The History Of Capoeira

What is Capoeira

Capoeira (Portuguese pronunciation: [kapuˈejɾɐ / kapwˈɐjɾɐ]) is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance,
acrobatics and music. It was developed in Brazil mainly by Angolans, at the beginning of the 16th century.
It is known for its quick and complex maneuvers, predominantly using powerspeed,
and leverage across a wide variety of kicksspins and other techniques.

The most widely accepted origin of the word capoeira comes from the Tupi words ka’a (“jungle“) e pûer (“it was”)[citation needed],
referring to the areas of low vegetation in the Brazilian interior where fugitive slaves would hide.
A practitioner of the art is called a capoeirista (Portuguese pronunciation: [kapuejˈɾistɐ]).

On 26 November 2014 capoeira was granted a special protected status as “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO.

Capoeira History in Africa

One possibility is that capoeira history is older than the arrival of the slaves in Brazil and had already been developed in Africa by the time they got there. It could be that it was already a part of the culture from one of a number of possible African regions and was brought over with the slaves that began arriving in around 1500 AD.

According to Portuguese scholar Albano de Neves e Souza;

Among the Mucupe in Southern Angola, there is a zebra dance, the n’golo….The n’golo is capoeira.


Brazil as the birth place for capoeira history is also brought into question by African scholar Dr K. Kia Bunseki Fu-Kia, who believes it has its origins in the Congo. He stated in 1993;


“Kipura, in the Congo cultural context, is….an individual whose techniques of fight or struggle are based or developed on the ground of rooster’s fighting techniques”.

The History of Capoeira – Brazil

The fact that the capoeira fighter sprang up in different parts of Brazil around the time the slaves arrived with apparently no connection between captives in different regions seems to support the African roots theory. However a more popular view is that the martial art began in Brazil.

Professor of Journalism Augusto Ferreira believes capoeira moves were first developed as fighting techniques by runaway slaves in order to defend themselves. Tens of thousands of them escaped forming thousands of hidden societies known as quilombos (settlements) and this, according to Ferreira, was were capoeira was dveloped.

Alternatively, some believe the history of fighting in the capoeira style came from urban areas of Brazil and was originally a game played by slaves at market. Prominent Brazilian linguist Antenor Nascentes believes that slaves carrying baskets of chickens on their heads formed the game as the word they used for basket was capoeiras. Nascentes stated;

“The slaves….would enjoy themselves by playing the game of capoeira. As a metonymy res pro persona, the name of the thing was passed on to the person related with it”.