Capoeira developed as a fusion of African slave and Brazilian Indian cultures on Brazilian plantations in the 16th century. It is a collaborative game used to practice traditional acrobatic dancing, music, and fighting techniques. On the plantation, workers were forced to hide and disguise their music, dance, martial arts, and other customs. Practitioners used a form of the game to disguise and preserve the actual ritual practice and also to protect each other from getting hurt.
The game of capoeira takes place within the Roda, meaning circle or wheel, where an oral tradition of rules and guidelines, as well as music and ritual practice, direct the players’ movements. The term capoeira refers to the “bushes,” where players would practice in secret.
Capoira begins as the leader strikes the first of three berimbau, a Brazilian single-string percussion instrument. The large goonga sets the rhythm, the medium medule rounds out the sound, and the small violina provides the high-pitched variations to the tune.
The players gather around in the Roda, or circle, and perform the Latinina, or litany, using a song as a prayer to respectfully begin the game. This becomes a set of call-and-response chants or corededo, developing the rhythm and getting all the players into the beat. The first two players then enter the Roda and kneel down in front of the instruments, acknowledging to each other and the circle that they are about to begin.
As the game progresses, new players can come into the Roda. The players constantly show mutual respect while trying out the many acrobatic forms of the dance, from headstands to wheelkicks.