What is Capoeira?
Capoeira is a Brazilian cultural expression that mixes dance, martial art, sports, popular culture and music. It’s characterised by agile and complex attacks and movements, primarily using kicks and ‘rasteiras’, as well as head-butts, knees, elbows, and also ground and aerial acrobatics. Musicality is what most differs capoeira from most of other martial arts.
According to Mestre Decânio, the Game (‘jogo’) of Capoeira is a dynamic process developed by two partners, characterised by the association of ritual movements, executed in tune with the berimbau rhythm, simulating intentions of attack and defence, and showing skills, strength and self-confidence in collaboration with the partner of the game, each intending to demonstrate superiority over the other partner. The central movement is called “Ginga” from which all the others arise in an spontaneous and natural development.
Among the most important characteristics of capoeira are freedom, creativity, obedience to rituals, preservation of traditions and respect for the “elders” as a repository of community wisdom.1
Origin of the word ‘Capoeira’
There are several and polemic theories regarding the etymological origin of the word ‘Capoeira’, the below are the two most common ones in our opinion:
The first one refers to origin as a place with little bush where the escaped slaves faced their persecutors. In 1865, the writer, José de Alencar, in his first edition of Iracema, proposed that the word capoeira comes from indigenous ‘tupi’ – caa-apuam-era (island of bush already cut or that no longer exists).
In the second theory, by Adolfo Moraes de los Rios Filho. ‘Capoeiras and Capoeiragem Articles’, Aug. 1926. The origin of the word capoeira emerged from “caapo”, derived from the Tupí-Guarani, which meant straw hole, bush hole. It was the indigenous term for the woven straw basket similar to a large circle – a hole- made from thatch.
Thus, the basket was caapo, and its carrier – already in the Portuguese language was the “eiro”, of the Portuguese vernacular (eira), that applied usually to a determined low social group.
In this way, “capoeira” was the term to refer to urban slaves carrying baskets of straws.