What is Capoeira

History of Capoeira

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Capoeira is an African-Brazilian art form that involves dance, martial arts, and music.
Capoeira is believed to have emerged during the years of slavery in Brazil. However, some of its traditions originated in Africa and were brought to Brazil by slaves (such as an instrument similar to the berimbau and atabaque).

Brazil was colonized by the Portugal in the early 1500’s. The Portuguese brought and enslaved Africans from countries such as Angola and Mozambique. Men and women were kidnaped from their home in Africa. Shackled and starved, they were shipped to colonial Brazil where upon arrival they were sold as slaves. The slaves were forced to work on the plantations of Northeastern Brazil. Having became mere property, the Africans were forced to leave behind their former ways and adapt to this new imposed way of life. Approximately 3.5 million African over 350 years were brought to the colony. In spite of this, they succeed in holding onto certain elements of their cultures, some of which came to form the art of Capoeira.

It is well accepted that Capoeira emerged in Brazil as a form of resistance during the slavery years. starting around 1814 Capoeira and other forms of African culture expression suffered repression and were prohibited in some places by the save masters and overseers. Many slaves escaped from their Senzalas (slave quarters) into the heavily forested areas to form their own communities. These African communities came to be known as Quilombos.

In 1888, slavery was finally abolished. Many former slaves who had worked on the plantations moved to the slums of the capital cities in search of a better life. They experienced great difficulties in the cities of Salvador, Recife, and Rio de Janeiro. Some found comfort and strength in traditions involving dance, music, food, and religion.

Capoeira was officially banned with the Penal Code of 1890. Many of those that used Capoeira as slaves to defend themselves, now used it for less honorable purposes. At the time, Capoeira was looked down upon by the upper class, dismissed as an activity that was indicative of the lower class. Capoeira remained illegal until the 1930’s, when the art took on a new form. Mestre Bimba (Manoel dos Reis Machado) created his own style of fighting known as Luta Regional da Bahia, better known as Capoeira Regional. after being invited to perform his new style for the then President. Getulio Vargas, Mestre Bimba received permission to open the first Capoeira academy. In the 1930’s, he opened the first official Capoeira academy in Salvador, Bahia.

Upon the creation of Capoeira Regional, the traditional style of apoeira became known as, capoeira Angola, in tribute to the African slaves, many of whom came from Angola. As Mestre Bimba is venerated for his innovations, so is Mestre Pastinha (Vincente Ferreira Pastinha) for keeping alive the traditions of Capoeira Angola. He opened the first academy in which Capoeira Angola was openly and legally taught. Mestre Pastinha and Bimba are respected today as the “traditionalist” and the “innovator”, respectively. Without the contributions of both Mestres Capoeira would not be what it is today. Today, Capoeira is practiced throughout the world. The art offers substantial benefits to physical and mental health, strength, flexibility, endurance, self esteem, and discipline.