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The Origins of Capoeira Posted by on Mar 12, 2008 in Culture

Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian dance based on martial arts, has become famous world-wide in recent years, in part due to the athletic workout it provides, in part due to the beauty of the dance, and in part due to its cultural implications.

Capoeira developed at the beginning in the 16th century, when African slaves were brought to work in Brazil. The general thinking is that it was born in Brazil as a form of rebellion against slave owners and as a new cultural practice of African slaves. But another theory, which is featured in this month’s issue of Revista de Historia da Biblioteca Nacional (History Magazine of the National Museum), contends that capoeira is merely an evolution of an Angolan martial art dance.

The Angolan dance form is known as n’golo, which means zebra in the indigenous language, since some of the movements imitate those of zebra. It was a male dance performed at a marriage ceremony in the south of Angola. It forms part of a puberty ritual in which the winning dancer manages to stay within a demarcated circle and hit his opponent’s face with his foot. The winner chose his bride without paying a dowry.

Angolan scholar Albano Neves e Sousa originally proposed this theory in the 1960s, recognizing the similarities in the dance movements. He proposed that capoeira was an evolution of this dance, claiming that n’golo had been “batizado” (baptized) as capoeira.

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  1. Lucas:

    It´s interesting because there is a variation of capoeira called Capoeira de Angola. It´s practiced a lot in Bahia and the movements are more grounded, there are no jumps and acrobatic movements. It is considered a variation that is more related to the roots of Capoeira, while the Capoeira that became famous world wide is called in Bahia ‘Capoeira Regional’ which obviously means ‘regional capoeira’.