- Martial Art
- Self Control
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Every Tuesday at 5pm starting 20th March (this 1st class is FREE for all)
The name “capoeira” is given to a game of skill which has its remote origin in Angola. In the beginning, it was an extremely useful fight in the defence for the freedom of right of the black freedman. But the police repression and the new social conditions made it become a game – “vadiação” – between friends, about one hundred years ago. It’s with this innocent character that it remains in all States of Brazil.
It was a singular fight in which the “moleques de Sinhá” showed their skills of attack and defence without, however, hitting their opponents for real. It was during the slavery period that the game of Angola began to grow and reached its adulthood in Brazil.
The discussion is endless: researchers, folklorists, historians and africanists are still searching for answers to questions such as: is capoeira an African or Brazilian invention? was it a creation of the slave in hunger for freedom or a native’s invention? Opinions tend to the Brazilian side, and here are some examples: in the book The art of the language grammar most used in the Coast of Brazil, from Father José de Anchieta, edited in 1595, it’s written that “the Tupi-guarani natives amused themselves playing capoeira”. Guilherme de Almeida, in the book Music in Brazil, stands up for the native roots of capoeira. The Portuguese sailor Martim Afonso de Sousa watched tribes playing capoeira. As if it was not enough, capoeira (spelled CAÁPUÉRA) is a word from the Tupi-guarani language which means “plain brush” or “brushwood that has been cut”.
In a piece of work published by the Brazilian Xerox magazine, the Austrian professor Gerhard Kubik, anthropologist and member of the World Folklore Association and an expert on African matters, finds it odd “that the Brazilian man/woman names it Capoeira de Angola, since there’s nothing similar there.”
The studious Waldeloir Rego, who wrote what was considered the best piece of work on this game, also supports the idea that capoeira was invented in Brazil. Brasil Gerson, an historian of Rio de Janeiro’s streets, believes that the game was born in the market, when slaves came in with their baskets full of birds – “capoeira” in Portuguese – on their heads and, while waiting to be served, they played of fighting, and from there came the true capoeira. Antenor Nascente says that capoeira is related to the bird Uru (odontophorus capueira-spix), whose male is extremely jealous and fights violently against his rival, which dares to try to get into his domains (their moves resemble to those of capoeira). At last, Câmara Cascudo states that “it was brought by Banto-congo-angoleses who practised liturgical dances at the sound of percussion instruments, being transformed into a wrestle in Brazil, due to the need they had of defending themselves.
Capoeira was heard of for the first time during the Dutch invasion in 1624, when slaves and natives (the first two victims of colonisation), taking advantage of all the trouble, ran away into the brushwood. Black people created Quilombos, from which the most famous one was Palmares, whose leader was Zumbi, a warrior and an invincible strategist who, says the legend, had been a capoeira fighter. After this time, there was an obscure period and the Renaissance on the 19th century, being then transformed into a social phenomenon which took over urban centres such as Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife.
The “maltas” (gangs) of capoeira fighters disturbed the common citizen and became a problem to the vice-kings.
They would spread throughout the city, ruining parties, chasing the police away, beating the hell out of the big-guys… they would defend their rare freedom, either just using their muscular agility, or using sticks and knives. It was then that Major Vidigal showed up, leader of Rio de Janeiro’s police, in the beginning of the 20th century: a hell of a man, who seemed to be everywhere with his troop armed with long wips, protected by the distance in which it kept the capoeira fighters and in which they could offend them safely.
Machado de Assis’ books and Debret’s art registered the presence of capoeira in the habits of that time. Capoeira players lived in “maltas”, real gangs, which received nicknames like guaiamuns or nagôs. These gangs had a very strong role in historical events such as the mercenaries’ revolution (foreign soldiers who had been hired to fight the Paraguayan war rebelled themselves and were repelled by the capoeira fighters), in the conflicts between monarchists and republicans and even in the Proclamation of the Republic. Bahia’s gangs were upset during the Paraguayan war: the government recruited the strength of the capoeira fighters, who he sent south as “patriotic volunteers”. Manuel Querino tells that many of them distinguished themselves by acts of bravery in the field of battle. When they fought each other, the scream of war scared those who weren’t familiarised with capoeira: “fêcha, fêcha!” (“close it, close it!”) meant the beginning of a quarrel and no one dared to be around.
People say that José do Patrocínio’s personal guard and the emperor D. Pedro I’s himself were made out of capoeira fighters. This prestige began to decay with the abolition laws: with no qualifications at all, a whole world of people was competing for imaginary jobs. The game started to be considered dangerous and its extinction was imperative. The “maltas” became powerful protectors of dubious deals and it all ended with the law 487, decreed by Marshall Deodoro da Fonseca in 1880: from October 11th onward, every capoeira fighter caught in action would be sent away to the island of Fernando de Noronha for a 6 month period.
Even so, capoeira has shown its strength when one of its most fearful fighters was arrested: the Portuguese nobleman José Elísio dos Reis – nicknamed Juca Reis – had been arrested by Sampaio Ferraz. The republican government suffered its first ministerial crisis. Juca Reis was nothing less than the brother of the Count of Matosinhos and owner of the newspaper The Country and also the biggest defender of the republican cause. All over the newspaper, Quintino Bocaiúva defended mercilessly Juca’s release and the Marshall’s government was compelled to take back the charges and so Juca returned to Portugal.
The most famous of all national fighters was born in Santo Amaro in the region of the canes-plantations of Bahia and had nicknames such as “Besouro Venenoso” and “Mangangá”. The legend tells he was invincible and that there was no one like him. Even today, capoeira songs – “chulas” – tell his legendary deeds. The final hour came to the “maltas” of recife around 1912, by the time Passo do Frevo, a legacy of capoeira, was born.
The 487 decree brought an end to capoeira temporarily, and many of its fans stayed in exile in the interior f San Paulo doing hard labours.
Master Bimba is considered to be the father of modern capoeira, not only because he acted decisively in the liberation, but also for having been the first one to give it some discipline and to teach indoors. Master Bimba created the Regional style. The Angola style had in Vicente Joaquim Ferreira Pastinha its most dignified representative.
Nowadays, capoeira is no longer a privilege of Bahia or Rio de Janeiro having spread all over Brazil with great acceptation. It became a competitive sports defined by the National Council of Sports, in 1972. Abroad, capoeira is practised in more than 50 countries.
Music has great influence on capoeira. There are very few martial arts which have their evolution related to the sound of musical instruments.
The concept of capoeira as a martial art is so related to music that its presence is almost compulsory. The percussion sounds give the body a kind of rhythm which, through the vibrations, is turned on to a point that studious already accept that the sound used in capoeira stimulates conscious and unconscious reactions of strength in the capoeira player. The player gives up his body and mind to that sound with great psychological interpretation and body expression. Together, they get a fascinating result, where music is a fundamental part of the whole struggle.
The music brings to a round of capoeira a lot of psychological strength, a gathering of those who take part in it. From that union, the strength of thought of each one brings a strong and thrilling emotion to that round. On the other hand, a same round of capoeira without rhythm or sound doesn’t have the same motivation, leaving its participators less exited and even distracted.
Most of the lyrics are very simple, telling stories about slaves, about “senzalas”, about the oppressed freedom… but if they are interpreted with the feeling they express, many of them bring some or a lot of emotion to the one who sings and to those who listen.