The path of Capoeira (or Capoeiragem, Malandragem or Vadicao, as it is also sometimes called) can be traced back through the slave-quarters (senzalas) of the colonial plantations, to the secret societies (maltas) in Bahia, a state in northeastern Brazil.For many centuries, Capoeira survived under persecution as an oral tradition, living in the streets and open spaces of Brazil. It is now a flourishing cultural form in itself, and hailed as the National Sport. From 1535 to 1885, millions of Africans were subjugated into slavery, including people from what are today Angola, the Congo and Mozambique.
Many of the important documents relating to slavery in Brazil were burned in the early days of the Republic, with the idea of cleansing the traces of slavery from the country’s history. Unfortunately, this has robbed future generations of valuable insights as to the development of the art of Capoeira. It is commonly believed that a form of Capoeira arrived in Brazil with the Africans and was further developed by their descendants. However, while some say Capoeira was created by Africans in Brazil, others rigidly hold that its roots are Africa, but that it flourished and blossomed in Brazil.
Capoeira is a tradition of fighting with the feet, perhaps directly descended from tribal ceremonies of strength and ritual dance. Capoeira was officially banned in Brazil from 1890 to 1930. During that time, only street hoodlums, known as malandros) and members of secret societies practiced the art. Bandits used the steps of the dance as a weapon, sometimes with straight razors held between their toes. In 1927, Manoel dos Reis Machado, Mestre Bimba, opened the first academy for training in the art of Capoeira. Ten years later, in 1937, Capoeira was finally officially recognized and brought in from the streets to thrive in academies and other venues.
It was only through the dedication and unfaltering courage of a few individuals/masters who are only one generation away from us that Capoeira regained it rightful place in Brazilian society.