ABOUT: A Brief
reading this, I know it may sound impossible to do a brief history of
Capoeira, but I will try my best.
There are many variations to the history of Capoeira, and depending
on who you hear it from or what group/style you belong to, the history
that you are taught may be very different from the one that another
person speaks of. That is why I am going to try to expose all angles
and variations of the different beliefs. If you are not sure about anything,
or want conformation on anything, please speak to your Mestre or Professor,
as I do not want to interfere with their teaching.
When Brazil was settled by the Portugese in 1500, they transported hundreds
of African slaves to the Bahian coast to serve the settlers and work
the land. They brought with them their culture and some believe they
brought Capoeira with them. The majority of Capoeiristas, however, believe
that when they arrived to work in this new settlement, they had a natural
distain and rebellion against the fact that they were enslaved. As a
form of entertainment during their spare time, and also, many believe,
as a form of rebellion, groups of African slaves would meet and perform
and play in an early form of Capoeira. Some believe that it was purely
for reasons of pride that the slaves practised, while other believe
there was an underlying motive to escape and rebel using this form of
The latter motive is believed to have eventuated into incidents where
bands of slaves fought against their slave masters and thus escaped
into the surrounding jungle. It is believed by some that the guards
and slave-masters did not pursue the slaves, and if they did, the dense
jungle hide them well. It is here that many believe escaped slaves fled
to and thus developed a settlement of their own, known to some as Palmares.
When the practise of Capoeira was banned in 1814, and eventually outlawed
in 1892, it of course did not stop. There were many violent games in
Rio de Janiero and Recife, but there were also a more ritualised-dance-fight-game
practised in Bahia, as other cultural aspects influenced Capoeira there.
It the latter case, it is believed that to hide the games, the movements
were low to the ground, were the grass could hide the players, and many
moves were incorporated so that the hands were hardly used, because
of the regular practise of tying slaves hands behind their backs. If
they were discovered more playful and dance-like movements were added
to cover the nature of the game. The berimbau rythmn would change and
the players would be thus warned of the approaching persons.
Mestre Bimba, was born Manoel dos Reis Machado in 1900. He was initiated
into Capoeira at the age of twelve, and in the 1930s he started teaching
a faster, more aggressive form of Capoeira ("the regional fight
from Bahia") to the children of the upper class citizens. With
the opening of his academy, a new era for Capoeira began. He introduced
many new moves and sequences, and some believe he thus sacrificed the
rituals and "game" aspects. This style was named Capoeira
Regional with the more traditional style being named Capoeira Angola.
Mestre Bimba died in bizarre circumstances, with his body found on Feb
5th 1974, but with Bimba being very lucid and active up until his death,
it remains unexplained.
During the time that Capoeira Regional was at its popularity peak, true
Capoeira Angola style was in steep decline. Mestre Pastinha's (b. Vincente
Ferreira Pastinha, 1889) school was really the only one which retained
the 'traditional' values of Capoeira. He trained many students, and
was well respected. Sadly, his class space was confiscated by the government,
and he died while blind and almost abandoned in 1981, aged 92.
Both Mestres gave their lives to Capoeira and both are equally important.
Mestre Bimba allowed Capoeira to blend into mainstream martial arts
and to be even respected to a certain degree by the upper class, and
no doubt this helped lead it to be accepted by society. Mestre Pastinha
held onto the form of early 'traditional' Capoeira, and also to bring
it to light and he trained many students close to perfection.So there
you have it... a brief history of Capoeira. Trust me, it can go a whole
lot deeper than this, so please keep that in mind before you start asking
me about holes in this version. If I missed something, then it may well
be because if I started down that line, we would be here for ages.
Once again, if you want to know more, or are confused, please dont email
me. Ask your friendly local Capoeira Mestre or Professor, and believe
what they tell you. This is what I have been told by various Mestres,
but to write all of each version down would just take too long. I hope
this has been of some help!