Capoeira originates from Brazil but is considered Afro-Brazilian due to its connection with the African culture through slavery. In the 16th century when Portuguese settlers reached Brazil, they required a huge workforce to make use of its rich resources. Therefore, their main aim was to suppress Brazilian Indians in order to use them as slaves. However, this did not all go to plan as the natives either escaped or died in captivity. The Portuguese next plan was to import slaves over from Africa. The African slaves were comprised of three different backgrounds and it is believed by some that it was the Bantu group from Angola who formed what is now known as Capoeira.
In the 17th century when the Dutch controlled certain parts of Brazil, they had several large disputes with the Portuguese and the slaves saw this as their chance to escape, which some of them managed to do. They then settled in small self sufficient quilombos (villages) deep in the Brazilian forests where they could live in peace away from their oppressors. However, the quilombos did not remain a secret for long, and the liberated Africans had to constantly defend themselves from attacks. It is believed that some capoeira evolved from this and was used as a form of self defence.
Capoeira was outlawed in the late 19th century by King Dom Joao VI who had recently arrived in Brazil. He believed that if he wanted to conquer the Africans he must first destroy their culture and sense of community. It is believed that in order to overcome this law, the African slaves developed their fighting style and disguised it as a dance so that the slave owners would be completely oblivious to the fact that the slaves were actually training for combat.
In 1888, when the Golden Law was passed, slavery was officially abolished in Brazil. As a result, many slaves were homeless and had support from the government or didn’t have a job to earn a living, turning to petty crime to survive. Therefore, capoeira practiced by these people was associated with thieves and criminals, leading to its ban. Although capoeiristas were even being punished when caught playing capoeira, the art continued to grow as an illegal practice.
During the 1930’s Capoeira was to under go several notable changes. Firstly capoeira was recognised as an actual sport/martial art by the Brazilian government. It was then that the first capoeira academy was set up in Salvador, where capoeira ‘Regional’ was taught. Capoeira ‘Regional’ was created in reaction to the sloppy street Capoeira of the twenties by the legendary Mestre Bimba and is a style of capoeira that emphasizes on the fighting aspects of the art. Mestre Bimba wanted to legitimize Capoeira as a form of self-defence and an athletic game, improving the technical quality of movements and creating training sequences which were a lot faster and more aggressive than the original Angola style. This more traditional style of capoeira was officially taught by Mestre Pastinha a few years later.
By 1941 there were schools teaching either Angola or Regional, or even both, all over Brazil. Then in 1974, capoeira had become so popular that Brazil claimed it as its national sport.
During the last decades, capoeira is becoming increasingly popular, as it is a lot more accessible to literally anyone in the world through the internet and television. Since the 1970s, Mestres have helped capoeira spread by travelling abroad and opening academies all over the world, making it one of the fastest growing martial arts.