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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Capoeira party

My daughter is a dedicated Capoeira player (she’s at University in Manchester, UK) and I’m packing my bags to go and see her perform on Saturday night at a Capoeira party.

Capoiera is a Brazilian art/sport that combines movement, gymnastics, music, and a practical philosophy. The jogo (game) is a ritualized combat with two people in movements of attack and defence and little (or no) physical contact. The rhythms of the berimbau determine the speed and movements of the game.

I’m intrigued by Capoeira, not just because of the movements and the music, but because of the way it does its learning/teaching. In fact one of these days I’m going to write about it through a Communities of Practice lens. I think the two are sisters!

Capoeira has an interesting story (as told by my daughter). When there were no longer enough native Brazilian Indians for slaves in the 16th century the Portuguese settlers started importing slaves from Angola (mostly Bantu people). Many of the slaves escaped and hid in the quilombos (villages) although they had to defend themselves against the Portuguese (and the Dutch). It’s believed that Capoiera evolved from these Bantu groups of Angola in their self-defence.

However, in the 19th century, King Dom João VI (one of the members of the Portuguese royal family helped to Brazil by the British in 1807 when Napoleon threatened to invade Portugal) outlawed capoiera in order to destroy the slaves’ African culture and sense of community. The slaves apparently developed their fighting style by disguising it as a dance so that their owners didn’t know they were training for combat.

It was only in the ‘30’s that it was made legal. An academy was started (by Mestre Bimba) who presented it to the authorities as a disciplined martial art. He also formed a new style – Capoeira Regional (you pronounce "regional" as heh-jo-now!). Capoiera Angola is less acrobatic and slower. In fact each school and each Mestre develops their own style.

If you haven’t heard of Capoeira before, don’t worry there’ll be one near you soon! Capoiera schools are sprouting up all over the place, creating work for a number of dynamic and entrepreneurial Capoiera players whose knowledge and energy might otherwise be lost working in bars or serving at tables.


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