As in the USA, there was also slavery in Brazil.
The slaves were put to work in the plantations where sugar and
tobacco were the main crops and the demand for slave labor was
great. During the history of the slave trade, it is estimated
that more than two million slaves were brought to Brazil from
slaves came from different regions of Africa and thus had different
cultures. They were distributed in three main ports: Bahia, Recife,
and Rio de Janeiro.
Rio and Recife, the slaves were from different ethnic groups and
sometimes from enemy tribes as well, which made it difficult for
these slaves to organize a revolt. More slaves in Rio were from
Bantu peoples, while in other areas, such as Bahia, slaves came
primarily from West Africa.
the slaves became aware that their condition was irreversible,
that they were intended to be an involuntary work force forever,
they began to run away.
Recife, a group of 40 slaves rebelled against their master, killed
all the white employees, and burned the plantation house. They
then set themselves free and decided to find a place where they
could be hidden from the slave hunters. They headed to the mountains,
a trip that took many months to complete. Had it not been for
the help they received from the Indians, this journey would have
been practically impossible to accomplish. Eventually they reached
what they thought was a safe place, which because of its abundance
of palm trees they named Palmares. In this place an African community
was born; a community which lasted nearly a century. In this community
the first forms of Capoeira were developed.
no one would deny the tremendous African influence on Capoeira,
nothing is really known about a form of Capoeira originating in
Africa. All that is written on this subject is based on speculation.
The earliest known historical record of Capoeira as a martial
art is approximately 1770, long after early years of slavery.
No further accounts of Capoeira are found until the early 1800's
in the form of various police records from Rio de Janeiro.
the course of years, scattered settlements were established in
the mountains. The largest of these was Palmares with more than
20,000 inhabitants, including some Indians and whites.
tribes that were strangers or enemies in Africa united to fight
for a common goal.
new community was formed with a very rich cultural mixture. In
this new environment they shared and learned from each other their
dance, rituals, religion, and games. One result of this rich cultural
fusion was Capoeira in its earliest form.
was growing rapidly as more refugees arrived in this little African
nation. It started to worry the Portuguese colonizers. People
from Palmares would come down from the mountains to trade produce,
fruit, and animal skins and would often raid plantations to free
began to effect the life of the plantations as more and more of
the slaves escaped. The colonists suffered economically because
of the diminishing labor force.
make things worse for the Portuguese, Holland invaded Brazil in
1630. The slaves took advantage of this situation and with assistance
from Palmares left the plantations and fought the Portuguese Army.
The army at this point was fighting two enemies.
Dutch won the war, but the Africans never stopped fighting. In
1644 the Dutch organized an expedition to go to Palmares, but
nothing was accomplished. In the following years a second expedition
was sent to the mountains which also failed.
is important to point out that these expeditions were formed by
very experienced and well-armed soldiers. But the Africans developed
a system of fighting called "jungle war" or ambush.
Capoeira was the key element in the unexpected attacks. With fast
and tricky movements the slaves caused considerable damage to
the white men. Capoeira became their weapon, their symbol of freedom.
an expedition was successful, the slaves who were returned to
the plantations taught Capoeira to others there. Sunday was their
one day of rest and that was when they practiced Capoeira. But
there, in the quarters, the practice soon was altered. Music,
singing, dance and ritual were added to Capoeira, disguising the
fact that the slaves were practicing a deadly martial art.
twenty-five years the colonies suffered eleven rebellions that
culminated with the abolition of slavery on May 13, 1888.
the abolition, some ex-slaves returned to Africa, but the majority
stayed in Brazil. The planters being no longer interested in them
as a work force, most headed to the cities to form slums and shanty
towns. There was no employment in the cities either, and many
organized into criminal gangs. Others, more fortunate because
of their knowledge of capoeira, were hired by politicians as bodyguards.
All were seen by the government as a "plague."
main activities of these "capoeiristas" (anyone who
practices the art) was to disrupt the political life of the country.
In the 1890's some very influential people in high levels of society,
were practitioners of capoeira. This was a threat to the government,
and the president created a special police force to control the
situation. When this effort was ineffective, a rigid penal code
was initiated. In Chapter B of this code, ten articles were specifically
related to the actions, practices, and crimes related to capoeira.
A tougher law was later added stating that any person who was
a known capoeirista would be expatriated. To enforce these laws,
the president hired a man named Sampaio, who was reputed to be
the most ruthless police chief in Brazil's history. He was determined
to extinguish capoeira. What is interesting about Sampaio was
that he was an excellent capoeirista, and was a terror to the
special police force learned capoeira, so they were able to challenge
their "enemy" on their own ground. Had it not been for
the strong resistance by the capoeiristas, as well as support
by influential people, he may have succeeded in his mission.
incident brought to an end Sampaio's relentless pursuit of the
capoeiristas. He arrested a man named Juca, a member of the gentry,
for practicing capoeira and demanded that he be expatriated. This
caused a crisis for the government for the members of the president's
cabinet opposed this action because Juca's father was well-known
and favored by many politicians.
president called a special meeting of his cabinet, and after eighteen
days, two important members of the cabinet resigned and Juca was
expatriated. After this event, change was expected in the behavior
of the capoeiristas. But the change was in their favor. The opposition
to the government created a black militia to disrupt the president.
This militia was formed exclusively of capoeiristas and they spread
fear in the capital. The police were ineffective against them
and just as the situation was becoming desperate, Brazil went
to war with Paraguay. The black militia was sent to the front
and suddenly the outlaws became national heroes. And capoeira
entered another phase in its history.
law that prohibited the practice of capoeira was still effect
until 1920, and its practice disguised as a "folk dance."
In their hidden places, capoeiristas did their best to keep the
tradition alive, and by presenting it as a folk art, they made
the practice of capoeira more acceptable to the society.
those years it was very common for a capoeirista to have two or
three nicknames. The police knew all the capoeiristas by these
names and not by their real identity, so it made it much more
difficult to arrest them. (This tradition is continued today.
When a person is "baptized" into the practice of capoeira,
they are given a nickname.)
1937, Mestre Bimba, one of the most important masters of capoeira,
received an invitation from the president to demonstrate his art
in the capital. After a successful performance he went back to
his home state and with the government's permission, opened the
first capoeira school in Brazil. It was the first step towards
a more open development, and years later the senate passed a bill
establishing capoeira as a national sport.
capoeira is all over the world. In Brazil, as part of the culture,
there is capoeira everywhere - in elementary schools, universities,
clubs, and in military academies.