Long before the appearance of Capoeira in Brazil, its antic form existed in Africa, more precisely in southern Angola, in the Ndongo kingdom. It was the N’golo dance, practised by indigenous people. A fight was ritualized, with jumps and games, imitating animals. Their soft bodies were valorized by warrior dances. In reality, those fights symbolized warriors’ strength and power. Constantly considered as disturbers, they moved about in gangs. The meeting areas were beaches and forests. Benguela is one of the coastal towns of Angola’s littoral, where that fight is known to be born. Its specificity was to make the opponents fall with « rasteiras », “ bassulas” (trips). The inhabitants were frightened of it. The expansion of colonies in America demanded a lot of labour for the European settlers, who supplied it with their African colonies. That’s why massive black slavery has been practiced across the Atlantic Ocean. The invaders being owners of the black slaves’ market, they sent a dreadful amount of black people in South America and Caribbean. Until today, the exact amount remains unknown. Human traffic between 15th and 19th centuries was enabled by everlasting tribal conflicts, which prevented populations of setting up an efficient resistance. The population ‘s ingenuousness about pricing in trade exchanges with Europeans, contributed to black people’ s decay.
Men, women and children were caught, sold and embarked by force. Once arrived to America, that is to say to Brazil, they had no human value for the owners. They were sold and sold again as merchandice. Their life expectancy was estimated between 5 and 7 years. A lot of them did not survive to their masters’ bad treatments. and were dedicated to hard labour. Black culture has not been transported in books or else materials, but in bodies and souls. Capoeira in Brazil has begun with a dance ritualized in a fight. In Bahia, still today, one can observe vestiges of ancient capoeiragem, with beliefs, ceremonies and traditional songs. There is a lot of various explanations about the appearance of that fight. One of the fundamental questions is the origin of the name, Capoeira, written for the first time during the War of Palmares, in Brazil, at the 17th century.
Black generations spoiled entire lives working in plantations. At the time, there was a conflict between Portuguese and Deutsch about land sharing. There were Deutsch invasion over all the key-points in the country. Exploitations, senzalas and jails have been attacked and ransacked. War have had disastrous consequences for Portuguese. Thousands of slaves rioted, flew to the jungle and created communities, Quilombos (slaves’ maquis). Rebels were resistant warriors. They struggled for freedom, claimed equality and rights against their lords. Once invasions were over, Portuguese sent expeditions to destroy those small nations and catch revolted slaves.
During that period, it is told that there were « capons », men hiding in the forest, bursting out to attack the « bush captains » whose work was to catch fleeing slaves. The most important community was the Quilombo of Palmares, headed by the king Ganga Zumba then by his nephew Zumbi. Quilombos were the places where people against slavery lived, trained and taught their values. Black people had good skills in war and life in the forest. Generation after generation, they kept alive and shared the African culture’s beliefs and ethical values. During the conflicts between rebels and lords, some blacks werecaught and taken back to the senzalas, as prisoners. Hostages carried on transmitting their « foot game », warrior fight. Prisoners gathered in exclusive groups, in order to train themselves.
To cheat watchmen and chiefs, they hid the fighting aspect of their trainings behind dance and musical rhythms. Tired by their hard work in the plantations and by malnutrition, they nevertheless kept on training. Their energy was supplied by songs, wails and shouts. African customs and prayers to divinities allowed self-expression and demand for help to cope with their hard life of prisoners.
Inside the senzalas, Capoeira survived thanks to its creativity, maliciousness and longing for freedom. After the abolition of slavery, the famous Quilombo of Palmares War and others quilombos, the capoerist had become a special type of man. He dressed in a characteristic way, wearing a hat on one side of the head and a golden earing. Capoeirists were hired as mercenaries to execute ambushes and murders. It is important to notice that after the abolition, freed slaves lived in deep misery. Later, the African fight spread out and produced with cross-breeding of Blacks, Indians and Europeans, its perfect performer. Skinny and muscular, smaller than Blacks and nimbler than Portuguese, the « mulatto » became the living figure of Capoeira, which had been turned into a notorious acrobatic fight. In the middle of the 19th century, Capoeira was at its zenith. In cities like Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Salvador de Baίa, existed groups or gangs of Capoeira, identified as professional criminals : gutter-snipes, thieves whom even policemen were afraid of. With the advent of the Republic, the Marshal Deodoro Da Fonseca, impressed by the increasing number of crimes, initiated the struggle against Capoeira. The adepts and practitioners of Capoeira were punished with tortured and were sent on Trinidad island for hard-labour.
“The 1890 penal code punishes with 6 months to 2 years imprisonment, the practitioners of agility and physical dexterity exercises, known under name of Capeoira”
With the 487 decree, Capoeira stopped temporarily. Many masters and practitioners remained in Săo Paulo, condemned to hard-labour.
Almost 50 years later, Capoeira reappeared. Master Pastinha, practitioner of Capoeira Angola and Master Bimba, creator of Capoeira Regional, have been responsible for the evolution and the valorization of that art. In 1937, Manoel dor Reis Machado, Master Bimba, made a demonstration for the President of the Republic, Gétulio Vargas. Pleased by the game’s demonstration , he legalized the practice of Capoeira. Master Bimba is considered as the deliverer of modern Capoeira, being the one who officialized it. He settled a teaching technique in a closed circle.
Today, Capoeira is not only popular in Baίa or Rio de Janeiro, but also in whole Brazil. In 1972, the national council approved a total legalization of Capoeira, making it a national sport of competition. Nowadays, Capoeira is in a phase of worldwide spreading, traveling all around the planet. In North and South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa, it is showed and taught as an universal art.