At first we should mention that the Capoeira we know today is actually very different from those fights which took place almost five centuries ago. It all started during the age of European colonization when many countries wanted to add more and more lands to their own country possessions. In this race for gathering new lands Portugal was the nation that colonized the country that today we call Brazil.
The Portuguese soon realized that they would need a workforce for their new colony which they searched mainly in West and Central Africa. Using deceit and dishonesty they captured many black people who were then transported in ships to an unknown future, to a new land. On their arrival, the black people were separated from their families and then sold into captivity. They were frequently mistreated and the desire for freedom and independence became a priority for these slaves. The seed of what we call Capoeira was born from within this hostile environment of captivity.
These Black African slaves, who inspired by their ancestral forms of fighting, developed a fighting style that could help them finding their way to freedom. During the 18th century, taking advantage of the conflict between Portugal and Holland, the first efforts of rebellion amongst the slaves took place. Some of these rebel slaves took refuge in forests where they gathered and established Quilombos which were formidable fortresses in far and hard to reach places.
The origin of the word Capoeira comes from the Tupi-Guarani language, and it means low thicket (or bush), it is a place where the slaves tried to escape to when they were chased by hunters. Some of the black slaves came out from these bushes and defended themselves in a very curious way, using both their feet and hands. When the hunters returned to their homes full of bruises, all they were capable of saying was Weve been attacked in the Capoeira.
The political importance of this form of fighting was so great that the government tried to eradicate it. During the 19th century the government banned not only this form of African cultural expression but all kinds of manifestations that were related or considered as cohesive forces amongst the black community. At the end of the 19th century with the abolition of slavery, a social problem that still remains today in Brazil, evolved. The black population was only physically released, but their social integration was not improved, and a huge outcast population emerged.
Amongst this displaced population were the Capoeiristas people who practiced Capoeira, they were without doubt the most dangerous branch because they used their fighting skills to steal and to kill. For this reason Capoeira was persecuted and finally made illegal for more than forty years converting it into a symbol of violence and crime at the same time.
At the end of the 19th century with the abolition of slavery, a social problem that still remains today in Brazil, evolved. The black population was only physically released, but their social integration was not improved, and a huge outcast population emerged.
It was not until the second quarter of the 20th century that the so lost dignity of Capoeira was restored. The nearly mythical Master Pastinha and Master Bimba were the two key figures who helped in the development of the Capoeira into what it is today.
Master Pastinha (Vicente Ferreira Pastinha) was known for his “Capoeira Angola” style. The main characteristics of this refined type of Capoeira are its softer rhythm and its movements played with maliciousness and great body skills.
Master Bimba (Manuel dos Reis Machado): created the Capoeira Regional and also placed the Capoeira back on its feet adding movements which proceeded from other martial arts. In addition he was the first master to give lessons in a gymnasium. He was the master who performed the Capoeira for the former Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas in 1953, where the president said Capoeira is the only truly national sport obtaining therefore the acceptance of it in the countrys society.
Folklore & Cultural Connections
Brazil is a country that has huge repercussions throughout the entire world and its culture crosses frontiers arriving in the most remote parts of the Globe. Brazil was already famous for its football, samba, bossa nova, the Carnival but nowadays Capoeira is a very active exporter of Brazilian culture as well.Capoeira shows us through its songs that the Brazilian Portuguese language even when simply spoken has a lot of rhythm in it, at the same time these songs tell us stories and anecdotes about Brazil which bring us closer to discover this land of great culture and adventure.
Capoeira is constantly in touch with the Brazilian people whether in events, presentations or any cultural activity related to our country. Its a remarkable symbol of the afro-Brazilian culture, a symbol of the ethnic amalgam that characterizes Brazil, a symbol of fight against prejudice and oppression that definitely changed its image to become a pride to Brazilian people, and its now officially considered intangible cultural heritage of Brazil.
This artistic form of fighting is spreading with great speed all over Europe. In London there are already thousands of people practicing it and in a few years time without doubt, there will be even more as this art extends throughout Europe and throughout the World.