A History of Capoeira Angola, Part 1

african-high-culture

Hello Everyone,

This is the 1st of a 2 part article about WHAT I BELIEVE is the birth and spread of Capoeira from west Africa to Brazil, and the rest of the world. The opinions expressed in this article are mine, and mine alone, based on research I’ve done on this subject.

First of all, I would like you all to watch this video.

Although the great Continent of Africa has it’s problems just like everywhere else, the fact is that many great ancient civilizations came from Africa, which in their day, and even to this day, were just as splendid and glorious as any other great civilization on the face of the earth. And, the people of africa and the african diaspora have made many contributions to the western world…

 

And, in the country of Brazil, one of those african contributions came to be known as… CAPOEIRA.

There is a HUGE debate about the origins of capoeira.

Click HERE if you want to watch this entire documentary.
 

…But I’ll share my thoughts about that, and why I think there’s a huge debate on another PAGE.

Right now, I just want to share my thoughts on Capoeira’s history.

 

Now personally, I liken the history and development of Capoeira to the development of another martial art called KAJUKENBO. Now in case you don’t know what Kajukenbo is, it’s an american hybrid martial art developed in 1947 in the palama settlement of Oahu, Hawaii. If you’re interested, you can read more about this style by clicking HERE.

Now although Kajukenbo is an “American” martial art, developed in response to the way violence happens in the U.S. of A, the techniques, fighting strategy, and even the UNIFORMS of this martial art are totally from ORIENTAL roots.

Well, I believe it’s the same for the “Brazilian” art of capoeira. Although it was developed in response to the way violence happens and has happened to people in BRAZIL, almost every single aspect of Capoeira, the techniques, the fighting strategy, the music, the way the songs are sung, the instruments, etc. ALL of them have deep AFRICAN roots.

Now of course there are some Native Brazilian and European influences as well, like the fact that the songs are sung in Portuguese (Even though there are MANY AFRICAN LYRICS as well), there is many references to Catholic saints (I’ll blog more about that on another PAGE), and they depict and celebrate the lives of the Brazilian people in general, and the Afro-Brazilian people in particular.

Think about it. Let’s say tat you’re an MBUNDU warrior from the african kingdom of NDONGO, and in battle, you had your fellow warriors with you, along with your traditional weapons…

 

and your enemies had much the same weapons as you, and looked like you…

 

But after say, a battle with an enemy tribe, you were captured and sold to the portuguese, and get sent to brazil, to a whole new environment.

Your enemies now looked totally different…

 

And they had TOTALLY different weapons…

 

And you’re for the most part alone, or with a small group of fellow warriors, and all you have to fight with is basically, anything you can get your hands on…

 

Then if you’re gonna have any chance of survival, your fighting tactics are gonna have to change.

The fighting style you and your fellow warriors end up developing will still be ROOTED in whatever Martial Art you and your ancestors created and learned in AFRICA, but it will have had input from other martial arts your fellow enslaved AFRICAN WARRIORS would have encountered, or been exposed to, and further changed and modified to suit YOUR needs, so you can effectively fight the enemies your forced to come up against.

 

I bet some of you out there are wondering, “Well, that’s nice in theory and all but, WHERE’S YOUR PROOF?”

Well…

There are some mestres who have gone to the country of angola in search of capoeira’s roots.  Mestre Cobra Mansa of FICA has made such a journey, and here’s 2 video clips of what he’s found there:

Click HERE if you would like to order a copy of the DVD of this documentary.

And, Here’s a modern demostration of engolo (N’golo) from  Angola:

Notice the spin kicks, headbutts, hand slaps and sweeps in Engolo and evasions now called Esquiva in Capoeira. Now anyone can see that although this isn’t capoeira, but you can also see where some of the strikes and fighting strategies in capoeira may have come from.

And, check out what this Congolese Capoeirista has to say about Capoeira’s history:

And, click HERE to read this fascinating article, written by Edward L. Powe about his research about the origins of Capoeira, which you can find more info about on his website, www.blacfoundation.org.

Now if you had a chance to look at that article, you’ll see that Mr. Powe mentioned in that article a martial art from the island of REUNION called MORINGUE. I’m not sure if he’s seen it or not, but with one quick You Tube search, you can find a number of videos showcasing this style.

Below, I made a small video playlist showing some of these videos.

Okay I admit it, I only posted this video because I love the song in it, but they are doing Moringue in it

..

Looks a lot like Capoeira, doesn’t it? Heck, in the 2nd video on the playlist above, you even see a BERIMBAU.

And click HERE to watch this video from T.J. Desch-Obi, where he talks about his book,  Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Art Traditions in the Atlantic World (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

And also, click on the title below to read this article from VICE SPORTS:

Fighting the Shackles of Slavery: ‘Kicking and Knocking’ in the Antebellum South

 And one more thing.

Capoeira is not the ONLY surviving Afro-Atlantic martial art practiced in North and South America. It’s just the most well known…

But we’ll cover that on another PAGE.

So, now that I’ve given you what I believe was the origin of Capoeira, here’s a some aspects of brazilian history, and capoeira’s place in it.

SLAVERY, AND RESISTANCE

 

“Let me tell you all a little story about THE ENSLAVEMENT OF my people in Brazil… And how they fought back.”

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Vim no navio de Aruanda, Aruanda ê

Vim no navio de Aruanda, Aruanda ê
Vim no navio de Aruanda, Aruanda á
Porque me trouxeram de Aruanda
Pra que me trouxeram de Aruanda
Vim no navio de Aruanda, Aruanda ê

Vim no navio de Aruanda, Aruanda ê
Vim no navio de Aruanda, Aruanda á
Porque me trouxeram de Aruanda
Pra que me trouxeram de Aruanda
Vim no navio de Aruanda, Aruanda ê

 
In the 1500’s, led by the explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral ,
Portuguese settlers arrived in Brazil. Now at this time, Brazil was one of the largest territories of the colonial empires, but lacked people to colonize it, especially workers.
And so it was that the Portuguese, like many European colonists, chose to use slaves to build their economy.
 
They first attempted to suppress
Brazilian natives in order to use them as slaves. However, this did
not go as planned since the natives either escaped or died in
captivity. And so, the Portuguese started importing slaves from Africa.
 
 
 

Now before I go on, I want to talk a bit on something that was touched upon in the video above that some of you may have missed, and that is this:

 
 


AFRICANS NEVER SOLD THEIR OWN PEOPLE AS SLAVES!!!

At first, I felt that I shouldn’t have to explain this to people because I thought it should have been obvious, but

 

AFRICA WAS NEVER A COUNTRY, IT IS A CONTINENT!!!

 

Africans were not selling “their own”, they were selling their enemies, just as the Greeks and Romans once did. The continent we call AFRICA, then as now, was made up of many different kingdoms, and empires. The inhabitants of those kingdoms were no more selling “their own” than, say, “Europeans” were killing “their own” during the Holocaust.
 

I say this because whenever the subject of slavery comes up, Some White folks (And People of color) usually tend to use the stock argument of,

“Well, Africans sold their own people as slaves”.

Its main purpose is to draw attention away from what whites did by trying to turn the tables.

This part of the past makes many White people uncomfortable. But instead of facing up to it, they have built up defenses against it. Everything from…

“Well, all races have practised slavery.”

“Whites were the ones who stopped slavery”

“My family never owned slaves”

“Africans are still selling slaves.”

“Blacks are better off in America than in Africa”

To my favorite, “Blacks were selling Blacks”. People like to add this argument like it’s some kind of trump card, their “Ace in the hole”, so to speak, especially after you debunk the other arguments, since of course,

ALL AFRICANS ARE BLACK!

RIGHT?

Riiiiight.

But have any of you ever wondered when black people became black, or, more importantly,why BLACK people became BLACK?

Oh, and don’t think I don’t know there was a WHITE SLAVE TRADE either.

But anyway, if you wanna explore this subject any further, check out this video.

 

You know, when most people leave their homelands for another place, whether it be Europe America, etc. they for the most part, do it for opportunity to create a better life for themselves, and their children.

However, for the ancestors of most of the african diaspora, it was different. They had good lives back in their homeland; None of them wanted to go.

But through various means, they were captured, tortured, raped, cut off from all they knew, forced on to these ships to sail across an ocean to live as a chattel slave. Many of the people on these ships did not even survive the journey; even some of the ships didn’t survive.

In order to try and show what this was like, I made this short playlist below. I feel that we need to know, to FEEL what the people who later developed capoeira went through.

 
 

O.K., now back to capoeira.

 
The African slaves brought to brazil mainly belonged to three different groups. The
Sudanese group was composed largely of Yoruba and Dahomean peoples;
the Islamic Guinea-Sudanese groups ( Males and
Hausa peoples) and the Bantu groups (among them the Kongos,
Kimbundas, and Kasanjes) from Angola, Congo and Mozambique.
 
It is believed by some that it was the Bantu group from Angola
which formed what is now known as Capoeira.
 

In its first century, the main economic activity in the colony was the productioN and processing of sugar cane. Portuguese colonists created large sugarcane farms called engenhos, which depended on the labor of slaves. Slaves, living in inhumane conditions, were forced to work hard and often suffered physical punishment for small offenses.

o-que-e-um-quilombo
 

It was in this environment I believe, that capoeira was first developed as a simple method of survival. It was a tool with which an escaped slave, completely unequipped, could survive in the hostile, unknown land and fight the capitães-do-mato, the armed and mounted colonial agents who were charged with finding and capturing escapees.

 

Now, from the VERY BEGINNING, the slaves resisted. even on some of the slave ships to the americas, they RESISTED

 Soon several groups of escaping slaves would gather and establish what were called QUILOMBOS,  settlements in far and hard to reach places.
 
 

“Have fun Negro, the Whites won’t come here. If they do, they will be hit by a cross.”

 
quilombo-dos-palmares
 
 
Everyday life in a quilombo would have offered freedom and the opportunity to revive traditional cultures away from colonial oppression.
 
Some quilombos would soon increase in size, attracting more fugitive slaves, Brazilian natives and even Europeans escaping the law or Christian extremism. Some quilombos would grow to an enormous size, becoming  independent multi-ethniC states.
 
 
Near Porto Calvo, Pernambuco, in northeastern Brazil,  a group of forty slaves rebelled against their master, killed his employees, and burned the plantation house. Once freed, they fled and decided to seek a place where they could avoid recapture by the slave hunters. They headed to the mountains.
 
 
revolta
 
 
Eventually they reached what they thought was a safe place, which because of its abundance of palm trees they named,
PALMARES, which became the largest, and most famous Quilombo.
 
 
 
 

So, was Capoeira developed and practiced in the quilombos?

 
Well… Before I type anything else, I want to stress to you that there s NO EVIDENCE to suggest that capoeira in ANY form was either taught or practiced in the quilombos.
 

Now, having typed that, here is what I BELIEVE may have happened, based oh what I’ve read.

 
In Palmares, as well as in other quilombos, tribes that were strangers or enemies in Africa had united to fight for a common goal. A new community was formed with a very rich cultural mixture. In this new environment, they would have  shared and learned  their dances, rituals, religion, and games from each other. One possible result of this rich cultural fusion could have been Capoeira in an early form.
 
These communities were growing rapidly as more refugees arrived in these African nation-in-exiles, so to speak. This would have started to worry the colonizers. People from these communities would come down from the mountains to trade produce, fruit, and animal skins and would often raid plantations to free more slaves. In some parts, colonists developed positive trade relations with the people from the quilombos
and were even opposed to their suppression believing that peace with them
was the only way of achieving stability.
 
But as the quilombos grew, they began to affect the life of the plantations as more and more of the slaves escaped. Some colonists suffered economically because of the diminishing labor force.
 
And so it was that the colonial government would organize expeditions to destroy these quilombos.
 
It is important to point out that very experienced and well-armed
soldiers formed these expeditions. But the freed slaves had developed
a system of jungle warfare or ambush. Portuguese soldiers sometimes said that it took more than one dragoon to capture a quilombo warrior, since they would defend themselves with a strangely moving fighting technique.
 
I believe that capoeira, at whatever developmental stage it found itself at the time, would have been a key element in the unexpected attacks. With fast and tricky movements the former slaves caused considerable damage to their would-be captors.
 
 
When an expedition was successful, the slaves who were returned to the plantations could have taught Capoeira to others there, where it would have spread.
 
Now remember, this is only speculation on my part. Things could have happened this way, or it could have been TOTALLY different.
 
Onward.
 
 
Yes, as was explained in the above video,  Palmares was destroyed, along with many other quilombos all over brazil.
 
But don’t think that the quilombos are gone. There’s still many out there in brazil!
 
 
 
 

If you would like to buy a copy of this film, click HERE.

Well, that’s the end of PART 1 of his story.  PART 2 will be about the expansion of capoeira in the cities of 18th and 19th century brazil, and it’s practice from then to the present day.

Well, as I understand it, anyway.

 
 
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