Capoeira spreads in Slovakia

ONE EXPRESSION of the mixture of cultures in Brazil is capoeira, a mixture of music, dance and martial arts. With roots in the African elements of Brazilian culture, it has been growing in popularity not only in Brazil but more recently in Slovakia too.

ONE EXPRESSION of the mixture of cultures in Brazil is capoeira, a mixture of music, dance and martial arts. With roots in the African elements of Brazilian culture, it has been growing in popularity not only in Brazil but more recently in Slovakia too.

“There are now four capoeira academies in Slovakia, and seeing their students train and perform was a little bit of a surprise,” says Marilia Sardenberg Zelner Gonçalves, the Brazilian ambassador to Slovakia.

Capoeira’s origin is not entirely clear, but it is believed to have its roots among the slaves brought to the Americas from Africa. It has a long and controversial history, since historical documentation in Brazil was very scarce in colonial times.

However, mostly oral tradition shows that it emerged as an expression of defiance among the numerous but poorly organised slaves. It was originally a true martial art, but was later disguised with dancing and songs to fool the slave owners. Those who escaped their owners formed quilombos, villages, in distant, secluded areas, from which soldiers tried to bring them back. Everyday life in these villages offered freedom and the opportunity to revive traditional culture lost because of colonial oppression. In this kind of multi-ethnic community, capoeira evolved from a survival tool to a martial art focused on war. At first, it was considered illegal and the first official capoeira school emerged only in 1932 in Salvador da Bahía.

“The capoeira academies usually have someone playing a basic percussion instrument, the berimbao, maybe even more percussion, and people singing and moving to the rhythm, clapping their hands. But don’t be fooled by the music and dance,” minister-counsellor Luiz Francisco Pandia Braconnot told the Slovak Spectator. “It is a very dangerous martial art. A great master can kill several people, so that they do not even know what happened to them, only with his hands and feet. It is like the tai chi that Chinese do: it might look like a peaceful outdoor exercise, but in fact it is a fight.” “I liked it very much when I experienced the capoeira performance in Slovakia and heard them sing in Portuguese,” Edna Ferreira de Souza from the embassy’s cultural section said. “Slovaks might not even understand what they sing, as they have learned mostly from recordings, but they do their best; and they also dance and drum and bring in the Brazilian atmosphere. When I listen to them, I feel like Brazil has arrived in Slovakia. This is like the true convergence of two cultures – and we want to be close to it and support it.”

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