Capoeira is an abstract and bewildering street fighting art that is also simultaneously a beautiful, acrobatic, African-Brazilian dance / fight. It is an African retention in the Americas that has danced through slavery from the Europeans, and the social, cultural, political and economic repressions of modern times. A Capoeira fights up side down, standing on his feet, on the ground, in the air, giving out the most unusual and unexpected blows to his adversary! It was brought over to Brazil from Angola Africa in the early 1500’s, during the infamous slave era. In Angola it was called “Ngolo” (Zebra dance / fight), and used in wedding rituals. When the Whites discovered that some of the African slaves practiced this art, they quickly forbade its practice, for fear that Capoeira would spread throughout the entire slave population and cause slave revolts. The Africans countered this law by disguising Capoeira as a dance, and for some time practiced this art right in front of their captors, who dismissed it as a harmless, primitive, African dance! Capoeira spread in spite of the restrictions and man bloody revolts that followed. Capoeira went underground during, and many years after slavery. Capoeira was the “anti-social stigma”, to the Euro-Brazilians for hundreds of years, until 1920, when the government began to gradually give legal sanction to this “secret fighting art of the Blacks”, with the understanding that it be taught as a dance! Today, Capoeira is the National sport / dance of Brazil, second only to “Foot Ball” (Soccer), in popularity!
RESEARCH OF CAPOEIRA IN RIO DE JANEIRO XIX – XX CENTURY
(A demonstration of the fact Capoeira continued to exist in the city of Rio de Janeiro instead of the myth that it was wiped out by police repression of the Republic)
1) CHRONOLOGY OF IMPORTANT FACTS
2) FIRST HALF OF XIX CENTURY
3) SECOND HALF OF THE XIX CENTURY
4) FIRST HALF OF THE XX CENTURY
Chronology of Important Facts:
1808 Dom Joao VI and his royal court who were fleeing Napoléon Bonaparte’s invasion of Portugal arrived in Brazil. His arrival wan pivotal in initiating the repression of Capoeira.
1810 – 1821, 4853 were imprisoned in Rio de Janeiro and of these 438 9950vwere accused of practicing Capoeira.
1821 A letter from the “Military Commission of Rio de Janeiro to the “War Ministry”, complained of Capoeira negroes arrested by the military school for disorderly conduct” also “there have been six deaths attributed to the before mentioned Capoeiras as well as several knife injuries.”
1824 It is interesting to note the strategy, philosophy and tactics of Capoeira in this era. The German artist Rugendas described the Capoeira of this era in “Voyage Picturesque et Historique dans le Bresil, Published by Eagleman & Company, 1824”:
The Negroes have yet another war-like past-time, which is much more violent…. Capoeira: two champions throw themselves at each other, trying to strike their heads at the chest of the adversary whom they are trying to knock over. The attack is avoided with leaps to the sides and with stationary maneuvers which are equally as skillful, but in launching themselves at each other it so happens that they strike their heads together with great force, and it is not rare that the game degenerated into a fight, causing knives to be brought into the picture, and bloodying the sport.
As you read on, it will become apparent that in the Capoeira of this era Headbutting was the principal strategy used even more than kicking. Another difference found in the Capoeira of the past is seen in Rugenda’s famous drawing “Capuera, danse de la guere” you will immediately notice the absence of the Birimbau and simply the presence of drums. This is consistent with the descriptions of Capoeira given to by Angolan nationals in which they state to me that Capoeira is done to drums in Angola.
1800 – 1830’s According to “Carlos Eugenio Libano Soares Op. Cit. P. 48 – 51” he explains that 7% of the prisoners “for Capoeira” or “playing Capoeira” were Africans. In a total of 316 Capoeira prisoners 91% of them were slaves and of these the majority were from Central Africa.
-SECOND HALF OF THE XIX CENTURY-
1800 – 1850 The majority of the Capoeiras encountered were from the slave populations. Groups of Capoeiras were formed of Africans of diverse ethnic groups specifically: Cambinda, Calabar, Bengulela, Cabanda, Rebolo, and Mina, according to “Carlos Eugenio Libano Soares (1998) Op. Cit. P. 493”.
After watching my group, Os Malandros de Mestre Touro, perform Capoeira Angola de Sao Bento Grande many Angolan nationals would inform me of two ethnic groups that perform this dance in Angola. The names that I was told were Cambindas and Mazingas.
1852 – 1858 The historical facts of “Ver Thomas H. Holloway Op. P. 134” shows that of “81 Capoeira prisoners in Calabouco, 66 (81.5%) were lashed with a whip an average of 81 lashes per prisoner and two received palmatoadas with an average of 42 strikes each.
1850 The organization of Capoeiras into “Maltas” began in the second half of the XIX century.
Capoeira songs were a part of the ritual conflict of the Maltas. The thematic content of their of their songs demonstrated the various styles of maladragem.
1888 Slavery was abolished.
1889 The Monarchy fell and the repression of Capoeira by the Republic began.
1890 The transition from the Monarchy to the Brazilian Republic continued. Maltas were utilized by both the Republic to physically intimidate opposing sides during political rallies and even assassinate members of the opposing side. Sticks, navalhas, facao, and Capoeira were utilized to facilitate this mayhem.
April 1890 The elite of the new Republic wanted to clean up the city of Rio de Janeiro. In order to clean up the cities image and to elevate it to the status of a European city like “Paris”, and in this process of cleaning up Rio de Janeiro it would be necessary to erase the social stigma of Capoeira. The intellectual Republican, Antonio Rodriguez de Morais said in reference to the “social problem of vagrants, beggars, prostitutes, friars, all the religious caste and the Capoeiras”, he would like to send them all to “Central Africa”.
Dr. Joao Batista Sampaio Ferraz was the first Chief of Police in the new Republic. He vigorously went after the Monarchy, and everything that was a part of the Monarchy, especially the “Black Guard” (the armed forces). The Black Guard consisted primarily of Capoeiras, such as the important contingent, “Flor da Gente” of the “Nagoas Malta”.
From the very beginning of the Republic, Sampaio Ferraz had taken it upon himself to repress the Capoeira culture by arresting hundreds of Capoeiras. At the height of this repression, the Republic formed Article 402 of the penal code. This was only the beginning of an ongoing legal assault of the Capoeiras by the Republic.
Many Capoeiras were being arrested under the Vagrancy laws of Articles 399 and 400 (which dealt with repeat offenders). Articles 399 and 400 were clearly ineffective in legally eradicating the Capoeira problem, because although the Capoeiras were socially lumped together with vagrants many had legal means of earning money, and therefore by definition were not vagrants. A more specific law was needed to target the Capoeiras, and thus Articles 402 and 403 were instituted with haste.
Article 402 officially criminalized Capoeira. Its criminalized exercising in public, displays of agility, flexibility, known by the name of Capoeiragem, or walking in formation and being found with any weapons, in effect, knives, straight razors and sticks. All of which were parts of the tools of the trade, if you will, of Capoeira characteristic of this era. The punishment for this crime was 2 -6 months is a prison cell. In the event that it was determined that one was a Chief of a Malta one would receive double the punishment.
Article 403 in the case of a repeat offender of Article 402 the punishment would increase in severity. Instead of 2 -6 months in a prison cell, a Capoeira would receive 1 – 3 years in a penal colony on an Island or on the outskirts of the country. In the case of foreigner. He would be immediately deported after serving time of incarceration.
FIRST HALF OF THE XX CENTURY
1900 Capoeira had become synonymous with a “Malandro”: one adept in the use of Cabecadas, Rasteiras, Golpes, Facao and Navalha.
There were sentences against Capoeiristas until 1935. The percentage of total Capoeira arrest:
1890 – 1900 2% Beginning of the Republican repression
1901 – 1910 57%
1911 -1920 38%
1931 – 1937 8% It’s the end of the Republican repression
These numbers demonstrate the continued repression of the Capoeiras in the city of Rio de Janeiro in the first half of the twentieth century. It also points to the continuation of the Maltas during the long period of the Republican era.
Many court sentences confirmed the presence of Maltas of Capoeiras at least until thirty years into the twentieth century (the 1930’sf) in the suburbs of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Forty percent of the sentenced prisoners were characterized as belonging to a Malta or were brought to prison in groups. An important statistical fact is that the age range of the sentenced proves the possibility of many prisoners having lived / experienced the cultural practices of the Capoeira Maltas of the nineteenth century and sharing / passing on the cultural wealth.
59% Between 21 – 30 years old
15% Between 15 -20 years old
14% Between 31 – 40 years old
6% Between 41 – 50 years old
1% Between 51 – 60 years old
One can clearly see Capoeira was not exterminated in the city of Rio de Janeiro. It evolved, in spite of the social and political repression of the government. This war like form of Capoeira is responsible for the martial flavor and style of play that is typical of Capoeira in Rio de Janeiro of today. One style that clearly reflects the historical evolution of this great Brazilian martial art, is that of Capoeira Angola de Sao Bento Grande, headed by Master of Masters Mestre Touro. Standing firm in its defense of the true origins and development of the varied form of Capoeira in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Master of Masters Mestre Touro continues in the Malta tradition of keeping Capoeira alive in the marginalized communities of Rio de Janeiro and in the United States of America.