South America

Capoeira (Brazil)

Name of sport (game)


Name in native language

Place of practice (continent, state, nation)



Caption, jogar capoera ou danse de la guerre (capoeira play or war dance); men and women onlookers; drummer on right. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial arts-dance form whose origins are obscure: it may have originated in Africa or in the slave quarters of Brazilian plantations. In any case, it is a uniquely Brazilian practice, and the term can signify an individual who engages in the athletic pastime of the same name, in which the participant armed with a razor or a knife, with rapid and characteristic gestures goes through the motion of criminal acts (translators note in Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves [New York, 1956], p. 48, note 120). A more recent view and detailed analysis stresses The capoeiras organized public contests for entertainment. They played capoeira in military and religious processions and scorned and derided public officials. Their performance was accompanied by music, dance, and interaction with the spectators. Although public officials attempted to brand the capoeiras as dangerous and violent hoodlums,the masses admired and respected the performers (Maya Talmon-Chvaicer, The Criminalization of Capoeira in Nineteenth-Century Brazil, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 8 (2002), p. 525).

Capoeira is a martial art that developed from combat games enslaved Africans brought to Brazil. It is systematically documented since the beginning of the 19th century in Rio de Janeiro and later in other port cities. During the 19th century capoeira was increasingly practiced by the poor free people, black and of mixed ancestry, and also by white immigrants. Capoeira gangs controlled their territories against intruders and allied with political parties until the Republican purge of 1890. Capoeira survived best in Bahia, where it remained more associated with other forms of Afro-Brazilian culture and acquired many of its features still extant in present-day capoeira. From the 1930s onward, capoeira masters such as Bimba and Pastinha modernized capoeira, leading to the emergence of the Regional and Angola styles. Bahian capoeiristas migrated to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in search of better opportunities during the 1950–1970s. There they and their students developed what later became known as “Contemporary capoeira” (Capoeira Contemporânea) which is the most practiced style today. Capoeira was and is practiced in various ways: as a friendly game or as a fight, as a combat sport, or as an Afro-Brazilian cultural activity. Since the 1980s, capoeira has undergone a process of globalization and is now practiced in many countries around the world. Capoeira is the only martial art of the African Diaspora that is known and practiced worldwide.

Playing Capoeira or Danse de la Guerre, by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1835

Jogar Capoeira ou Danse de la Guerre de Johann Moritz Rugendas de 1835


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