History of Capoeira

In the Beginning

The art of Capoeira was born over 400 years ago in Brazil as a martial art combining traditional African elements of music and dance. The African slaves of Brazil developed it as a means of survival and freedom. It is estimated that over 2 million slaves were brought from different regions of Africa to Brazil. They were then dispersed into three ports of Brazil, Bahia, Recife and Rio de Janeiro. Organization amongst the slaves was sometimes difficult because many were from enemy tribes in Africa. The slaves began to run away to escape the oppression of slavery. They fled into the jungles forming secret societies known as Quilombos. Here, the African tribes were able to put their differences aside and unite to fight for a common interest, FREEDOM.

They developed a fighting technique called “jungle war” or ambush, in which Capoeira was the key element in staging the unexpected revolts. They began to help free other slaves and disrupt the involuntary work force of the plantations. Capoeira was effective as a means of combat, defense and escape. Seen as a threat to the officials, Capoeira became outlawed and punishable by death. They were only able to maintain their martial art by disguising it as a folk-dance. Their clever tactic of disguising self-defense movements within the framework of song and dance proved effective. While it looked like a celebration, the slaves were really planning their liberation.

Current State

There are two notable pioneers of capoeira, Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha, who played roles in preserving the art. Both Mestres practiced the original style of Capoeira Angola (the slower paced game that is played close to the ground). Mestre Bimba began combining elements of Capoeira Angola and Batuque (a particular dance that his father was a champion of). It is said that Mestre Bimba developed his flow from this dance. He was tired of seeing people play so close to the ground, so he created his own style, Capoeira Regional, which is a faster game of Capoeira.

Capoeira became recognized as a folk-dance gaining the attention of influential politicians. On June 23, 1953 Mestre Bimba was invited by president Getúlio Vargas to perform in the capitol (of Bahia at that time) at Palácio da Aclamação. The performance was a ground- breaking success, which led to the legalization of capoeira. The president stated that capoeira was an authentic Brazilian contribution of physical education and that it should be considered a national sport of Brazil.