Capoeira: The Dance Of Death

By | December 1, 2019

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Source: (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Two capoeiristas square off in a circle called a roda. Music is played on percussion instruments and songs are sung. The two move fluidly, bobbing and weaving in a rhythmic ritual. They spring on their hands and cartwheel as feet fly through the air in low kicks then high. They flip to the music as each evades the other. It seems like a dance. It seems like a game. It also seems like a fight. The truth is capoeira is all of these at once and has one of the most curious histories of any martial art.

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Public flogging of a slave in 19th-century Brazil, by Johann Moritz Rugendas

More than 3.5 million Africans were forced into slavery to Portugal’s colony of Brazil mainly from the west and central coastal regions of Africa. In Brazil, these slaves were set to a variety of tasks including mining, sugar cane cultivation, and construction. Because the enslaved Africans were generally from the same regions, they had elements of a shared culture. This included religious dances which in the 16th century became merged with traditional fighting techniques.