In the 16th Century, Africans were carried away in ships by the Portuguese to new found lands in the Americas. These Africans were forced onto the sugar cane fields and into a life of slavery. Housed in crowded, filthy slave quarters called Senzalas, they began to run away. These runaways then formed communities known as Quilombos. The most famous of these communities was called Quilombo dos Palmares, with more than 20,000 inhabitants, including Africans and some native Brazilian Indians.
One of their great leaders was Zumbi, who became famous because of his defensive skills and numerous victories against the dominating Portuguese. In the Quilombos, self freed slaves shared and learned their differing dances, rituals, religions and games from each other.
They developed a system of ambushes and together with fast tricky movements the slaves caused considerable damages. It is believed that one of the earliest forms of Capoeira was born* in the Quilombos. Capoeira became their weapon, their symbol of freedom. Princess Isabel signed the abolition of slavery on May 13, 1888 but the practice of Capoeira remained prohibited until 1920. Music, dance and rituals were incorporated, helping disguise the practice of a deadly and forbidden art. Capoeiristas (practitioner of Capoeira) always did their best to keep the tradition alive by presenting it as a folk dance which in turn made it more acceptable to society. Nicknames were used to hide from authority during the time of prohibition. Capoeira’s progress was aided by two of its faithful disciples. Mestre Bimba & Mestre Pastinha walked Capoeira into the modern world.
Presently in Brazil it is practiced as a national sport through all levels of society, at schools, universities, clubs and in military academies.
The rest of the world too has taken to Capoeira. From very different countries, backgrounds and religions, the practitioners of the world today play Capoeira to express themselves through this very animated, vibrant, exciting and rich art form. Capoeira has come of age from expression of freedom to expression of self.* Many historians and Capoeira enthusiasts debate the origins of Capoeira. The present theory in Brazil indicates that Capoeira is of African origin but was created and evolved on Brazilian soil.