Dance? Fight? Game?
Capoeira developed in Brazil, a country whose history was being re-shaped 500 years ago by African slaves and Portuguese colonization. Much of Capoeira’s early development is a mystery, a story of African, European and Amerindian cultures blending together over five centuries. The dance and game of Capoeira may have once been marriage ritual, folk art, or a disguise for the practice of treacherous moves for self defense and escape. Even the meaning of the word “capoeira” is uncertain. References are found to a native Brazilian tribe’s word “capuuera” (forest) and to the Portuguese “capoa” (fighting bird.) By the mid 1800’s opposition to slavery was rising, but it would be 1888 until abolition was law in Brazil, and racism and repression would continue to fuel Capoeira’s evolution for decades. During this era more of Capoeira’s history is recorded and it’s reputation shows often in police logs. It was banned completely in 1892, and finally allowed again in the 1930’s in academic settings only.
The city of Salvador, in Bahia Brazil is perhaps the birthplace of Capoeira as we know it today. Here Mester Bimba started the first school of Capoeira teaching a style now known as “Regional” (hay-ju-nal) that focussed on the athletics of the game. In 1937 the president of Brazil even declared Capoeira the national sport. In a few years another school would open where Mestre Pastinha taught the “Angola” style, preserving the rituals and traditions of the game. By the 1970’s Capoeira was spreading to Europe and North America. Students of Bimba and Pastinha set up their own schools to train the next generations of Capoeiristas.
Today you can study several styles of Capoeira with many groups all over the world. Just listen for the call of the berimbau. In today’s “roda”(circle) the orchestra of berimbau, pandeiro, atabaque and sometimes other instruments like reco-reco and agogo lead capoeiristas in the jogo (game.) Two players inside the roda intuitively show and dodge kicks and take downs and taunt each other with “malicia”(trickery) either to exhibit or disguise their skills. Those from the roda alternately “buy the game” respectfully from the foot of the berimbau, gesturing between the current players, sending one back out to the roda and challenging the other to continue the flow of the game. The songs you’ll hear may tell of great warriors or mestres, talk about the “axe”(ah-shay) or energy of the game or tell about life and it’s many lessons. Different rhythms of the berimbau call for varied styles of play. The games of Angola and Sao Bento Pequeno are both low to the ground and relatively slow when compared to the flourishes of kicks and sweeps in Benguela and especially Sao Bento Grande. Whatever the style or game, players strive for the beautiful power and flow that makes Capoeira unlike any other martial art.
For more information refer Wikipedia