The History of Capoeira

Capoeira History of African Slaves in BrazilCapoeira is a Brazilian martial art which combines fighting, acrobatics, dance and music. It was created during the Portuguese colonial period of the 16th Century. African slaves developed this martial art camouflaged as a dance with the hopes of rebelling against their captors. It was developed mainly in the states of Bahia, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Over the years Capoeira has progressed from a forbidden and marginalized art form to an accepted and revered part of Brazilian culture practiced by all classes, genders and races of people.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Portugal shipped slaves into South America from western Africa. Brazil was the most common destination for African captives with 42% of all enslaved people shipped across the Atlantic. The main Portugal colonies were Angola and Mozambique. These Africans brought their cultural traditions and religions with them to the New World. The homogenization of the African people under the oppression of slavery was the catalyst for Capoeira and it was developed as a way to resist oppression, secretly practice a martial art, transmit culture, and lift spirits. Some historians believe that the indigenous people of Brazil also played an important role in the development of Capoeira.

After slavery was abolished in 1888, the freed people moved to the cities of Brazil and with no employment to be found, many joined or formed criminal gangs. They continued to practice Capoeira, and it became associated with anti-government and criminal activities. As a result, Capoeira was outlawed in Brazil in 1890. The punishment for practicing it was extreme (practitioners would have the tendons on the backs of their feet cut), and the police were vicious in their attempt to stamp out the art. Capoeira continued to be practiced, but it moved further underground. Rodas were often held in areas with plenty of escape routes, and a special rhythm called cavalaria was added to the music to warn players that the police were coming. Capoeira practitioners (capoeiristas) also adopted apelidos or nicknames to make it more difficult for police to discover their true identities. To this day, when a person is baptized into Capoeira at the batizado ceremony, he or she may be given an apelido. Persecution of the art faded eventually, and was entirely gone by 1918. Capoeira is now practiced all over the world. People from all races, social status, age, and physical abilities are encouraged to play.