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Capoeira Argola de Ouro Singapore
History of Capoeira
Prospects of Capoeira in the Age of Globalization
by Luiz Renato Vieira

Capoeira is a manifestation of Brazilian culture that bears very peculiar features: it is a blend of fight, game and dance executed to the sound of musical instruments, claps and chanting. Aside from being an exceptional self-defense and fitness system, capoeira stands out among the sports range for being the sole one founded on Brazilian cultural traditions. For all this, capoeira is gaining ever more ground in schools and universities in Brazil and worldwide.

There is great controversy with regard to the history of capoeira, particularly in reference to the period comprising its birth - likely in the 17th century - and the 19th century, when reliable records appear bearing descriptions in more detail of this cultural expression.

One of the discussions that most captivated the scholars addressing the art-fight revolved around this question: Was capoeira born in Africa or in Brazil? Presently, this is considered a matter already settled, since the vast majority of authors that write on the history of capoeira agree with the hypothesis that it would have been created in Brazil by the African negroes brought by the Portuguese from the beginnings of colonization for slave labour in plantations, livestock-rearing, mining and urban activities.
Although it has been sufficiently clarified that capoeira is a Brazilian martial art, it is necessary to consider it as part of the constant dynamics of the Afro-Brazilian culture. Thus, capoeira arose from a set of pre-existing aspects in the cultures of the African communities (rituals, dances, games and musical culture).

The appearance of capoeira must be thought of, in a certain way, as in the very martial arts traditional of the Orient that are the philosophical expressions of their creator peoples and that are integrated with other facets of social life, such as religion and work.

It is thus that we must understand that question: Capoeira arose in Brazil as a resistance fight of a community that brought an immense cultural baggage from its original land and that needed to develop a set of attack and defense techniques by virtue of the situation of oppression that it experienced during slavery. Further still, we must deem capoeira a part of the entire process of resistance by slaves in Brazil that also expressed itself in religion, arts, cuisine, etc. In other words: it was necessary for the slaves to not just remain alive and fight for their freedom, but also to preserve aspects of their ancestral culture.

Gradually, capoeira managed to overcome prejudices and become a martial art acknowledged all over Brazil. It came to be employed at schools and universities as an instrument toward educating on, and the treasuring of, popular culture. Throughout the 20th century, capoeira conquered many spaces and, from the 1980's, the process of publicizing it in other countries intensified. Capoeira, with its music and aesthetic wealth, came to be known worldwide as one of the principal symbols of Brazilian culture. The fact of its being at the same time a form of fight, body evolutions and a sport of acrobatic characteristics practiced to the sound of musical instruments confers to capoeira an enormous potential to be explored in the formal and informal educational processes. One of the main tasks of the researchers into capoeira nowadays consists of analyzing the educational potentials of capoeira, bearing in mind its insertion in distinct societies and cultures.

Great, in fact, are the challenges placed before the international expansion of capoeira. Indeed, as it becomes recognised internationally as a sport and an important instrument in the educational process, there arises the possibility of occurrence of modifications in its features. The question that poses itself is related to the possibility of adapting capoeira to the countries in which it is accepted and practiced, preserving, at the same time, that which defines it as a fight born from resistance by slaves in Brazil. We grasp that this historical linkage and this cultural reference should not be lost.

Indeed, although capoeira is a martial art of much aesthetic and beauty, it is not just that. Its richness is found precisely there where the spectator does not see at first instance: in the traditions, in the respect toward the figure of the Master, in the rituals, in the music and in its historical memory.

The challenge of the master of capoeira acting outside Brazil is, precisely, to build paths toward incorporation of capoeira into the sport and education scene of the country in which he is, but always preserving the most important features, so that the Brazilian martial art may, ever more, consolidate itself as an important cultural expression in a globalised world.

About the writer:
Luiz Renato Vieira is a master of capoeira of the Group Beribazu, trained with Master Zulu. As a sociologist, he is also one of the pioneers of academic studies of Capoeira in Brazil and, in the last few years, has carried out research on public policies directed toward the use of capoeira as an educational instrument and social integration activity. He has a PhD from the university of Paris - Sorbonne and is a Legislative Consultant at the Federal Senate, in Brasilia, Brazil.