Born from the ever present need to protect themselves in a hostile environment, Capoeira was and is composed of feline like movements, where participants may use cartwheels, flips, handstands and many other acrobatic moves to avoid strikes and injury by opponents. Practitioners use sweeps, kicks, head butts, gouges and punches in order to strike their opponent. All of these actions are combined to compose a beautiful, yet devastating form of combat art for self defense, which protected its ancient families and participants from opponents and at time enslavers.
Practitioners of Capoeira gather in a circle, called a roda, and those who surround the contestants sing, clap and play musical instruments such as the berimbau (string instrument) and drums. Then the contestants perform a movement called the Ginga (jinga), where they move around each other, almost like a dance, in order to disorient their opponent. After this point it is open season on both opponents, as contestants leap into an array of deceptive offensive and defensive movements against each other. As one contestants leaves the circle another immediately takes his place. This interaction between the group continues until the group decides to disband.
Its practitioners were able to create such force through their movements and surprise tactics that it was not uncommon for victims to be knocked out suddenly or die from it's blows. Users of this combat art might also place razors between their toes or used hidden knives to unmercifully deal with those who chose to cross their paths.
On the numerous plantations of the Brazilian countryside, Africans practiced and used these methods. They would be able to practice this combat art, and refine their skills, in plain site of their enslavers, because the beautiful songs, chants, specialized instruments and percussion that were played, surrounded and accompanied their "dances."
Much like our Ancestors' practice of Santeria, where, they were not allowed to practice the health and healing practices of their ancient societies of the Voodun and Ifa, they hid their spiritual practice in plain site, using the very Catholic Saint icons and symbols of their enslavers .
Brazilian Maroons, who were Africans who escaped enslavement and formed alliances with "Native Americans", were notorious for using Capoeira against hunters, trackers and soldiers who were attempting to return them to a state of slavery. Survivors of ambushes with Maroons that involved hand-to-hand combat described scenes of mayhem, stating that the Maroons appeared from nowhere striking them with blows from angles that they could not fathom. It was not uncommon to hear of these enslavers running away in an attempt to escape these vicious attacks.
As a result of these deadly interactions that were occurring between Africans and colonialists, Capoeira was banned by "slave owners" and other leading authorities. However, always creative, the community found ways to keep it alive. As Capoeira was incorporated into dance movements in public, secret times and locations were arranged for its practice in private. The actions of the Africans practicing their combat art whenever and however they could ensured the survival of Capoeira throughout Brazil's history of African enslavement.
In conclusion, it is my intention that the role of Africans in Capoeira and in the evolution of combat arts should not be ignored, forgotten or denied. The bravery of its practitioners in the past to protect their freedom and in the present to maintain their traditions is a testament to the fact that true greatness cannot be suppressed and never destroyed.
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