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Capoeira History

Capoeira StyleCapoeira or the Dance of War by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1825, published in 1835

Capoeira is a martial art that grew from survival. It was created by slaves brought to Brazil from Africa, during the colonial period. People were brought from Angola, Congo and Mozambique, and with them, they brought their cultural traditions.

They hid their martial art and traditions into a form of dance. The African people developed capoeira not only to resist oppression, but also for the survival of their culture and the lifting of their spirits. After slavery, they continued to play capoeira. With no employment, many of them turned to gangs. Quickly capoeira was associated with crime and in 1892 became outlawed in Brazil. If a person was caught for practicing the art, they were punished by cutting the tendons of the back of their feet. A rhythm, called cavalaria, was created as an alarm that warned them of police. People that played capoeira had nicknames to hide their identity from the police. Often they had more than one. Getting a nickname has become a tradition and people gain a nickname usually at a batizado.

Capoeira was against the law for 20 years until 1918. The first capoeira school ever to exist was that of Mestre Bimba. He was given permission to do so in 1937, after he demonstrated the art in front of president Getúlio Varga. Capoeira was finally recognized as a national sport.

There are two main styles of capoeira. Mestre Bimba is recognized as the father of Capoeira Regional. The second main style is capoeira Angola, a slower and lower to the ground game retaining the rituals and traditions of capoeira.

The first school of angola, Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola, was established by Mestre Pastinha in 1942. The school, located in Bahia, had a uniform of black pants and yellow shirts (the color of a Mestre’s Patinha’s favorite soccer team, Ypiranga Futebol Clube).


Capoeira's history begins with the beginning of African slavery in Brazil. Since the 16th century, Portuguese colonists began exporting slaves to their colonies, coming mainly from West Africa. Brazil, with its vast territory, received most of the slaves, almost 40% of all slaves sent through the Atlantic Ocean.

Early history of capoeira is still controversial, especially the period between the 16th century and the early 19th century, because historical documents were very scarce in Brazil at that time. But oral tradition and evidence leave little doubt about its Brazilian roots.


In the 16th century, Portugal had claimed one of the largest territories of the colonial empires, but lacked people to colonize it, especially workers. In the Brazilian colony, the Portuguese, like many European colonists, chose to use slavery to supply this shortage of workers.

In its first century, the main economic activity in the colony was the production and processing of sugar cane. Portuguese colonists created large sugar cane farms called engenhos, which depended on the labor of slaves. Slaves, living in inhumane and humiliating conditions, were forced to work hard and often suffered physical punishment for small misbehaviors. Although slaves often outnumbered colonists, rebellions were rare due to lack of weapons, harsh colonial law, disagreement between slaves coming from different African cultures and lack of knowledge about the new land.

Capoeira arose as a hope of survival for an escaped slave, completely unequipped, in this hostile, unknown land and against the capitães-do-mato, the armed and mounted colonial agents who were charged with capturing escapees. The dance was incorporated to avoid detection and corporal punishments. If slaves were caught practicing fighting techniques, they could be punished or executed. With music and rhythmic moves, they raised no suspicion of escape attempts



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