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

Slave Resistance

Within the art form itself it is widely believed that capoeira was first performed by slaves within their slave quarters (senzalas) and during the times allotted for leisurely diversion. African slaves were grouped according to their disparity of origins. That is, Africans of the same origins were kept apart to inhibit mutual understanding and limit the chance of revolt. The one area of mutual intelligibility would be that of music, religion and dance, which in the African context are inseparable This may go some way in explaining the syncretic nature of capoeira, for while has not been proved as being from any distinct part of Africa it is avowedly African. The study of fighting arts would have naturally been banned, proficiency in fighting would have been seen as dubious quality for a captive workforce. The precise African origins are unknown as no capoeira has been found on the African sub-continent except that which has been brought directly from Brazil in recent years. The instruments (the atubaque, pandeiro, rêco-rêco, agogô and berimbau) can be more eaily traced to precise areas and the actual style of physical interaction bears structural similarities to other Afro-Brazilian cultural manifestations like candomblé and samba.

Fleeing slaves formed fugitive settlements called quilombos, the largest and most successful) of these was a network of individual villages called Palmares, it survived repeated attack for over seventy years until it finally fell in 1695. Both the settlement itself and its most famed leader, Zumbi are icons in capoeira philosophy and history. Here capoeira is said to have helped Palmares resist repeated invasion in its form as a type of guerrilla jungle combat. This theory helps to explain both the survival of Palmares and the subsequent dispersal of capoeira throughout the country in later years, as having come from a central point where its martial format had been largely defined by necessity. The quilombo/senzala theory is not based on any written historical material, yet it is so widely believed that many books report it as matter of fact. It is important in the way it posits capoeira membership: at this point we have a syncretic, pan-African, cultural manifestation which has practical use as a martial-art. It exists solely within the Afro-Brazilian community as a type of dance/game, moreover, its religious and spiritual undertones are celebratory both of the art itself and the community which engendered it.

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