In honor of the Black History Month, we're starting this blog in February, talking about how Capoeira evolved throughout history, starting with the African slave trade. This Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts dates back to abut 500 years ago, when the slave trade had begun bringing slaves to Brazil. From there slaves from West and Central Africa assembled senzalas (slave quarters), and with establishment of these quarters came distinct traditions, languages, food, dance, and of course Capoeira. Slave settlements in Brazil were first established in the 16th century, when the land was colonized by Portugal, using slavery to build and sustain the economy by working in agricultural development. Slaves in Brazil were mainly working in sugar cane farms to supply Portugal with something to trade other European countries with. Slaves lived in inhumane conditions, having to work all day long, where many of them died, suffered loss of limbs, as well as physical punishment from their owners. Even with slaves largely outnumbering the colonists, rebellions did not occur because the slaves lacked of weapons,  feared the slave masters, and since they came from different African countries, spoke different languages. Practice of any type of martial arts was strictly forbidden out of fear of a rebellion, and in this way, Capoeira emerged as a way for the slaves to train in secret and to eventually earn their freedom. Capoeira was disguised as a dance, hidden by the music and different tempos. The slaves would form circles called Rodas (hoh-das), and based on the Music would train following the tempo. Weary of the slave owners watching them, the slaves would "play" slower and have slower music, disguising Capoeira as more of a dance. When the slaves owners or their watchers were no longer there, the slaves would speed up the music and train more vigorously, and the "playing" would become more risky, and more focused on learning how to defend themselves.

Slaves Practicing Capoeira under the watch of the slave master
(“Capoeira.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Feb. 2018,

This led to Capoeira becoming a means of defense as well as a lifestyle. Using Capoeria, many slaves were able to escape and create quilombos (villages outside of Portuguese control), the most famous quilombo is called Palmares, which was thought to have been home for over 10,000 people. Life in the quilombos offered freedom, and opportunity for the people to express the cultural traditions they had established. By the end of the 19th century, slavery in Brazil had reached its ending point and was abolished in 1888.
Quilombos in Brazil
(“The Absolute Insider Guide to South America Travel.” Unique South America Travel Experience - USATE,

Soon Capoeristas started to use Capoeira in different ways. Slavery was outlawed, but there was a lot of poverty and few options for making a good living. Criminals and war lords would hire capoeristas as body guards and hit men, and in 1890, the Brazilian Republic decreed the prohibition of Capoeira in the entire country. After the prohibition, any person caught practicing Capoeira for any reason would be arrested and tortured by the police, again creating a time in Brazil where people were forced to practice Capoeira in secret out of fear of a higher power. By the 1920s, the repression of Capoeira had thankfully decreased. In that time, a man names Mestre Bimba started fighting for Capoeira to be free from the ban, becoming the first person to start teaching Capoeira in a formal setting. In 1932, he established the first Capoeira school. By 1940, Mestre Bimba's school and teachings of Capoeira became more accepted and popular and then Capoeira was finally legalized. 
Mestre Bimba and his students

Then in the 1970s, Capoeira had become so popular that people began taking it all over the world with them, to teach other people about Brazilian culture, and martial arts. Today Capoeira is taught in academies all over the world, teaching people of all different age groups about exercise, culture, discipline, language, music, and a sense of community. In 2014, UNESCO added Capoeira to its List of Cultural Heritage!  

Capoeira is now all over the world, bringing people of all different cultures together to all be a part of the Brazilian culture and family. Being able to connect people all over the world and bring them together in the best possible way, is what Capoeira has evolved into. People in any country are able to find teachers who have carried on the tradition of teaching Capoeira, so don't forget to and try a class if you haven't already. Ending with a little tip, check out the Tampa Bay Capoeira group! 

Hope you enjoyed our first post! As we say in Capoeira, AxĂ©!


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