Capoeira is an Afro‐Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, music, and dance. It is strongly believed to have been created in Brazil by African slaves by mixing the many fighting styles from many of their tribes sometime after the sixteenth century. It was developed in the region of Quilombo dos Palmares, located in the Brazilian state of Alagoas, which was the state of Pernambuco before dismemberment, and has had great influence on Afro‐Brazilian generations, with strong presence in the states of Bahia, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
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 techniques. As Brazilian culture is an agglomeration of many different African cultures and some European cultures, it is almost certain that Capoeira has changed or morphed as per the cultural influences over many centuries.
Back in the early days, when Capoeria was mainly practiced by slaves, the government banned Capoeira and arrested anyone caught practicing Capoeria. In the early 1930’s, in Salvador, Bahia, a great fighter called Manuel dos Reis Machado, better known as Mestre Bimba, coalesced certain elements of Capoeira. He added kicks and moves from eastern martial arts and developed a series of training sequences, transforming Capoeira into a more overt fight, less of a dance, and removing certain traditional aspects of the art, which were not “effective” in a fight. He called this style the Regional Capoeira of Bahia. Mestre Bimba challenged all comers to fight him and test his method. Such was his fame and reputation that both he and Capoeira were recognized by the government and Capoeira was legalized. Capoeira that descends from Mestre Bimba is now known as Capoeira Regional.
Traditional Capoeira with its old customs and malandragem (cunning) is known as Capoeira Angola. One of the great names within Capoeira de Angola is Mestre Pastinha who was of the same epoch as Mestre Bimba.
“Roda” literally means circle and this is where students apply their training. A Capoeira roda is formed by a circle of people and at the head of the roda is the bateria, which are the Capoeira instruments – berimbau, atabaque, pandeiro, sometimes the ago-go and recoco. The bateria is led by the gunga, the head berimbau, and it is the player of the gunga that sings a song, which everyone responds by singing the chorus. It is the music that sets the rhythm of the game.
A game begins with the instruments, then the singing and clapping. Two players start at the foot of the berimbau. As their game progresses, another player from the roda may circle round to pay their respects to the berimbau, find an opening, and buy the game. The game continues in this flow until the berimbau signals the end.
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