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Starting around 1814, Capoeira and other forms of African cultural expression suffered repression and were prohibited in some places by the slave masters and overseers. Up until that date, forms of African cultural expression were permitted and sometimes even encouraged, not only as a safety gauge against internal pressures created by slavery but also to bring out the differences between various African groups, in a spirit of “divide and conquer“.

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But with the arrival in Brazil in 1808 of the Portuguese king Dom Joao VI and his court, who were fleeing Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Portugal, things changed. The newcomers understood the necessity of destroying a people’s culture in order to dominate them, and Capoeira began to be persecuted in a process, which would culminate with its being outlawed in 1892. Why was Capoeira suppressed? There were many motives. First of all it gave Africans a sense of nationality. It also developed self-confidence in individual Capoeira practitioners.

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Capoeira created small, cohesive groups. It also created dangerous and agile fighters. Sometimes the slaves would injure themselves during the Capoeira, which was not desirable from an economical point of view. The masters and overseers were probably not as conscious as the king and his intellectuals of his court of all of these motives, but intuitively knew something didn’t “smell right.”


It must be stressed that there are many other theories attempting to explain the origins of Capoeira. According to one prevalent theory, Capoeira was a fight that was disguised as a dance so that it could be practiced unbeknownst to the white slave owners. This seems unlikely because, around 1814, when African culture began to be repressed, other forms of African dancing suffered prohibition along with Capoeira, so there was no sense in disguising Capoeira as a dance. Another theory says that the Mucupes in the South of Angola had an initiation ritual (efundula) for when girls became woman, on which occasion the young warriors engaged in the N’golo, or “dance of the zebras,” a warrior’s fight-dance.

According to this theory, the N’golo was Capoeira itself. This theory was presented by Camara Cascudo (folclore do Brasil, 1967), but one year later Waldeloir Rego (Capoeira Angola, Editora Itapoan, Salvador, 1968) warned that this “strange theory” should be looked upon with reserve until it was properly proven (something that never happened). If the N’Golo did exist, it would seem that it was at best one of several dances that contributed to the creation of early Capoeira. Other theories mix Zumbi, the legendary leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares (a community made up of those who managed to flee from slavery) with the origins of Capoeira, without any reliable information on the matter.

All of these theories are extremely important when we try to understand the myth that surrounds Capoeira, but they clearly cannot be accepted as historical fact according to the data and information that we presently have. Perhaps with further research the theory that we have proposed here, i.e., Capoeira as a mix of various African dances and fights that occurred in Brazil, primarily in the 19th century, will also be outdated in future years.

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  1. This is a fantastic article. Thanks for sharing this!


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