Capoeira is a non-contact fitness sport that simulates both a dance and martial arts or a fight. It is the art of being able to fight with a smile on one’s face. Music is central to Capoeira and sets the tempo and style of the roda, whether it is an Angola game or a fast and dynamic Region-style fight. The use of music encourages a sense of belonging where Capoeristas sing together as they watch others play. Without the orchestra or bateria, one can not experience true Capoeira. The bateria is the heart of every roda. It is made up of three main instruments: the berimbau ( a musical bow), the pandeiro (tambourine) and the atabaque (drum).
History of Capoeira
While Capoeira has been identified with Brazil, its origin dates back to African culture. Capoeira was brought into and developed by African slaves in Brazil. Between 1540 and the 1800, millions of slaves provided labor for coffee and sugar plantations in Brazil, heavily oppressed by their masters and yet these African slaves maintained their level of cultural identity and kept their traditions alive. Capoeira, with its dance, music and movement became an expression of African culture at a time when it faced the most oppression in Brazil.
The word Capoeira is derived from three mythical sources. One is from the Brazilian Tupi languange that is used to refer to an area of a jungle that is cleared for hiding and safety, a place known as quilombos. In the Tupi language, Caa means down and little while puoera means grass. When both words caa and puoera are combined, the result means “hiding in the grass”, a practice that Capoeirista African slaves literally did. The second source of the word Capoeira comes from “capa”. A capa refers to a basket carried by African slaves used to take birds to the market place. Capoeira refers to the person who bears the basket. Games of capoeira were played in the market. The third source is derived from the word “kipura” meaning to flutter, often describing the movements a rooster makes when it fights.
At a time when slavery was at its peak in Brazil, Capoeira became an underground expression of African culture specially when street or public dancing became a forbidden practice. When slavery was abolished in 1888 in Brazil, African slaves became homeless and were forced to head to the cities from the plantations to look for work. But work was difficult in the urban centers and these former slaves who also knew Capoeira turned to petty crime for survival. Thus, Capoeira gained an ill-reputation at this time and the term became synonymous to bandit, thief and vagrancy resulting in capoeira being banned. It was at this time that anyone caught doing Capoeira faced harsh punishment with tendons likely to be cut if caught playing. Avid Capoeiristas therefore had to assume nicknames to avoid detection and resist oppression. This naming practice however, has become a legitimate tradition among Capoeristas where each Capoeirista assumes a Capoeira nickname at their first batizado or baptism or grading ceremony.
It was only in the 1930s that Capoeira became a respectable art when the state’s governor general Getulio Vargas came into power and whose mandate was to support all forms of Brazilian cultural expression. It was at this time that Mestre Bimba, a forefather of modern Capoeira was invited to perform his proprietary style of Capoeira Regional for foreign dignitaries and the first Capoeira school was built in 1932. Mestre Bimba promoted Capoeira as a form of self-defense and a disciplined martial art. A few years later Mestre Pastinha introduced a more traditional form under Capoeira Angola, remaining more faithful to the African roots of the game. The name Angola is a tribute to the African slaves who first practiced the art, many of whom originated from Angola.
Capoeira Regional emphasizes hard and fast moves, disciplined martial arts training, use of uniforms and rules of conduct and music. Capoeira Angola placed less emphasis on acrobatic moves and high kicks, focusing more on malandragem, the guile and cunning of the game and music.
Today contemporary Capoeira has become a mix of Regional and Angola styles. Capoeira has evolved from a spontaneous, expressive art to become a structured and disciplined martial art. Beginning in the 1970s up till today, Capoeira has spread throughout Brazil and to the rest of the world. Today, it is one of the fastest growing martial arts simulating a dance in the world.
Capoeira is a physical and mental martial arts that embraces dance, music, acrobatics and discipline while steeped in cultural heritage. Its drills improve physical strength, flexibility and reflexes.