top of page

The Dance of War Capoeira

Headline - A la une


This month Flashmag in its page sports, is taking you to the 16thcentury in Brazil to meet with the birth of the African martial art Capoeira.

Portugal during the 16th century was one of the biggest colonial empires in the world using slavery to colonize and exploit their vast territory. The slaves taken mainly from the West African coast and central Africa were transferred by ship across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil, which received at least 38% of the slaves traded.

The major activity of these colonies was the production of sin farm called sugarcane in farm called “Engenhos” the conditions of life in the Engenhos were very harsh for slave for slave living in inhumane and humiliating conditions, they were  forced to work and often suffered corporal punishment for any small misbehavior. Even though the slaves outnumbered of Portuguese colonist the lack of weapons, the disagreement among slaves coming from different African cultures and the lack of knowledge of the environment surrounding them, will undermine any attempt of rebellion it’s in this climate  that the Capoeira will start to develop. More than a fighting style it was the expression of their hope and survival. It was a way for them to escape their daily tribulations in an unknown and hostile land. The Capoeira will became a training  for the slaves whom if given the chance will escape and survive in the wilderness of the land, ridden by the hostile colonial agents in charge of finding the escapees the infamous “Capitaes Do Mato “’ who were using inquisition methods of terror .

With the time going, a big amount of escapee slaves will gather together to build communes in remote areas of the colony not easy to access. This is the way the “Quilombo” villages will be set. In the Quilombo, even white people fleeing   the intolerance of Catholicism during the inquisition period will find a safe haven there. The Quilombo will grow to become a center of cultural rebirth for African traditions and beliefs like voodoo or Candomble. In this cultural environment the Capoeira will prosper to evolve from survival training to a Martial art. This natural evolution will be facilitated by the incessant danger encountered by these communes of multi ethnicity. One of the most renowned  is the ‘Quilombo of Palmares ‘ , which for more than a century faced victoriously at least 24 small attacks and 18 colonial invasion attempt by the Kingdom of Portugal…

Social life in the colony will change dramatically when the Prince and future King Joao VI, escaping the French invasion by Napoleon armies in 1808 will settle in Brazil with its troops. From a mere colony of exploitation Brazil will land the basis of a free industrialized Nation.” Lei Aura”; the bill passed May 13th 1888 by the Portuguese parliament and signed by the Princess Isabel will institute the Republic of Brazil.

Freed by this law Black will find themselves abandoned with the coming of Asian and European Workers. Inevitably Capoeira practitioners will start using their art in shadowy trades, becoming hit men, henchmen, Body guard, mercenaries…or will create terror gangs like The Maltas in Rio de Janeiro. In 1890 the new Republic of Brazil will decree the prohibition of the Capoeira. After this law all citizen caught using Capoeira in a fight or any other reason was arrested tortured and often mutilated by the police. Cultural practices like Roda de Capoeira were made in remote hidden places under the surveillance of sentries to warn in case of unwanted attention…

In 1932 time of less repression Mestre Bimba a well-known fighter in legal and illegal fight will found the first school of Capoeira in Salvador de Bahia. In 1940 the Capoeira will be fully rehabilited and traditionalist Capoeirista who were till then distrusted by the society will found their school in 1941 Centro esportivo de capoeira de Angola (CECA) by Vicente Ferreira Pastinha; name inspired from the African country of Angola, as during the ancient time this art was called also “brincar de Angola” meaning Angola play immortalizing by this way their traditional origins they advocated to keep.

Today Capoeira is a symbol of African heritage and Afro Brazilian culture with millions of practionners and followers around the world.

watch Capoeirista in action here


bottom of page