Capoeira: Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts….

Are you looking for a change in your workout routine? Or you want some activity that will challenge you? Then get ready to be transported to another part of the world and be introduced to a different culture.

It is a Brazilian martial arts also known as “capoeira”.

Image ref: Pinterest

From the streets of Brazil comes Capoeira; a unique hybrid of martial arts and dance, in which partners engaged in it pair off and spar in graceful, fluid motions, incorporating acrobatic flips and tumbles, all to the lively rhythms of Afro-Brazilian percussion.

This Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music. Oral history has it that it was developed by enslaved Africans in Brazil at the beginning of the 16th century. It is known for its acrobatic and complex maneuvers, often involving hands on the ground and inverted kicks, emphasizing flowing movements rather than fixed stances.

Capoeira’s history is extremely fascinating. It holds great significance for the Afro-Brazilian population especially during the colonial period in Brazil when enslaved people, primarily those who descended from Bantu ethnic groups, planned rebellions to escape from the plantations. These enslaved people had to learn how to fight, in order to defend themselves, escape, and then survive.  They also, however, had to be very discreet about their fighting so that their owners wouldn’t discover and suppress their rebellions. This is why there are blurred lines in capoeira – as a dance and a fight.

Image ref: Wikipedia

At first glance, you probably would not be able to tell what was happening. This blur between a fight and a dance was what made the art so effective and powerful during Portuguese colonial rule.

Many Afro-Brazilian’s escape plans took them to the interior of the country where they lived in independent communities made up of former enslaved people, called quilombos. Afro-Brazilians finally did succeed and continued to use self-defense forms like capoeira to battle against the Portuguese colonial rule.

Since then, capoeira has been regarded as an empowering tool for Afro-Brazilians. But there was a twist in the plot. The Portuguese elite saw capoeira as a threat and later banned the art form and after the 1888 Lei Aurea, which freed enslaved people, the policing of capoeira still continued and was labeled as criminal activity.

Thankfully things changed in 1932 when the infamous capoerista, Mestre Bimba, opened his new school of regional capoeira with support of the then local government. Because of Mestre Bimba’s capoeira school, the art form gained widespread popularity across the nation, loosening restrictions. At the same time, President Getulio Vargas was trying to create a cohesive Brazilian national identity in his Estado Novo (meaning New State -1930-1945). While doing so, he was sure to take note of the role that capoeira had in the nation. So, in 1937, capoeira was designated as an official national sport.

Image ref: Capoeira Istanbul Kursu

Let’s take a cursory look into the musicality of the genre as there are several key traditional instruments required for capoeira. At a “roda” (circle of capoeiristas – dancers) you will see an agogô (meaning bell made out of coconuts), an atabaque (a drum), a pandeiro (a tambourine), and a berimbau – the key instrument that produces the twangy core rhythm and monitors the speed for capoeiristas. These musical instruments originally come from Africa, including the viola berimbau (high tone), medio berimbau (medium tone), and gunga berimbau (low tone). The berimbau is made out of a wooden bow with a steel string and the musician uses a metal stone to hit the string.

The capoeira fight can get pretty intense and the key to avoiding a strike is to listen and react to your opponent’s body language. The rhythm is the first thing you will need to have in mind to help you follow the berimbau beat. After that, you can move on to the defensive and kick moves. 

Do you have any dance or art that is unique to your people? Do share with us in the comment section.

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