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Capoeira: national sport from Brazil

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Capoeira: national sport from Brazil

In Brazil, soccer is the number 1 national sport. Capoeira is almost as popular. With this rapid mixture of dance, fighting technique and acrobatics you learn to control your body.


"Capoeira combines opposites such as fight and dance, violence and aesthetics, play and deadly seriousness, ritual and spontaneity, choreographic rigor and improvisation of movement, magic and a sense of reality, body training and philosophy of life."
(Piero Onori)

Developed by African slaves

Little is known about the origin of Capoeira to this day. The prevailing opinion is that the first Bantu slaves, who were abducted from Angola to Brazil at the beginning of the 16th century, developed capoeira there. In addition, the Africans redesigned a variety of traditional dances and fighting games into a defense technique feared by the slave owners. The whole body could be used as a weapon. The characteristic capoeira music was added to camouflage the secret combat training from the suspicious plantation owners.

Body as the only weapon

When slaves fled into the jungle from forced labor on the sugar cane plantations, capoeira made them superior to their pursuers. Her body was the only weapon used to defend her strongholds, the so-called quilombos, the self-governing areas. It was not until the 19th century that capoeira came from the country to the cities.


Officially banned in 1823
In order to protect themselves from the persecution by the police, the former slaves formed street gangs, which fought bitterly, especially in the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Since capoeira was henceforth linked to violent street fighting, it sank into a crime instead of becoming a signature Afro-Brazilian sport. In 1823 Capoeira was officially banned.

Interestingly, the capoeirista were used to protect the empire during wars or riots, for example in the war against Paraguay (1864-1870). Later, capoeirista political parties served to disrupt competition rallies. It was not until 1937 that the ban on capoeira was lifted.


Two styles

Despite the ban, the first capoeira schools were founded in Salvador as early as 1932. With Capoeira Regional, Mestre Bimba developed a style that was strongly influenced by Asian martial arts.

Since then there have been two styles: Capoeira Regional and the traditional Capoeira de Angola, which is almost only found in Bahia today.

Religious origins

Capoeira is closely related to the Candomblé religion. This term encompasses several religious groups of African origin whose original religions have mixed with Catholic, Indian and spiritualist traditions.
The gods of Candomblé, the Orixás, have human traits with weaknesses and faults. Similar to ancient Greece, these deities do not provide any moral guidelines.
Today there are many facets of Capoeira: It is music, song, dance, fight as well as sport, art, folklore, philosophy of life or show.

Body control and acrobatics:

In Capoeira, the audience and participants form a circle, the roda. The game is determined by the music.

The most important instrument here is the berimbau, a musical bow with a calabash as a body of sound. The sound of this instrument is for Capoeira like the heartbeat for a person.

As soon as it sounds, two capoeiristas rise from the group to practice the movements they have learned while the others sing, clap or make music.
The aim of the game is not to "defeat" the other through aggression, but rather to show oneself the limits in a skillful interaction through mental and physical dexterity and speed. The berimbau determines the dancers' play, the pace, the aggressiveness. As soon as the berimbau falls silent, the fight is over.
Since the movements require extraordinary speed, great skill and agility, specific gymnastics is required for performing Capoeira, which is now also regarded and accepted as a sport.

Worldwide distribution:

With the increasing self-confidence of Afro-Brazilians, Capoeira has also gained in importance since the mid-1970s. Salvador's Capoeira schools have long since had offshoots in the United States or in Germany.

The days when Bahia's famous capoeira masters died impoverished are over, as is the reputation of the capoeiristas to be nothing but thieves, crooks and muggers. In Brazil, capoeira as a national sport is almost as popular today as football.

Text and pictures: Roland Rosenbauer, July 28, 2003 / act. Nic June 27, 2012

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