Capoeira is a martial art that began in Brazil by African slaves during the Colonial period. Brazil was the most common destination for slaves to be sent to from the 16th to 19th century. A whopping 42% of all slaves were sent to Brazil.
In addition to bringing their cultural traditions with them, these slaves brought sadness and oppression. Enslaved and broken, they founded Capoeira which translates to the idea of fight-dances. These fight-dances would take place in a circle or “roda” and the participants would play music, sing and perform sparring in pairs in the center of the circle. Practitioners of the art were called “capoeiristas.” Music was an integral part of their martial art. They practiced their martial art in open spaces with plenty of escape routes in case the police attempted to capture them.
For the African slaves, this was a way to fight their oppressors and uplift their spirits. Similar to this martial art are the Batuque and Maculelę, which are also fight-dances introduced by slaves. Some even consider these forms of Capoeira. The capoeiristas were considered dangerous and anti-government outlaws. As a result, Capoeira was outlawed in Brazil in 1890. If anyone was caught practicing the artistic martial art, they were to have the tendons on the back of their feet cut.
After slavery was abolished, many slaves joined gangs and participated in illegal activities because they couldn’t find jobs. Police were fierce in attempt to stop the crimes and put an end to the martial art fight-dancing, as they believed it played a large part in the slave’s unethical behavior. Nevertheless, this did not keep the slaves from practicing their art - they just took it further underground.
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