Aspects of Capoeira in the 21st century

  1. Rio Olympics : 
  • Not every capoeirista is in favour of an Olympic event:  opinions differ according to which capoeira form is practiced: “Capoeira Regional is closer to fighting, or sport. They’re more enthusiastic about capoeira being in the Olympics” vs capoeira Angola: they are less in favour as they believe that “capoeira, which includes music and chanting and does not declare winners or losers, is a cultural rather than a sporting event”

2. Brail’s toursim industry: 

  • Brazil’s tourism industry makes ‘”frequent use of capoeira’s striking visual images, but the day-to-day reality of life for many in the capoeira community is not as glossy, especially in a country as wracked by racial and social inequality as Brazil”.
  • Capoeira presentations, normally theatrical, acrobatic and with little martiality, are common sights around the world.
  • “Lots of people think capoeira is macumba,” said Joselio Lima, the Maré mestre, using a generic term for Afro-Brazilian religions. “Sometimes I have to explain to the parents of my students that it’s not about religion.””
  • Capoeira nowadays is not only a martial art, but an active exporter of Brazilian culture all over the world: Every year capoeira attracts thousands of foreign students and tourists to Brazil.
  • In 2014 the Capoeira Circle was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the convention recognised that the “capoeira circle is a place where knowledge and skills are learned by observation and imitation” and that it “promotes social integration and the memory of resistance to historical oppression”

3. Capoeira in popular western culture:

  • Capoeira can be seen in films such as in Harry Potter and the Goblet of fire (the Durmstrang students), Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull. In these films, capoeira is used in a de-contextualised context with no reference to its origins.
  • Capoeira is also seen in Rio2 and in Infinity War where capoeira is one of several African martial arts that T’Challa utilizes in combat.
  • Capoeira is frequently seen in rap music videos as back up dancers, again mostly with no reference to its origins and meanings
  • some have said that breakdancing has some capoeira influences sine the 1970s

Exporting Capoeira

“what started out as a practice of resistance is now a fashionable activity available worldwide” Robitaille 2014

Robitaille, Laurence, 2014 Promoting Capoeira, Branding Brazil: A Focus on the Semantic Body, Black Music Research Journal , Center for Black Music Research – Columbia College Chicago and University of Illinois Press, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Fall 2014), pp. 229-254  

After two years of fieldwork in capoeira communities in USA and Canada , Laurence Robitaille believes that capoeira’s circulation in North American markets and the diverse ways that mestres promote it shift the valuations attached to the practice and modify its meanings with respect to notions of race.

Since the last quarter of the 20thcentury, immigrating Brazillians implemented capoeira out of Brazil by commercializing capoeira. Robitaille believes that this globalization of capoeira had ‘recontextualised it’ in the sense that it has unsettled ‘both its relationship to its immediate national settings and its underlying socioeconomic and racial connotations’. This has led to 4 main points:

  1. ‘the marketing of capoeira and the use of bodies for its promotion seem to effectively move beyond racial and color-based categories because the bodies that market capoeira are the same ones that practice it. These bodies are marked by their capoeira training and represent the diversity, now globalized, of the art form and its practitioners. It involves the embodiment of traits and transformations of the foreigners’ bodies that can unsettle color lines, racial stereotypes, and the limits of national cultures’
  2. However, when capoeira is shown as a diversity of bodies, this brands Brazil as ethnically diverse which is correct but not all races are equal in Brazil. Capoeira is therefore used as a ‘process of obfuscation, denial, and occlusion of differences that remain material and highly problematic’  as the African histories of national cultural forms are still actively silenced. ‘While racial and national outsiders can strategically move in and out of a capoeirista identity, it still remains more difficult for the black Brazilian capoeirista to escape his or her racially marked body’. Moreover, ‘even when capoeira moves beyond the geographical borders of Brazil and circulates transnationally, it never steps completely out of the Brazilian national narrative and its underlying racial politics for it always remains associated with a “place” of origin’
  3. The exportation of capoeira has led to a focus on the physical aspect of capoeira: capoeira’s ‘sculpted body becomes a trademark of capoeira in North American markets and contributes to its commodification by adding sign value to an activity now available for consumption. Capoeiristas use their physicality as a form of symbolic capital that is readily put to use in capoeira’s promotion. the agile bodies on display during presentations entice potential consumers as they are performatively transformed into objects of admiration and desire’ –> In these new performative contexts of representation, the bodies of capoeiristas are decontextualized from the very activity in which they are engaged
  4. Through diverse programs and policies that culminated in capoeira’s recognition as heritage, ‘the Brazilian government sought to elevate the practice as a symbol of the nation—as something essentially Brazilian and only Brazilian’: Aronczyk explains that ‘the process of learning, experiencing, and constantly performing the basic capoeira step, called the ginga, instils in the capoeirista a knowledge that exceeds the movement as and concerns values, attitudes, and strategies proper to Brazil’s broader social life’. This shows that ‘the experience of learning capoeira forces practitioners, even foreigners, to embody these attitudes, which are not only essential for capoeira practice but also prevail in the streets of Brazil’.

–> ‘A multiplicity of bodies can perform and market capoeira as well as “Brazil.” Ironically, though, these diverse bodies seem associated with a limited, stereotyped realm of images that support an official brand image of Brazil as a country of mixed population and un-problematic mestiçagem. It is doubly ironic that capoeira would represent a fashionable, “purified,” brand image of Brazil at large given the practice’s history, its problematic entanglements with nationalist discourses, and its place in the resistance efforts of the Afro-Brazilian population”

Bolsonaro and capoeira

Here is an article I found on Bolsonaro and Capoeira:

The Bolsonaro effect, Henrique Furtado 18 October 2018

  • Bolsonaro ‘has more than once expressed abject political views regarding the rights of minorities. He has condoned rape, stated that African-descendants are useless, and confessed he would rather see one of his sons dead than in the arms of another man’
  • In 2017, ‘more than 60,000 people were assassinated. Between 2003 and 2011, the number of homicides in Brazil (449,985) went well beyond the overall casualties of the Iraq War (251,000)’
  • a series of violent incidents involving far-right supporters have been reported on social media after Bolsonaro’s resounding victory in the first ballot. These range from verbal aggression (including chants that Bolsonaro will order the deaths of LGBT people) and multiple beatings to gruesome episodes’. i.e.: a capoeira master was stabbed 12 times for voting for the Worker’s Party candidate, Haddad:

Research on capoeira’s recent history

Based on the article: Capoeiras ? objets sujets de la contemporanéité / Théma « Construction d’un dialogue : la capoeira et les relations avec l’État brésilien en débat » Vivian FONSECA Luiz Renato VIEIRA

  • This article discusses: the relationships developed between the Brazilian State and the Capoeira
  • ‘Since the early Republican period (1889), the posture of the Brazilian State in relation to Capoeira has changed between repression and indifference’
  • History:
    • Folklore intellectuals such as José Alexandre Mello Moraes Filho (1946), Henrique Maximiano Coelho Neto (1928) and Adolfo Morales de Los Rios (1926) upheld a positive view of capoeira from the 1920s onwards: by stressing capoeira’s long history in Brazil, they put forward the possibility of reinserting capoeira as a sport or as a symbol of national culture  
    • Capoeira was viewed by the Penal code as illegal until the 1930s, only became legal under Presdient Getulio Vargas’ government (1930-1945):
      • Getulio Vargas’ arrival to power brought about an effort to reconstruct national Brazilian identity, capoeira was seen as the ideal symbol of Brazil’s mixed cultural identity.  
      • Like Samba, capoeira was viewed as national cultural symbols
    • Military governments (1964-1985):
      • Militaries tried to show capoeira as a sport àthe special capoeira department was created that was linked to the Brazilian confederation of Pugilat (CBP) that was recognized by the National council of sports (CND). Military men were at the heads of these diff councils and thus decided on capoeira’s orientations
      • 1972: capoeira is officially recognized as a sport by public decree by the MEC. A homogenization effort therefore occurred to try and create rules and uniformize the movements etc to create tournaments and levels (a gradation system was created according to the colours of Brazilian flag, this system is still used by capoeira groups linked to the Capoeira federations) 
    • Outside Brazil:
      • 1980s : big spread of capoeira
      • Capoeira is used as an exploitation instrument to attract visitors to BRazil
    • 1990s-2000:
      • Capoerists themselves start politically mobilizing to try to control the teaching of capoeira in the federal and regional councils of physical education created by the law 9696 of 1998. According to these councils, only the teachers qualified in physical education and credited by the CONFEF/CREF can give capoeira lessons. This led to fragmentation in the capoeira world: some were ok with this, others weren’t. In this conflict, the state was the mediator and regulator but ends up being on the side of those against the organisations as capoeira professors now aren’t subject to these orgs.
      • There still is no consensus on the conditions of capoeira regimentation as not all groups adhere to the Brazilian Capoeira confederation (CBC)
      • ‘Le pouvoir, dans le monde de la capoeira, est fragmenté autour de la personnalité de différents mestres.’
    • Lula’s’Government (2003-2007) :
      • Under the culture ministers Gilberto Gil (2003-2007) and Juca Ferreira (2007-2010), capoeira was voted as one of the political priorities aimed at ‘the popular’ cultures and/or black (culturas negras’. 
    • Post 2007:
      • Only very recently, this cultural manifestation became the subject of specific actions of the government. In the Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil (2003-2007) mandate`s and then in its successor, Juca Ferreira (2007-2010), capoeira was elected one of the priorities of policies for popular and/ or black cultures. As a result of these actions, in the mid-2000s, actions were initiated in order to promote and recognize capoeira as an important part of Brazilian cultural heritage, culminating with his registry as immaterial heritage in July 2008
      • The Group Work ‘pro-capoeira’ was created in 2009 and was in charge of the implementation and coordination of the National Program of capoeira safeguarding and promotion
      • In 2007, the Brazilian Minister of culture called for projects on capoeira to be advanced and made possible through the ‘programme Capoeira Viva’

to look up:

ASSUNÇÃO, Matthias Röhrig, Capoeira: the history of an afro-brazilian martial art, EUA, Routledge, 2005. 

DOWNEY, Greg, Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from na Afro-brazilian Art, Oxford University Press, Nova Iorque, 2005.