira, famous for its acrobatic movements as well as kicks, is a major characteristic of many movies, television shows, dance, music, comics as well as video games. For example, many professional wrestlers who currently work for World Wrestling Entertainment incorporate capoeira moves in their fights in the ring.
Although Capoeira began in Brazil and is largely practised in the country, it has spread to other continents including Asia and Europe. Myers (1) reports that Capoeira is very popular among young adults as well as professionals in Bangalore city, India. They like the various aspects of capoeira especially the dance moves as music is played in the background.
Its spread shows how representation of the unique Brazilian culture has manifested itself in many societies throughout the world. Most people enjoy rhythmic signatures of the capoeira moves. The orientation patterns formed when capoeira dancers engage in the motional process is enjoyed by people across cultures and nations (Assuncao 42).
Capoeira which originally began as a survival tool in the harsh slavery environment in Brazil evolved to become an important part of Brazilian culture. It continues to spread across the globe as Brazilian martial experts move to other
Myer, Frank. Capoeira Popular in Bangalore, India. Roda Magazine, 17 September, 2010. Web. 31 October, 2011.
Assuncao, Matthias. Capoeira: A history of an Afro-Brazilian martial art. New York: Routlede, 2005. p.
countries to train other people while others travel to Brazil to learn it. It has been incorporated in movies, television shows, comics among other sports and games, for entertainment, and this shows the extent of the capoeira’s popularity worldwide.
Assuncao, Matthias. Capoeira: A history of an Afro-Brazilian martial art. New York: Routlede, 2005. Print.
Capoeira, Nestor. The Little Capoeira Book. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2003. Print.
Myer, Frank. Capoeira Popular in Bangalore. India. Roda Magazine, 17 September, 2010. Web. 31 October, 2011.
Talmon-Chvaicer, Maya. The Hidden History of Capoeira: A Collision of Cultures in the Brazilian Battle Dance. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. Print.