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Capoeira as a Force of Change

February 5, 2008

Ever wondered what the difference between capoeira regional and capoeira angola was? No, I mean the real difference, the difference that makes a difference? Well, read on and find out!

About a month ago, I experienced a revelation with respect to a post I wrote called “Can Capoeira Change the World?” After wondering how, exactly, capoeira as a movement creates change in society or in the world the way it is often said to be doing, I discovered something I had never known before about capoeira angola.

Capoeira has come a long way...

Considered the traditional, original form of capoeira, as opposed to the flashier and more popularized capoeira regional, capoeira angola has been tied to movements of change since its very revival in the 1980s. From taking anti-racism action in Brazil to holding international capoeira conferences on gender issues, those on this side of the (martial) art are raised to be capoeiristas well-versed in diversity—cultural or otherwise—and related socioeconomic issues.

As a capoeirista raised thus far in a mostly regional, contemporânea academy, with little exposure to the angola style and zero exposure to the angola world, I was completely bowled over. This is what capoeiristas do? Not just on the side, but as an integral part of their practice of capoeira itself, as the very “backdrop for the construction of the angoleira’s identity”? It seemed that the words of Grupo Nzinga’s Mestra Janja were all too clearly manifested:

[T]wo Capoeira branches appeared in the decade of 1940 and they split effectively in the seventies. It happened, on one side, the organization of the sportive Capoeira (Regional Capoeira) as martial art, and, on the other side, the mobilization of afro-cultural resistance groups in Bahia, which [was Capoeira Angola].


Clearly, I had been looking in the wrong places before writing my first post on capoeira and change. Now that my original question had been answered, I wanted to know: Why isn’t all of capoeira like that, but just capoeira angola?

From here on out it’s wild speculation on my part, but the question had me recall a conversation I had with two friends regarding feminism. In it, two of us couldn’t understand why the other was so admittedly apathetic about concrete examples of sexism, women’s inequality, and such issues. Attempting to explain her apathy even to herself, our friend suggested that perhaps it had never bothered her because, for example, while fashion standards dictate that women should be a certain size, she had always naturally been that size, so there was never any conflict for her.

That is somewhat understandable, in the same way many people in developed countries have trouble truly caring about and empathizing with the situations of people in developing nations. You are much more likely to care about something if you have experienced it yourself; then, it becomes personal.

Now, with that said: I wonder if such a factor played a role in the respective directions that capoeira regional and capoeira angola took? Capoeira regional, once established by Mestre Bimba and accepted by President Vargas’s government, was Brazil’s star pupil, the favourite child. It was regional performed for diplomatic guests, regional featured in performances touring the world, regional that attracted national and international attention while also becoming a socially accepted or popular activity among the country’s upper socioeconomic classes.

...can we help the world do the same?

Meanwhile, capoeira angola faded into the background, so much that at one point it was thought to be extinct. Its champion Mestre Pastinha, despite the love of many students, died in lonely poverty (although, granted, so did Mestre Bimba). Is it possible that this profound marginalization of capoeira angola made its practitioners more sensitive to the plight of other marginalized groups in society, such as those of African descent in Brazil, or women in Brazil and elsewhere?

At this point, I should probably make it clear that I don’t think regional capoeira does not care. There are many capoeira groups, both regional and angola, who hold fundraisers, build schools, do volunteer work, and many other things to help improve the lives of children and other people in Brazil.

However, there is definitely a difference between working to improve the material conditions of the lives of a specific number of people in a specific locality, and working to change the very values and mentality across an entire society. I will not say one is better than the other, as there are pros and cons to both approaches, but will note that the former seems to be more of a short-term solution in the overall scheme of things, while the latter, if successful, would certainly have long-term results.

Returning to the main question at hand, I honestly cannot say whether or not it was forces of “marginalized attracts marginalized” at play. It could just as well have been that when starting, GCAP (Grupo Capoeira Angola Pelourinho, the first official angola capoeira group) thought partnering with black movement and other cultural, intellectual, or governmental organizations would be the best way to gain ground, and from there it was a natural progression to taking up the causes.

Asking “why?” of capoeira angola is not the important thing here, though. Well, it is, but only because I’d hoped it would shed light on an answer to something a little closer to (my) home: asking “why not?” of capoeira regional. If capoeira is to be, in Nestor Capoeira‘s words, “a tool in the First World” as well as around the rest of the globe, I’d like that to be able to mean all capoeira.

Picture sources:

Joaninha, who writes under her capoeira nickname, has practiced capoeira since 2005. She is an undergraduate English major, and is interested in a career in writing, editing, publishing, journalism, or related fields. Joaninha also runs her own blog, Mandingueira, which is a feminist blog about capoeira.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2012 6:59 am

    People can change the world. And Capoeira is a very powerful tool to do so. That said, it all depends on the people: the teachers, the teacher’s teachers and the students whether a group of Capoeiristas will be active about changing the world long-term or short-term. If the teacher is not sensitive to world issues so will his Capoeira group most likely not be sensitive either. That does not mean that individuals part-taking in the group won’t be sensitive by themselves outside the group.
    The fact that you might see a trend regarding the different Capoeira styles should never be generalized. Like with all topics, generalized speculations like these would better never be expressed, since many people will see them as rules and facts.

    People can change the world and Capoeira is a very powerful tool to reach out and connect people to all social strata and thus raise awareness about inequality issues.

    Turista CDO


  1. Capoeira and Change on Blue Snake Books Blog « Mandingueira
  2. Calling All Capoeiristas! Who Do You Know is Working for Change? « Mandingueira

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