Capoeira (Brazilian martial art and dance)

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Date: 1770s, 1808, 1878, 1889

Region: South America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Dance


Artist: Brazilian slaves from Africa, Afro-Brazilians

Confronting Bodies: Brazilian government

Dates of Action: 1770's, 1808, 1878, 1889

Location: Brazil

Description of Artwork: Capoeira is a martial art developed by slaves that were brought to Brazil from Angola. The rebel colony that developed capoeira used it to defend themselves. Capoiera uses the feet, arms, and head and emphasizes agility and technique, not physical strength. It was disguised as a dance. Modern capoeria is an unchoreographed dance done to drum music. Capoeira is done in pairs in which the dancers launch attacks and defend themselves sometimes with swords or long poles.

The Incident: Soon after capoeria was developed in the 1770s police records show that slaves practicing capoeira were arrested for disorderly conduct. When the Portuguese royal court moved to Brazil in 1808 the first commander of the royal gaurd, Nunes Vidigal, was skilled in capoeira. Because of the Portuguese fear of slave uprisings Vidigal and his successors spent most of their career trying to wipe out capoeira. In 1888 slavery was abolished but the ban on capoeria continued. In 1889 when the monarchy fell and Brazil was a new republic the president added ten articles to the national penal code specifically addressing crimes related to capoeira. Despite all this the practice got increasingly popular and academies began to operate. In 1937 President Getulio Vargas lifted the ban and recognized the new form of capoeira, which focused more on the dance elements, as a national folkloric art.

Results of Incident: Capoeira's popularity continued to spread and its forms continued to evolve. It has become popular in Europe and North America, especially in California, where there are many capoeira academies.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia