The capoeira arrived in Brazil in the 16th century, with the slaves of the banto ethnic group, who came from Africa with their customs, religions, outfits and languages. Here, camouflaged in dance, because of the police persecutions it suffered until the first decades of the 20th century, the fight became art, incorporating music and instruments, such as berimbau, tambourine and caxixi.
History and tradition
Differently to what most people imagine Africans didn’t accept slavery peacefully. History is full of examples, like the Malês’ rebellion and many others registered throughout the 19th century, especially in Bahia. Capoeira is one of the resistance symbols of the African people. Its origin in Brazil hasn’t been scientifically proved yet. But probably, the fight has its roots in the fight brought to Brazil by the slaves of banto origin, which lived in the region of Austral Africa, now Angola.
Developed and improved as a form of defense in the quilombos – communities organized by runaways slaves, in places of difficult access –capoeira was taught to the captive slaves by the runaways that were captured again and returned to the plantations. As the masters forbid the slaves to practice any kind of fight, the movements of capoeira were adapted with African chants and songs so that it would be mistaken for a dance. Like candomblé that was surrounded by mysteries, e capoeira constituted a form of cultural and physical resistance of the Brazilian slaves.
Capoeira was played in backyards near the slave quarters and its main functions were the maintenance of culture and physical health, besides work stress relief. Many times, the fights occurred in fields with small shreds, called at the time capoeira or capoeirão. That’s why the fight received this name.
From the countryside to the city, the fight acquired the malice of the so called “wage-earning slaves” (slaves that worked at different trades and had to give the money they earned to their masters) and people around the port zone. In Salvador, capoeira fighters organized in groups vandalized parties and reinforced the fear of the authorities. Until 1930, capoeira was forbidden in Brazil. The police were oriented to arrest those who played capoeira. In that year, one of the most important capoeira players, master Bimba, presented to the president of that time Getúlio Vargas, a lighter version of the fight. The president liked the fight so much that transformed it in a Brazilian national sport.
From that time on capoeira Angolahas improved in Bahia keeping its traditions, thanks mainly to Master Pastinha, who played capoeira until he was 79 years old, forming generations of capoeira players.
Main capoeira’s blows
Capoeira is a dialogue of bodies. The winner is the one that doesn’t receive an answer from the other player. In the friendly form, in the capoeira circle, the game is truly a dialogue of bodies. Two capoeira players make the sign of the cross by the berimbau and then initiate a slow ballet of corporal questions and answers, until a third one joins them and the other players successively participate in the circle.
But, a basic element of Angola’s capoeira, the malice or mandinga, may turn it into a very dangerous fight. The malice consists of a pretending game where the player pretends to go, retreats and goes back quickly; a movement that tricks the opponent is the differential of capoeira in relation to the other martial arts. This is a characteristic that can’t be learned only by practicing.
Capoeira has three styles that differ in the movements and in the accompanying musical rhythm. Besides capoeira Angola, another variation is called Regional Capoeira. This style is characterized by the blending of Angolan capoeira’s malice with quick movements, to the sound of the berimbau. The blows are quick and dry, acrobatics is not used. Differently, therefore, to capoeira Angola, whose main elements are the slow musical rhythm, lower blows (close to the ground) and a lot of malice. The third type is the contemporary one, which unites a little of the two first styles. Nowadays this is the most practiced one.
The fight and its variations
The violence of capoeira’s blows leaves no space for doubts: either you fight real capoeira or only simulate a game. Purists do not admit the possibility of framing it in sport rules. For them, the ones who do that are frivolous or don’t actually know the art of capoeira. For others, however, the game should evolve, like all martial arts.
Capoeira Angola, the most traditional, has a small number of blows. But they can reach a harmonious complexity, through their variation. Like music that has seven key-notes, capoeira has many variations based on seven main blows: Cabeçada (head blow), Rasteira (tripping up), Rabo de Arraia, Chapa de Frente, Chapa de Costas, Meia Lua and Cutilada de Mão
Capoeira is the only modality of martial arts that is accompanied by musical instruments. In the beginning the music was made only with clapping and drums. Later, the berimbau, instrument formed by a rod tensioned by a wire, which has as a resonance box, a cut cabaça, was introduced. The sound is obtained with a stick touching the wire; it’s possible to vary the sound muffling the sound of the cabaça and (or) pressing a copper coin against the wire; the instrument is complemented by the caxixi, a small osier basket filed with dried seeds.
The berimbau was an instrument used initially by street salesmen to attract customers, but it became the symbol instrument of capoeira, conducting the game with its peculiar tone. The rhythms are in binary compass and the tempos – slow, moderate and fast are indicated by the sounds of berimbau. Among the best known are Big St. Bento, Small St. Bento (faster), Angola, St. Mary, the cavalry (used to warn about the police’s arrival), the Amazon and the Iuna.
In a circle of Angolan capoeira the complete rhythm group is formed by: three berimbaus (one low – Gunga; one medium and one high – viola); two tambourines; a reco-reco, an agogô and an atabaque. The musical part has also litanies that are sung and repeated in choir by all people in the circle. A good capoeira player must know how to play the instruments and sing the themes of capoeira.