The science of the art of capoeira


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The Formation of Capoeira Identity Throughout the Ages

  by Andrew C Eadie, Kings College London, 2003

Capoeira today

For the purposes of the reader we must first come to a brief description of what capoeira is today. This is no easy task, as capoeira by its very definition defies easy categorisation. It takes its physical form as follows: a ring is formed by participants called a roda, at the head of the ring, forming a straight line remain participants who’s job it is to play musical instruments and lead the singing. We find the individual who controls the event usually in the centre of this line, normally this is a master or a teacher, if neither is available then it would be the most experienced and respected capoeirista present at that time. He holds the lead berimbau (mono-chordal musical bow) and the other musicians, on the pandeiro (tambourine), ręco-ręco (wood scraper), agogô (cowbell) and atabaque (samba drum), follow his lead. The game of capoeira takes place within this ring, or roda for an unspecified amount of time; most last around three to five minutes but it can be a lot longer depending on a variety of factors, such as the skill level of the players or the number of participants present. The two players engaged in dance-like physical play perform acrobatic kicks and defences which often take the form of difficult contortions and leaps, these are performed at a pace defined by the musicians and one of a variety of styles of play can be denoted by a particular rhythm. The nature of play is of a physical dialogue, questions are presented in the form of attacks and initiate a response along the lines of a dodge, counter-attack or a combination both. A roda is also the name given to the entire event and a single roda, wherein there are several games is staged with the intention that everyone should take at least one turn at physical play. A roda may last anywhere between half an hour to several hours, some events are now famed for staging twenty-four hour rodas, but these are the exception and not the rule. All participants take turns playing inside the ring, singing as part of the circle and playing an instrument, those involved are known as capoeiristas and to be denominated thus they must be thoroughly engaged in the long-term process of mastering all three aspects of capoeira. There is a fourth aspect, history. Regardless of academic interest or ability, all students are required to study the philosophy and history of capoeira, as passed to them through their master or teacher.

It is important to realise that the description I have just laid before the reader is that of the capoeira which we find practised today. Capoeira, throughout its history has taken different forms. Part of this essay is to define what these forms were or what they are believed to have been and how they relate to the capoeira we find today. There are many theories about the earliest forms of capoeira. Much of capoeiras early history is derived from the experience of capoeira in its later format as the game I described above. Theories are expounded that help us to understand why capoeira exists in this form and these theories are subsequently relied upon to limit or further allow its development. Important clues, if not explanations, as to capoeira's origins are contained within its oral history, this being preserved within the music that is sung at rodas. Given the length and scope of this thesis I will not be entering into a profound study on all the various, often contradicitng histories of capoeira. Instead I will stick to those versions most widely reported (but not universally accepted) by a variety of authors, among them respected capoeira masters like Bira Almeida (Mestre Acordeon), Jair Moura and Nestor Capoeira.

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