Salvador: cradle of Capoeira


Grasping to define what Capoeira is, at least difficult, if not impossible due to the many roots that took part in its formation. Even a native Brazilian like me, born in the cradle of this art, hesitates past the challenge of defining it in just a few words. That is not unusual. I never had to define it, I just felt it.

I make mine the words of Ben Downing, a foreigner who is a capoeirista – the person who practices capoeira – in his attempt to seize it in the article ‘Jogo bonito: A brief anatomy of capoeira’:

“My own explanations usually conclude with the frustrated assertion
that you just have to see for yourself”.

That is not only his frustration. It happens to almost everybody who accepts the task. Now it’s my turn.

The first thing is that capoeira lasted until today due to a very safe and rich environment which nurtured its development. This environment is Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia and cradle of the art of capoeira.

Listen to Laurin Kowalesky (Dengosa), a capoeirista from Gainesville, as she presents the reasons why she practices capoeira:

Pelourinho, Salvador - mentioned by Kowalesky as a place to see and practice capoeira.

It is pure art located in the backbone of our regional culture and there it found a safe ground. There, capoeira can be seen almost anywhere. But not as a sports trend. In my viewpoint, there’s nothing about sports in it.

Although it is undeniable the healthy aspect of its practice and commercial and tourism aspects may have some more weight on it, I think that those are not as important as the cultural side which -- I believe --, plays a major role in keeping this art alive. I think that even most of the practitioners and the public are aware about why they enjoy capoeira so much.

Lewis, a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Center for performing Studies at the University of Sidney and an amateur capoeirista, wrote in his book ‘Ring of Liberation’ about the origins of capoeira:

“For many decades, long enough to establish it as a tradition, regular capoeira games (rodas) were held on the streets and in the plazas of Salvador. Young men and women growing up in the city were exposed to these events as a matter of course…The games were a pleasant and exciting pastime…and young boys would spontaneously imitate the moves of the men, as they still do on the beaches of Bahia today”.

The underline is mine and it is still the way Lewis portrayed in his book, written in 1992.

The second aspect that comes to my mind when I think of capoeira is the word resistance.
It bounds almost every aspect of the catharsis capoeira provides to anyone who decides to practice, live it.

Resistance that defied slavery in the past. Although there may be some speculations whether it was really part of the skills used by Brazilians slaves to escape captivity.
Resistance that defied racial discrimination of black communities in the past and social exclusion of their descendants in the present.

Resistance that defies gravity. Once the capoeira game seems to contradict the well-proven theory of gravity, and the common sense observation that we’re not supposed to be out of the ground for more than a few seconds.

Resistance that defies the physical strength of its practitioners. Because it’s not easy to understand the basic principles of taking edgy, lethal movements, and blend it with a subtle dance to transform it in pure art.

But some seem to understand it. Shayna Samuels, a freelance writer based in New York City described her experience of touching the capoeira culture in its core:

"Although anyone who is flexible, strong, and balanced can learn the circular kicks, one-handed handstands, and cartwheels of capoeira, its subtleties can only be absorbed along the coast of Baia de Todos os Santos (All Saints Bay)[in Salvador]. It is there that the discipline's history and culture begin. Until I visited this mystical place myself, I was unsure of all this meant".