Capoeira: From Slavery to Sport

August 11, 2016



What first attracted me to capoeira were the unique movements, the fast kicks, the music, and the smiles I saw on people’s faces when playing in the roda. 


Soon after taking my first class, I was exposed to the fact that capoeira also has a rich and deep history full of war, romance, heroes and villains, treaties and betrayals.


So how did capoeira begin with slavery in Brazil and end up here in the US and around the world as a sport?  There are many scholars in and outside of capoeira that have devoted whole careers to trying to explain this.  For me, the link lies mainly with one person, Mestre Bimba.





Mestre Bimba was a stevedor (dockworker) in Salvador Bahia in the early to mid 1900s. He was the first person to have a vision of capoeira outside of Brazil. He was also the first to do many things including: first person to teach capoeira in an acadamia, was responsible for legalizing capoeira in the 1940s (capoeira was illegal up to this point. Crazy!!), first mestre to use a curriculum and give ranks, first mestre to play the berimbau for the President of Brazil, first capoeirista to go undefeated in free-fighting matches in Brazil, the list goes on and on.  If you would like to learn more about the life of Mestre Bimba, I highly recommend the book “The Saga of Mestre Bimba.”


While Mestre Bimba was a figure that forever changed the course of Capoeira, as mentioned above, there is much more to the history of our wonderful art.  An article like this couldn’t begin to scratch the surface.  I wanted to write this more to get you excited and eager to learn more. 


Even if you don’t have time to research books to read, here are some key words you can Google to start immersing yourself in these wonderful stories (in no particular order); Quilombo dos Palmares, Dona Isabel, Mestre Pastinha, Besouro Preto, Mestre Jelon, Bantu, Nago, Uruba, Golden Law, year of 1888 in Brazil, sugar cane plantations, Children’s War (3 borders war), Parana River, Mercado Modelo, Lagoa do Abaete, Pelorinho, berimbau, and atabaque. 


There are a ton more key words I could give but this should get you started!





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