What is Capoeira?

Capoeira is a dynamic dance, game, and sport wrapped up in one remarkable Brazilian art form! It involves amazing acrobatics, beautiful movements, soulful singing, pounding music, and a magical interaction and communication between the dancers, the musicians, and the audience.
Capoeira was once a slave ritual practiced by African descendants in the sugar cane fields and plantations of Brazil. These days it can be seen in Hollywood movies, in music video clips, and on television sets and personal computers in every home in every country.

What does “capoeira” mean?

The derivation of the word “capoeira” is under dispute, as there are several possibilities:

The Portuguese word “capoeira” derives from the word capão, which translates as capon, a castrated rooster. The sport’s name may originate from this word since its moves resemble those of a rooster in a fight. “Capoeira” has several meanings, including any kind of pen where poultry is kept, a fowl similar to a partridge, and a basket worn on the head by soldiers defending a stronghold. “Capoeira” is also what people used to call a black inlander who mugged travellers.
Afro-Brazilian scholar Carlos Eugenio has suggested that the sport took its name from a large round basket called a capa commonly worn on the head by urban slaves selling wares.
The word could derive from two Tupi-Guarani words, [CAA] (“down, little”) and [PUOÊRA] (“grass”), referring to an area of forest that has been cleared by burning or cutting down. [CAÃ][PUOERA] was also a place used by fugitive slaves to attack slave transports.
Kongo scholar K. Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau has posited that “capoeira” could be derived from the Kikongo word kipura, a term used to describe a rooster’s movements in a fight and meaning to flutter, flit from place to place, struggle, fight, or flog.

Capoeira’s History


During the 1500s, Portugal shipped slaves into South America from Western Africa. Brazil was the largest contributor to slave migration with 42% of all slaves shipped across the Atlantic. These people brought their cultural traditions and religion with them to the New World. The homogenization of the African people under the oppression of slavery was the catalyst for capoeira. Capoeira was developed by the slaves of Brazil as a way to resist their oppressors, secretly practice their art, transmit their culture, and lift their spirits. Some historians believe that the indigenous peoples of Brazil also played an important role in the development of capoeira.

After slavery was abolished, the slaves moved to the cities of Brazil, and with no employment to be found, many joined or formed criminal gangs. They continued to practice capoeira, and it became associated with anti-government or criminal activities. As a result, capoeira was outlawed in Brazil in 1892. The punishment for practicing it was extreme, and the police were vicious in their attempt to stamp out the art. Capoeira continued to be practiced, but it moved further underground. Capoeira has become free of the bad image attributed to it up till the 1930s when the ban on capoeira in Brazil was officially lifted. It is now practiced in universities, dance schools, primary and high schools, in gyms, on the beaches and the streets across the globe. Capoeira has acquired prestige and admiration, and can now be seen in major Hollywood movies, and on television sets and personal computers in every home.

In the time of the slaves, capoeira was an instrument of resistance, today it is a vehicle of social change. Due to its democratic character, everybody is treated the same and nevertheless everyone’s differences are respected. The poor plays with the rich, the white learns with the black, the child listens to the Master and vice-versa. Capoeira also teaches respect for our peers, our juniors, and our seniors.

Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha