What is Capoeira?


Capoeira is thought to have originated in Brazil in the 16th century. It was widely practiced as a martial art infused ritual dance by the African slaves to rebel against their Brazilian masters. As in the USA, slavery was rampant in Brazil too. The workers were put to work on plantations where demand for slave labour was high. During this time an estimated 2 million slaves were brought to Brazil from Africa. That it had inherited its essential elements from the African people, is evident from the musical structure as well as movements, the accompanying rituals, philosophical principles and historic accounts of its ethnicity described by those who practiced it in the past. One of the most exciting martial art these days, Capoeira has created such hidden moves and musical rhythm, that a player can easily converse with his partner and have a silent dialog to signal approaching danger. During the game the players can explore each others weaknesses and strengths, simply with feints and defensive moves. They overcome fatigue, fear and even feel frustration, but nevertheless enjoy the experience. It's ever increasing popularity, not only in Brazil, but in all corners of the world symbolises the fight against oppression and slavery. Present day Capoeira is however practiced just as a dance without any physical contact.


The art of Capoeira began its development centuries ago. The fusion of African and local settlers, during the colonial period acted as a perfect climate for development of this unique art form. The majority of questions about formation of Capoeira still remain unanswered, due to lack of written records, and absence of oral dialogue which was not available in the earliest of chronicles of this art. In reality the history of Capoeira is very elusive to understand just like a skillful fine tuned movement of a good Capoeira player. As the slaves became aware that their conditions were irreversible and they had no minimal rights,and as such were not allowed to practice any form of self defence that could possibly lead to insurgency, they began to run away and revolt. They were however allowed to practice their tribal rituals and traditions. It is from such communities that the first forms of Capoeira were known to have developed. The slaves, in this new environment began to learn from each other the dances, rituals, religion and games. They learnt to disguise public preparation with subtle dance like movements to avoid persecution. This rich cultural fusion created Capoeira in its earliest form. The mass forced migration of humans along with native inhabitants as well as Europeans from Portugal shaped the future of Capoeira in Brazil. There were three main areas of thought claiming the origin of Capoeira that have been studied during the times; that Capoeira was originally from Africa; that Capoeira was created by Africans and their descendants in the rural areas of Brazil; that Capoeira was created in the major urban Brazilian centres. For the last 30 years or so,the thought of rural Brazilian origin has caught the fancy of the young Capoeira players. This burning desire of freedom was considered to have originated in country villages by runaway slaves.The presence of Capoeira, in different parts of Brazil, far removed from each other in customs and traditions, formed another proposal of the formation of this unified kind of art. Africans, stripped of their tribal identity, mixed the music, culture and tradition of the diverse tribes to rediscover the same by way of Capoeira. There were two main types of Capoeira which were widely accepted; Capoeira Angola and Capoeira Regional. All Capoeira styles are played within a ring called the roda. This ring can be formed by other players or even onlookers indulging in singing traditional Capoeira songs, clapping and playing instruments. Capoeira Angola is the basic and more common style of Capoeira. It is usually played in slow and smooth motion keeping the body low to the ground. It is characterised with low kicks, head butts and dodges. The players always remain close to each other. The tempo of the music is slower than Capoeira Regional, and calls for less interaction, but more positive energy. Capoeira Regional is the second style of this fine art. This is endowed with more acrobatic moves, and is much faster and aggressive, with players often using head kicks and strikes, but on the other hand has unmatched grace and style which is pleasing to witness.


Capoeira initially developed as a clandestine cultural practice, a disguised dance and as a means of obtaining liberty for enslaved Africans. For hundreds of years it remained banned and outlawed. Considered an unsavoury and vulgar practice by the oppressive ruling elite. Participants of the game if caught were imprisoned or even put to death, but it continued to grow secretly and even thrive,but not without the help of music. It is the Capoeira music which sets itself apart from other martial arts. The Capoeira roda (circle ) is considered the most sacred and traditional place and is greatly influenced by the music played. The song's determine the style of the game played inside the roda. It is commonly considered in Brazil, that Capoeira music is not a form of entertainment and personal liking, but a strong medium to bring together cohesiveness and dynamism, between people, thereby creating a sacred space between the art of facing the roda as well as an aural space which is believed to connect the spiritual world. Music in Capoeira fulfills multiple roles. Apart from giving energy to the players and directing the speed of the game in the roda,it is also a source of information and knowledge. With the orchestra in full flow accompanied by the various Capoeira instruments, like the berimbau,pandeiro,atabaque and the agogo, along with groups singing in a call and response manner, songs in Portuguese. These choral songs could be nonsensical, historical or sung to convey messages to the players in the circle on the game itself as well as giving a disguised warning in case of emergency. In the last two centuries it has evolved into an urban phenomenon and way of life for the Brazilian people. From an art of survival Capoeira had blossomed into a fitness regime, in schools, colleges and universities as well as youth and community curriculum.


A celebration born out of resistance , nearly 500 years ago, against all forms of bondage ,Capoeira, imparts an affirmation of mutual respect between communities, groups and individuals thereby promoting social integration and memories of resistance to the historical oppression. The Capoeira circle is considered a very sacred space where dances and songs are performed to communicate messages from master to disciple and thus creating a sense of of companionship and identity to an ever expanding community,not only in Brazil, but in all corners of the world. During the last 50 years, Capoeira has finally been accepted by the masses of Brazil. In 1974 it was given the status of the national sport of Brazil. With ever expanding boundaries, this pure hypnotic sport has caught the fancy of many and inspired millions. Capoeira has moved from the slums of Rio De Janeiro to the world stage where it has firmly secured it's place as an international practice. It continues to grow stronger and fitter, and bestow physical and mental being to those who wish to embrace it. Keep in mind, that Capoeira is not prejudiced to a player's capability and any person with any ability can take part in it without any problem. Remember, after all, that:

"An offer of an open hand is always more powerful than a closed and clenched fist."