About Capoeira

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines, through its practice, music and dance. This fight technique arises in the context of slavery and the subjugation of African people in the diaspora. Despite being prohibited, it was widely practiced. Throughout history, capoeiristas were sometimes used as police or army soldiers, and also manipulated as political militias. Slaves were used not only for public and domestic services, but also to trade services and goods for their masters in the streets and markets, allowing them sometimes to freely roam and interact with the Colonial Portuguese/Brazilian society.

By the end of the nineteenth century, “Maltas” or gangs of capoeiras controlled territories in the capital, Rio de Janeiro, and were active protagonists in political clashes, when Republicans staged a coup to overthrow the Empire in 1889. Soon after that, capoeira was criminalized, and only considered legal by the end of the 1930s, under the rule of the nationalist dictator Getúlio Vargas, who had a capoeirista as chief of his personal guard – Gregorio Fortunato. From the 1940s onwards, its practice was legalised, and  became similar to what we now know as capoeira. The most famous mestres of this period are Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha, from Bahia.

As a cultural expression originally practiced by slaves, criminals and poor people, records of its origins have been mainly dependent on the survival of stories and tales, as well as primary historical sources available, such as police files, newspapers` ads offering prizes for fugitive slaves and a nineteenth century fiction book “Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant” by Manoel Antonio de Almeida.

Capoeira has spread all over the world, and due to its cultural characteristics, which include music, dance and ritual, it is being practiced today not just as a martial art, but also for its mental health benefits, as an effective fitness training routine and as a physical, cognitive and social development tool in children`s education.

There are many good books and contemporary academic studies on capoeira. Some suggested authors:

  • Carlos Eugenio Libano Soares
  • Cinezio Feliciano Pecanha
  • Katiuscia Ribeiro
  • Lilia Moritz Schwarcz
  • Matthias Rohring Assuncao
  • Muniz Sodre
  • Nei Lopes
  • Nestor Capoeira
  • Nireu Cavalcanti
  • Oyeronke Oyewumi
  • Renato Nogueira