Dance or martial art?

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art developed by African slaves strongly characterized by its musicality, a characteristic that differs it from the other martial arts. The practitioners of this art learn, beyond the fight, playing instruments, the main one being the berimbau, and also singing. The music is what determines capoeira’s style and rhythm, and it was introduced for the slavers to believe that the slaves were just dancing and not developing a martial art.

At the time of Portuguese colonization, slaves brought from Africa were the main workforce in Brazil, working in the fields of sugar cane, the main economic activity of that day, in inhumane conditions and often physically punished. In this hostile environment, capoeira began to emerge as a combat practice, the slaves’ attempt to survive and escape from their armed persecution. Many of the fugitive slaves began to form settlements, called quilombos, where they could maintain their cultural and religious traditions, the cultural freedom which also began to attract Europeans fleeing the repression of the Catholic Church. In these multiethnic groups of quilombos, capoeira was no longer only a tool for individual survival and became a martial art with a military purpose. The colonial troops attacked several times these settlements, the largest being the Quilombo dos Palmares, resistant to dozens of colony attacks using this swing and fight technique.

With the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, the african people, who were homeless and unemployed, were despised by society and were marginalized. Thus, practitioners of capoeira began using the technique to work as violent murders professionals. Therefore, in 1890, capoeira was banned in Brazil and those who were seen practicing it were imprisoned and tortured, so the capoeira was only practiced in remote and hidden locations.

Only about forty years later, with a reformulation of capoeira with the addition of other martial art movements through the work of Mestre Bimba, and his founding of the first Capoeira Academy in Salvador, capoeira finally left the illegality and was extinguished from the Brazilian Penal Code. In 1941, mestre Pastinha inaugurated the Sports Center of Capoeira Angola, attracting capoeiristas who preferred the martial art in its original form. Capoeira is today considered an intangible cultural heritage of Brazil and was spread to several other countries, being considered nowadays an important symbol of the Afro-Brazilian culture.

Do you know Capoeira? Is it practiced in your country?


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