Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian
art form that combines elements of martial arts, games, music, and dance. It
was created in Brazil by slaves brought from Africa, especially from present
day Angola some time after the 16th century.
Developed in the regions known
as Bahia, Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro. Participants form a roda, or
circle, and take turns either playing musical instruments (such as the
Berimbau), singing, or ritually sparring in pairs in the center of the
circle. The sparring is marked by fluid acrobatic play, feints, and
extensive use of sweeps, kicks, and headbutts. Less frequently used
techniques include elbow strikes, slaps, punches, and body throws.
Its origins and purpose are a
matter of debate, with theories ranging from views of Capoeira as a uniquely
Brazilian folk dance with improvised fighting movements to claims that it is
a battle-ready fighting form directly descended from ancient African
Historians are divided between
those who believe it is a direct descendant of African fighting styles and
those who believe it is a uniquely Brazilian dance form distilled from
various African and Brazilian influences. One popular explanation holds that
it is an African fighting style that was developed in Brazil, as expressed
by a proponent named Salvano, who said, "Capoeira cannot exist without black
men but its birthplace is Brazil".
Even the etymology of the word capoeira is debated. The Portuguese word
capão means "capon", or a castrated rooster, and could mean that the style
appears similar to two roosters fighting. Kongo scholar K. Kia Bunseki
Fu-Kiau also suggested capoeira could be derived from the Kikongo word
kipura, which describes a rooster's movements in a fight.Afro-Brazilian scholar Carlos Eugenio has suggested that the sport
took its name from a large round basket called a "capa" commonly worn on the
head by urban slaves.Others claim the term derives from the Tupi-Guarani
words kaá ("leaf", "plant") and puéra (past aspect marker), meaning
"formerly a forest". Another claim is that given that capoeira in Portuguese
literally means "chicken coop", it could simply be a derisive term used by
slave owners to refer to the displays as chicken fights.
Capoeira is growing in popularity worldwide. There have been comparisons
drawn between the Afro-North American art form of the blues and capoeira.
Both were practiced and developed by African-American slaves, both retained
distinctive African aesthetics and cultural qualities; both were shunned and
looked-down upon by the majority societies within which they developed, and
both fostered a deep sense of Afrocentric pride especially amongst poorer
and darker-skinned Blacks. In the mid-1970s when masters of the art form --
mestre capoeiristas, began to emigrate and teach capoeira in the United
States, it was still primarily practiced among the poorest and blackest of
Brazilians. With its immigration to the U.S., however, much of the stigma
with which it was historically associated in Brazil was shed. Today there
are many capoeira schools all over the world (capoeira is gaining ground in
Japan) and throughout the United States, and with its growing popularity in
the U.S. it has attracted a broad spectrum of multicultural, multiracial
students. Capoeira has gained popularity among non-Brazilian and non-African
practitioners for the fluidity of its movements.
Music is integral to capoeira. It sets the tempo and style of game that is
to be played within the roda. The music is composed of instruments and song.
The tempos differ from very slow (Angola) to very fast (são bento regional).
Many of the songs are sung in a call and response format while others are in
the form of a narrative. Capoeiristas sing about a wide variety of subjects.
Some songs are about history or stories of famous capoeiristas. Other songs
attempt to inspire players to play better. Some songs are about what is
going on within the roda. Sometimes the songs are about life or love lost.
Others have lighthearted and playful lyrics. Capoeiristas change their
playing style significantly as the songs or rhythm from the berimbau
commands. In this manner, it is truly the music that drives capoeira.
There are three basic kinds of songs in capoeira.
A ladainha (litany) is a narrative solo usually sung at the beginning of a
roda, often by the mestre (master). These ladainhas will often be famous
songs previously written by a mestre, or they may be improvised on the spot.
A ladainha is usually followed by a chula or louvação, following a call and
response pattern that usually thanks God and one's teacher, among other
things. Each call is usually repeated word-for-word by the responders. The
ladainha and chula are often omitted in regional games. Finally, corridos
are songs that are sung while a game is being played, again following the
call and response pattern. The responses to each call do not simply repeat
what was said, however, but change depending on the song.
The instruments are played in
a row called the bateria. The rhythm of the bateria is set by the berimbaus
(stringed percussion instruments that look like muscial bows). Other
instruments in the bateria are: two pandeiros (tambourines), a reco-reco
(rasp), and an agogô (double gong bell). The atabaque (conga-like drum), a
common feature in most capoeira baterias, is considered an optional
instrument, and is not required for a full bateria in some groups.
The atabaque (conga-like drum)
The pandeiro (tambourine)
The Roda ( Hoh-Dah ) or "Roda de Capoeira" is the circle of people within
which capoeira is played. Its circular shape is maintained to keep focus on
the players and musicians and retain the energy created by the capoeira
The people who make up the roda's circular shape clap and sing along to the
music being played by the musicians in the bateria or drum set for the two
partners engaged in a capoeira "game" (jogo). The "mouth" of the roda is
located directly in front of the bateria. It is at this point where the
players begin every game and generally where any new players must enter.
In some capoeira schools an
individual in the audience can "buy in" to engage one of the two players and
begin another game.
The minimum roda size is usually a circle of about 3 meters (10 feet) in
diameter. Though they can be smaller and are often larger, up to 10 meters
in diameter (30 feet). The rhythm being played on the berimbau sets the pace
and goals of the game played within the roda. Slow music limits the game to
slow yet complex ground moves and handstands.
Contact in capoeira is generally not made but rather feigned or done