The Origins of Capoeira in Brazil

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

The dance of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art that combines elements of dance and martial art, has its origins in the country of Brazil, although it must be stressed that these origins are shrouded in mystery. Once an activity outlawed and persecuted by Brazilian authorities, many Brazilians now consider Capoeira a fundamental Afro-Brazilian contribution to the country’s cultural heritage. Specialists of this art have historically associated Capoeira with avant-garde arts, folklore groups, the military, the national government, leftist groups, private sporting academies, children’s fitness programs, and psychotherapy.

The dance or sport of Capoeira originated in a Brazil very much positioned, as many postcolonial states were, somewhere between the West and the rest of the world. This insinuates that the European part of Brazilian culture was influenced by traditions such as the Cartesian mind-body split, whereas the African attributes frequently seem to be demonstrating different forms of embodied engagement (Lewis, p.230). The sport developed in the northeast region of Brazil during slave times and was initially a mainly masculine genre, but nowadays women are ever more active as partakers, particularly in the large southern cities and in foreign countries.The origins of playing Capoeira represent an intensified mirror image on the practice of violence in everyday Brazilian life, or at least in the northeast region.

The lead instrument is a musical bow (known as a berimbau), which provides the fundamental beat for the physical interface, complemented by various sorts of choral singing in a call-and-response arrangement. The two players in the centre engage in a duel of mastery in which they try to take each other down while also moving gracefully and beautifully in time to the music.

In Capoeira, all the players involved keep their own balance, and in addition there is a class of strikes intended to unbalance the opponent. Significantly, these blows are known as desequilibrantes (otherwise known as ‘trips’). Such ‘trips’ are intended to unbalance rivals physically, to take them down, but like any move in Capoeira, the result can be psychic just as well. If one can make one’s rival livid or frightened, for example, that may be just as good as a physical takedown. Questionably a psychophysical harmony of the person is most important in Brazil, in particular among Afro-Brazilians, contrasting to the neo-Cartesian mind-body split that typically typify the commonsensical worlds of the Euro-Americas (Lewis, p.544).

Capoeira is practiced, learned, and used in varied perspectives, from folklore performances for tourists and physical education classes, to athletic competitions, and for self-defence.  The end result is an intricate performance art that takes many forms according to the setting, the occasion, and in recent times, even the country in which it is practiced.

Although the origins of Capoeira are not exactly clear, the dance, or sport or game, as it has been known throughout its history, the style is distinctive, powerful and bold, and continues to be influential on everyone who comes into contact with it. 


Lewis, J. Lowell (1999) Sex and Violence in Brazil: “Carnaval, Capoeira” and the Problem of Everyday Life, American Ethnologist, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Ethnologist.


About Author

Leave A Reply