Capoeira History

“Capoeira history, its traditions & roots”

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Capoeira history

The history of Capoeira goes back 400-500 years ago and originated from African slaves in Brazil. It is believed that capoeira was fully developed in Brazil, but the tradition that it was born from is African. There is no evidence that suggest that people played capoeira in Africa, but there is evidence in various parts of Africa of a dance/fight/games that resemble capoeira. One such example is a martial art/dance called Ag’ya, which like capoeira, is done inside a circle combining kicks and acrobatic movements. So, it is most likely that capoeira developed from one of these type of African martial art/dances

With that being said, it is obvious that the seed of capoeira is African, and that it was fully developed in Brazil. It was in Brazil that this general ritual shared by African slaves began to develop into what we know of capoeira today. However, that exact origins of how it was developed in Brazil is still unclear. There are a few theories out there of how it came into existence in Brazil.

One theory suggests that capoeira was developed in “Quilombos”, which were communities of escaped slaves located in hard to reach places in Brazil. In this community it is believed that the first forms of Capoeira were developed as a form of self-defense to protect their community and fight back against attacks of the community. It has also been said that some members of the Quilombos community would go back into captivity on purpose, just to be able to teach the others the forbidden art that would allow them to fight for their freedom.

Capoeira Brazilian Martial Art & Dance

Once the fighting art was discovered, it was quickly banned and Capoeira went underground. The slaves, however, continued to practice the forbidden art in secret by going out into the forest to practice their skills.

Another method they used to hide the art was using the “roda” or playing circle of capooeira, which is controlled by the “berimbau, a single-stringed bow instrument from Africa.

Capoeiristas played capoeira based upon the rhythm played on the “bermbau”. When the overseers or slave masters, and later the police, came around, a look-out would signal the leaders of the roda, and the rhythm played on the berimbau would change. This advised the capoeiristas to pay a game that was less martial, and to play one that looked more like a dance. This would lead the overseers to beleive that the slaves were just dancing and having fun, and allowed them to practice their art out in the open.

Throughout the nineteenth century, consistent efforts were made to obliterate all practices of capoeira because many feared that people that knew the art were dangerous and it became associated with criminals. During this time any person caught practicing Capoeira or for any other reason, would be arrested, tortured and often killed by the police.

In the 1930s, it was at this time that Manoel dos Reis Machado, known as Mestre Bimba, opend the first capoeira academy of any kind in Salvador, Bahia. As capoeira was still forbidden by Brazilian law, Bimba called his new style “Luta Regional Baiana” (Bahian Regional Fight), which later on became known as Capoeira Regional.

Mestre Bimba’s teachings were martial arts oriented because he thought that capoeira had become too folkloric. He developed a martial arts training method based on capoeira, which gained popularity and respect quickly because of his reputation as a great martial arts fighter.

Mestre Bimba finally received official licensing for his academy in 1937 from Salvador’s Secretary of Education. In effect, capoeira became legal. It was largely due to work of Mestre Bimba that brought capoeira from the underground to a recognized sport in Brazil.

In 1941, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, known as Mestre Pastinha, opened the first Capoeira Angola academy. He taught a traditional form of capoeira and his school attracted many traditional capoeiristas who would prefer to keep Capoeira as original as possible. Soon after, capoeira spread around Brazil and became very popular throughout the country.

capoeira history

Capoeira today

Although, Capoeira has changed and evolved over the years, the two main Capoeira styles are Capoeira Angola and Capoeira Regional, which continue to be practiced in the today’s Capoeira Schools.

Today capoeira is everywhere and can be found all over the world. In Brazil, it is part of the culture and is found programs of elementary schools, universities, health clubs, and in military academies.

Capoeira is also present in many countries, many renowned Capoeira Masters teach abroad and have established their own schools, such as the Untited States & Canada. One of the largest academies is Grupo Axé Capoeira, which opened its first academy in Vancouver, Canada and now has many academies in USA, Canada, Mexico, U.K. and Russia.

Axé Capoeira Academy




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