Trying to answer the question in two words, what is kapuejra (capoeira), one can hardly do it: THOSE WHO SAY IT IS A BRAZILIAN FIGHTING TECHNIQUE AND THOSE WHO CALL IT A SPECIFIC ACROBATIC DANCE WILL BE RIGHT. THOSE WHO WILL CONSIDER kapuejra TO BE A GAME OR EVEN A WHOLE CULTURAL PHENOMENON WITH A HISTORY OF MANY CENTURIES ARE NOT FAR FROM THE TRUTH.
The word "kapuejra" does not have an unambiguous translation. But many masters and researchers translate it as "low vegetation" - a place with low grass, where the first kapuejra-ists were comfortable to practice their art.
There are many versions, stories, and speculations concerning the origins of kapuejra as a martial art. The most plausible theory of origin says that kapuejra was created by African slaves brought to Brazil.
In 1500 the Portuguese landed in Brazil with very clear intentions. From the beginning of colonization, the conquerors hoped to use local Indians as slaves, but it was not so easy: the Indians either quickly died in captivity, or fled into the impenetrable jungle. So it was decided to import slaves from other Portuguese colonies: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea, and the Congo. Naturally, the inhabitants of the black continent brought some of their culture with them: traditions, dances, rituals. It is believed that the prototype of kapuejra was the militant "zebra dance," or "N'golo," performed by young warriors of the Mucupe people from the south of Angola at the celebration dedicated to the coming of age of the girls. In this dance the young warriors engaged in ritual combat with each other.
Like the Indians, many Africans managed to escape, but if the native Brazilians were in their native land, the fugitive slaves had to learn to survive. They formed so-called quilombos, free settlements with their own social and economic structure. kapuejra in these settlements was formed and developed as a martial art, enriching itself with different knowledge and techniques.
Centuries passed and in 1888 the Golden Law was signed, giving freedom to slaves. Brazil became a republic and the settlements of former slaves were no longer associated with the centers of the struggle for freedom. Together with the people, kapuejra moved to the city, where it became an asset not only to the African people, but also to the Brazilian people - although most of them poor. It was the poor population, often the most inclined to crime, that became the main carrier of kapuejra, and as a result it had an image of an illegal phenomenon. This stereotype became so strong, that at that time the word "kapuejra" was practically synonymous with the words "bandit" and "vagabond". Because people were identified with the martial art they represented, kapuejra was stigmatized as an abhorrent social phenomenon. It went so far that in the early 19th century special police units were created, whose task was to fight kapuejra.
But kapuejra did not disappear. It was most widespread in the troubled port towns, which served as a haven for sailors, soldiers and bandits and mercenaries. Thanks to fights which were a constant phenomenon in such towns, kapuejra technique was perfected and enriched with techniques from other martial arts. At the same time kapuejra martial artists began to master work with sticks and blades.
By the beginning of the XX century mercenaries, bodyguards and ordinary bandits were using kapuejra martial arts, but it had very little relation to kapuejra. The true art was hidden from the eyes of the uninitiated, the masters of kapuejra and their closest disciples gathered in secret places to hold a rod. The true devotees of the Brazilian martial art developed not only the physical component, but also the philosophical aspect of kapuejra, played the simplest musical instruments and sang special songs. They led a double life and had two names: one for the kapuejra world, the other for the social life. This tradition survives to this day: during the initiation ritual a kapuejra name is given to the student.
Two central figures in the world of kapuejra in the XX century were masters Bimba and Pastinha, who in many ways determined the development of this art in the last century. Their importance for the history of kapuejra is proved by the fact that even now, far from legends, in the 21st century they are considered to be mystical mentors of all kapuejra players.
Master Bimba was born in 1900. He started kapuejra at the age of 12. He opened his first school at the age of 18, but it wasn't until the 1930s that he created an academy where he taught the "regional style of fighting from Bahia," which later became known as kapuejra-Regional. Bimba was a recognized fighter and carried the nickname Three Strikes, as according to stories, he was never required by the axe to strike more than three times to complete a bout. With the opening of the academy kapuejra was no longer the domain of only the lower classes, it began to be taught to the children of very wealthy people. Bimba greatly expanded the then existing arsenal of techniques, creating a new training system. He pushed aside the ritualistic and playful aspects, focusing on the aggressiveness of his style.
The years after the academy opened were very successful for Bimba. However, in the early 70s, disappointed by the lack of support from the official authorities in Bayeux, he decided to move to Goyana. There he died on February 5, 1974.
Master Pastinha was born in 1889. Ka-pueira was taught to him by an Angolan native named Benedito, who took the future master under his tutelage after noticing that the kid was being beaten by older teenagers. Apparently, the Angolan was a talented teacher, because already at the age of 16 Pastinha was working as a bouncer in a local bar. Pastiña created his academy a few years later than Bimba, and united in it mostly intellectuals and people of art who wanted to join the traditional kapuejra Angola. Because of Pastinha's predilection for aphorisms, he was nicknamed "the philosopher of kapuejra. One of his favorite sayings was the following: "kapuejra is for everyone: men, women and children. Only those who don't want to can't learn it".
Unfortunately, the authorities confiscated the room where Master Bimba trained under the pretext of restructuring and failed to keep their promise to give him a new room. The master's end was sad: he went blind and lived alone in a small room until his death in 1981 at the age of 92.
Another characteristic feature of kapuejra, characteristic only of this martial art, is obligatory musical accompaniment. kapuejra orchestra consists of such basic instruments: berimbau, atabaku and pandeiro.
The berimbau is perhaps the principal instrument of the clan, setting the rhythm and character within the circle. The old masters used to say, "the berimbau teaches." Berimbau is made of a wooden bar up to one and a half meters long and 2-2.5 cm in diameter. On the wider end a small projection is cut out where a steel string is fastened. At the other end, a padding of thick leather is placed to prevent the wood from splitting with the string. The dried hollow gourd, Portuguese for kabaka, serves as a resonator that amplifies the sound of the instrument. Only two notes can be played with a berimbau. The berimbau is usually held with the left hand along with a stone, coin, or metal disc (vintem). Depending on whether the screw touches a metal string, the instrument produces one of two notes. The sound is produced by striking it with a wooden rod, called a banquet.
Pastinha said that in ancient times, a double-edged blade was attached to the end of the berimbau, making the instrument a dangerous weapon: "In a moment of truth, it could turn from a musical instrument into a version of a battle scythe."
The pandeiru is an instrument very similar to a tambourine. It is believed that the pandeiro was also brought to Brazil from Africa, but it is more likely that it is of Indian origin and is one of the oldest instruments of "Old India". Anyway, the pandeiro was introduced by the Portuguese in the first Corpus Christi procession in Bahia, on June 13th 1549. It was from that time the Africans used this instrument in the festivities.
Atabake looks like a tall, thin drum, on which the skin of an ox is traditionally stretched; from below it is attached to a metal hoop. The hoop, in turn, is padded with wooden wedges, which serve to adjust the tension of the skin and, accordingly, to tune the instrument.